John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

19 August, 2014

Mentor Graphics is sponsoring an automotive user conference from 8am to 5pm on Wednesday, September 10, at the Adoba Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. User2User Automotive 2014 is free, and you can register or get more details here.

The day begins with back-to-back keynotes by Martin O’Brien, Mentor Graphics General Manager, IESD, and Paul Menig, CEO, Tech-I-M.

Martin’s topic is “The Death of ‘Island’ Mentalities.” He’ll explain how technology is enabling new levels of connected engineering and explain in some detail where solutions are headed next.

Winning the Race

Prior to starting Tech-I-M, Paul Menig led the Mechatronics Group at Daimler Trucks North America. He’ll speak on “Connecting the DOT’s Future — Department of Transportation.” Autonomous driving, drones, electrically powered transportation from skateboards to buses, alternatively fueled engines, and wearable computers are here today in low volumes, but will be mainstream in 10 years. Paul Menig says the future of public and private mobility will depend on faster advanced development that is more complex, yet ultra-reliable, and those that win the race will make use of every development tool possible.

Following the keynotes U2U attendees can hear talks and participate in discussions in five separate tracks with four presentations in each. The tracks are Embedded Software, PCB Flow, Model-Based System Design, Electrical Systems & Harness Engineering, and Thermal Design & Component Reliability.

Participating speakers represent Arynga, Delphi, Visteon, Rockwell Automation, Chrysler, IBM Rational, John Deere, Navistar, PACCAR, and Flextronics, in addition to Mentor Graphics. U2U Automotive is an opportunity to network with technology users, developers, and industry experts.

The pace of automotive electronics technology development is relentless. Mentor Graphics’ U2U Automotive conference promises to provide engineers with up-to-date information on the latest technology, and best practices. I hope to see you there.

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12 August, 2014

Yes, it’s true that June 7-11 2015 is almost a year away, but it’s not too early to mark your calendar and plan to attend the 52nd Design Automation Conference (DAC) at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

DAC is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDA Consortium), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It’s the year’s most important event for engineers who design and develop electronic circuits and systems, and for electronic design automation (EDA) in general. Attendees represent more than 1,000 organizations.

This week the DAC planners named their Executive Committee, headed by Anne Cirkel, a senior director for technology marketing at Mentor Graphics, as General Chair. Anne is an eight-plus year veteran of the Executive Committee, which oversees the exhibition and trade show, plans the technical program, establishes new initiatives, and manages conference operations and publicity. Anne’s has a blog on DAC at https://dac.com/blog/52%20Weeks%20of%20DAC

Co-chairs of the DAC Automotive Track are Anthony Cooprider from Ford Motor Company and Samarjit Chakraborty from the Technical University of Munich. The Automotive Village was a first for DAC this year and automotive electronics design should be even more prominent next June.
Also on the Executive Committee are:

– Chuck Alpert, Cadence, Inc., Vice Chair
– Patrick Groeneveld, Synopsys, Inc., Finance Chair
– Sharon Hu, University of Notre Dame, and Robert Aitken, ARM, Inc., Technical Program Co-Chairs
– Valeria Bertacco, University of Michigan, Panel Chair
– Raymond Rodriguez, Intel Corp., Tutorial Chair
– Michael McNamara, Adapt IP. Inc., IP Track Chair
– Ramesh Karri, New York University, Security Track Chair
– Robert Oshana, Freescale, Inc., Embedded Systems and Software Chair
– Daniel Bourke, Cadence Design Systems, Inc., and Karam Chatha, Qualcomm, Inc., Designer Track Co-Chairs
– Rob van Blommstein, Consultant, Industry Advisory Chair
– Michelle Clancy, Cayenne Communication, LLC, Publicity/Marketing Chair
– Soha Hassoun, Tufts University, Past Chair
– Naehyuck Chang, Seoul National University, ACM SIGDA Representative
– Tiffany Sparks, ARM, Inc., EDA Consortium Representative
– Shishpal Rawat, Intel Corp., IEEE CEDA Representative

If you’re based in or around San Francisco, consider joining the Bay Area Local Committee to work with DAC and the people and companies in Silicon Valley. Call 303-530-4333 to learn more.

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6 August, 2014

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This week at the Management Briefing Seminar, sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research, Volkswagen of America (VW) described the “holistic” approach it plans to take with its 2015 e-Golf, the all-electric, zero tailpipe emissions vehicle scheduled to go on sale later this year at participating dealerships in select US states. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Though it has the tailpipe covered, emissions-wise, Volkswagen knows there will still be greenhouse gas emissions associated with the e-Golf’s production and distribution, and with the production of energy. With that in mind, Volkswagen has partnered with 3Degrees® to purchase corresponding carbon offsets in California and elsewhere to cover the first 36,000 miles of e-Golf driving. 3Degrees provides renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to organizations committed to sustainability.

Next, Volkswagen is working with solar system provider SunPower on a promotion enticing e-Golf customers to install a residential SunPower system. They can save on their annual electricity costs and power the car, thus reducing the overall cost of ownership. The SunPower energy storage system is not commercially available yet, so we’ll have to wait for details.

Bosch Automotive Service Solutions will serve as a charging station and installation services partner for the e-Golf. It will provide a 240-volt charging unit, the Power Max® charging station, and full-service installation.
Plus all that, ChargePoint® will provide authorized e-Golf dealerships with VW-branded charging stations and will give e-Golf drivers access to their network of public EV charging stations – 18,000 around the U.S. The ChargePoint mobile app will help drivers find their way to the nearest ChargePoint station and start charging sessions.

It looks like Volkswagen has thought a lot about electric vehicle ownership. Do you have an all-electric vehicle or are you thinking about buying one?

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30 July, 2014

I had no idea, until I spoke earlier this week with Ian Wright, founder and CEO of a small San Jose California company called Wrightspeed, that a sizable percentage of garbage trucks (solid waste collection vehicles) in California no longer meet California Air Resources Board (ARB) emission standards and must be replaced. With new trucks costing in the vicinity of $500,000, that could be an expensive proposition.

We want clean air, but we also want solid waste removed, and Wright’s company offers a solution that is attracting the attention of solid waste fleet owners: It has developed a plug-in electric powertrain that can be retrofitted on the trucks in question, allowing them to surpass ARB’s emissions standards by 1,000 percent.

Not only that, but the powertrain, known as Route HD, can also save fleet owners more than $35,000 in fuel costs and $10,000 in maintenance costs per-truck, per-year. According to Wright, that selling proposition is sufficiently attractive to present a potential $2 billion market opportunity for Wrightspeed.

The Route HD uses an onboard turbine generator to charge the battery as needed. It uses CNG, LNG, diesel or landfill gases. Wrightspeed is partnering with The Ratto Group to convert garbage and recycling vehicles in Sonoma and Marin counties from clean diesel to electric drive. “Wrightspeed’s very efficient and super clean powertrains are a great fit for our fleet,” says chief operating officer Lou Ratto.

Consider the alternatives: According to the ARB, engines in heavy vehicles (buses as well as trucks) built prior to 1994 must be replaced next year by model year 2010 or newer engines. Engines built in 1994 or 1995 must be replaced in 2016.

Engines built between 1996 and 1999 can get by with a PM (particulate matter) filter until 2020, after which they’ll need a 2010 or newer engine. Engines built between 2000 and 2004 can get by with a PM filter until 2021, those built in 2005 or 2006 are okay with a PM filter until 2022, and those built between 2007 and 2009 can go until 2023, but after that they all must be replaced. Beginning January 1, 2020, all trucks and buses operating in California will need to be upgraded to 2010 model year engines. The ARB estimates that its regulation applies to nearly one million diesel vehicles operating in California, so reducing pollution from heavy vehicles is a big deal.

And the ARB doesn’t stop there. A good number of medium-duty delivery trucks – the ones that drive a lot of miles each day – will also be able to benefit from Wrightspeed’s technology to avoid a premature demise. Earlier this year FedEx Express took delivery of Wrightspeed’s medium-duty product, the Route, which replaces a truck’s diesel engine, transmission, and differential and, like the Route HD, improves on fuel economy and maintenance costs and exceeds CARB’s emission standards by a factor of ten.

Wright says FedEx has already ordered more Routes. Counting both medium-duty and heavy trucks, Wright estimates his firm’s annual market opportunity at approximately $5 billion.

The company is ramping up as quickly as it can find qualified people. It bears watching.

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25 July, 2014

Those of a certain age may remember what it was like to wait impatiently to turn 16 and be able to drive (legally). There was an excitement about driving and eventual car ownership that’s not there anymore, or at least not there to the same degree. Kids these days have other options, as do adults, especially those who live in urban areas.

And that’s okay according to Scott Belcher, president and CEO of ITS America. “The world is connected, and that connectivity is changing transportation completely,” he told attendees at Drive Oregon’s EV Roadmap 7 in Portland. “We’re moving to a shared use mobility system; especially this newer generation. They have very different expectations of transportation than people of earlier generations do. They can go to their phones, access any of several apps, and get to their destination safely and economically.”

That’s not so bad, especially considering the automotive industry’s technology momentum. “This is the most exciting time to be involved in transportation since the interstate highway system,” Belcher says. “The automobile industry has been making great strides in terms of safety; adopting new technology and becoming more fuel efficient, including electric vehicles. We ought to embrace that movement. Software, lasers, radar, lidar and many more technologies are changing the way we drive, and they are also getting less expensive.”

Meanwhile, serious issues remain. Belcher notes that the United States is currently challenged in its ability to move goods and people. “We need smart solutions,” he warns, adding that solutions will be among the topics raised at the ITS World Congress in Detroit, September 7-11.

The ITS World Congress is the largest transportation technology event of 2014 and is expected to attract more than 10,000 international business, government, and research leaders. The event will showcase the latest transportation innovations and share ideas and strategies for advancing the development and deployment of intelligent transportation solutions to solve the world’s transportation challenges.

For more information on the event visit www.itsworldcongress.org.

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21 July, 2014

Voice recognition in connected cars is great as far as it goes, but there are times (at least in my experience) when it doesn’t go quite far enough, and in those times it would be nice to hear a friendly greeting from a competent human being.

“We focus on the smooth, elegant transition from technology-based service to live assistance, and there is a lot of opportunity in that space between the call center and the technological front-end, be it voice recognition, artificial intelligence, or what have you,” says Jim Flavell, executive vice president of MyAssist, a connected vehicle concierge service owned since January by a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. MyAssist counts Ford and Mercedes-Benz among its automotive clients.

“Voice recognition is great for limited things, but in the complexities of daily life it can be frustrating, because it doesn’t always work,” Flavell continues. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the system recognized that it doesn’t know the answer, or have the information, and an agent who may be monitoring a dozen or more conversations hears an issue, or sees it on their screen, then connects the dots and provides what the customer needs without the customer even knowing that a human was involved.”

Sometimes, based on an emergency or a higher level of complexity, an agent has to step in; perhaps referring the issue to a specialist; a travel expert, for example.

“Suppose you’ve missed your flight and want to know if a seat is available on another airline,” Flavell says. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone came on the line who knows your name and what flight you’re on and says ‘I can help you with that’?”

That level of service is not available today, Flavell concedes, but he suggests that over the next decade or so “there’s a great market in the artful combination of front end technology and integration to a human back end for the times when technology realizes it’s not going to give the right answer and you need to connect to a high-touch person.

“We believe there is a tremendous opportunity to really elevate the level of service if the handoff between the technology front end and the human operator goes smoothly. It’s making the customer feel special, and at the end of the day, isn’t it all about the customer? Our mission is to combine this great technology that’s evolving before us with live assistance to create that perfect mix, which doesn’t quite exist yet, but we’re working hard on it.”

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15 July, 2014

The EV (Electric Vehicle) Roadmap 7 conference is coming up next Thursday and Friday (July 24-25) at the World Trade Center in Portland, Oregon.

If you’re in the area, or can get there, visit http://evroadmapconference.com/ to register. Mentor Graphics is an enthusiastic supporter of the conference, so use the promotional code MENTOR0214 and get $50 off the regular registration price.

EV Roadmap 7 is organized by Drive Oregon (driveoregon.org) in collaboration with Portland General Electric and Portland State University. It’s billed as the premier electric vehicle gathering in the Pacific Northwest and one of the leading electric vehicle conferences in the U.S.

Drive Oregon describes the conference as a “graduate course” in electric vehicle deployment that brings Oregon-based early adopters together with industry, government, and utility representatives share best practices and emerging trends. Ford, General Motors, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi, ITS America, the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society, and Mentor Graphics are among those representing the auto industry.

The theme for this year’s conference, “Making Connections,” refers to both the collaboration necessary to make electric vehicles succeed and to the increasing connections between those vehicles, the infrastructure, the power grid, and all else.

At 1:00p.m. on Thursday I’ll moderate a panel session, “Operating Systems for Cars.” Panel members scheduled to participate are:

• Toshiro Muramatsu, Director, Vehicle Information Technology Division Silicon Valley, Nissan Motor Company
• Walton Fehr, Transportation Specialist, US Department of Transportation
• Matt Jones, Senior Technical Specialist – Infotainment, Jaguar Land Rover
• Pat Shelly, Solutions Architect, Embedded Systems Division – Mentor Graphics

Cars are increasingly coming to resemble computers with wheels. The panel will discuss emerging trends and products, infotainment systems, the driving experience, and new apps we’re likely to see in the relatively near future.

A preview event on Wednesday morning will feature some of those same panel members. The session, “Vehicle Operating Systems,” will focus on the business opportunities created by increased demand for vehicle connectivity.

I hope to see you at the conference.

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8 July, 2014

This week Mentor Graphics acquired XS Embedded GmbH (XSe), described as a technology leader in creating automotive system architectures and hardware reference platforms. Its forte is accelerating system design and verification by providing automotive-grade hardware and software to reduce the time to start of production (SOP). The faster the better.

“By combining Mentor’s Android, hypervisor, security, AUTOSAR & Nucleus solutions with XSe automotive-ready solutions, we are able to address the entire vehicle software infrastructure requirements of the most sophisticated vehicles in design today,” said XS Embedded managing director Rainer Oder.

Oder and Glenn Perry, general manager of Mentor’s Embedded Systems Division, emphasized the comprehensive nature of the company’s automotive electronics design portfolio. The industry and its technology are constantly evolving, and it’s likely that something else will be needed in the future, but for now, they say, this is it.

It was back in 2005 that Mentor acquired Volcano Communications Technologies AB (VCT), including design tools, embedded software and test and validation tools for all major automotive networks. The acquisition added real-time communications to Mentor’s existing cabling and harness, embedded software and system modeling offerings.

Fast forward to February, 2013, when Mentor expanded its automotive business unit by purchasing certain assets from MontaVista. The company said then that the purchase established it as the number one commercial provider of Linux®-based automotive in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) solutions. It combined the MontaVista Automotive Technology Platform (ATP), the Mentor® Embedded Infotainment Base Platform, and development tools such as Sourcery™ CodeBench and Sourcery Analyzer.

Last October Mentor added a Type 1 Embedded Hypervisor for IVI, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), instrument clusters and intelligent connected devices, and in January of this year (2014), Mentor purchased the Mecel Picea AUTOSAR Development Suite from Mecel AB.

Announcing the XSe acquisition, Mentor noted that automotive electronics design challenges “are tremendous with millions of lines of code per vehicle, cross-domain function consolidation, mixed safety criticality, security, and the use of heterogeneous multi-core SOCs. These challenges are exacerbated by extraordinary cost pressures and a traditional development lifecycle for systems that is measured in years while automotive consumer expectations require the latest in technology to be ever present.”

A dwindling number of companies are up to the challenge. Clearly Mentor Graphics plans to be one of them.

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30 June, 2014

Don’t you hate it when your car won’t start and you need to call for help? Even worse is when your car breaks down at whatever hour, somewhere along the way to your destination.

What happens between the time you call for service and the time your car is fixed is likely to influence your degree of satisfaction with the car you bought and the dealer who repaired it. How well were you treated by the call center, the tow truck driver, the service writer, and anyone else involved?

Agero CEO Dave Ferrick sees a car owner’s call for help as an opportunity for an automaker and a dealer to deliver the best possible customer experience. Yes, my car wouldn’t start, but –

*The call center operator knew where I was and what I needed.

*The tow truck driver was able to fix the problem or bring me to someone who could.

*The dealer was aware and involved, and made sure I was able to reach my destination.

*The automaker ensured that the car was properly repaired, and any relevant information was provided to vehicle engineers.

Of course things don’t always work out that way, but Agero’s Ferrick is mounting a major program to increase the likelihood that they will more often than not. Lincoln is among the automakers currently testing the program, which includes extensive dealer training and in-depth information for automakers. It’s based on the belief that a positive experience during a negative situation can increase brand loyalty.

Agero is well-positioned to make a difference. The company is a major supplier of roadside assistance services. With the help of more than 30,000 roadside assistance providers it protects more than 75 million drivers a year in North America during in-vehicle and post-emergency safety and security situations.

As connected vehicle technology evolves, there is more to be said about the quality of the customer experience. What are your thoughts?

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25 June, 2014

The entertainment bar is higher these days than it used to be in the pre-smartphone era. That’s true in general, of course, but I’m thinking specifically at the moment about kids on long car trips. Each may want his/her own entertainment, and with some new technology introduced this week by Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America, Inc., they’ll be able to have it in the relatively near future.

Mitsubishi introduced its FLEXConnect™ audio-video bridging system with an “Any Media on Any Screen” capability – multiple displays and multiple content streams.

Doug Ray, director, audio, video and communications, says FLEXConnect will “improve the overall experience for passengers who can now make individual choices about the entertainment and data they use, including media they bring into the vehicle.”

I suspect we’ll hear a lot more in the coming months about the automotive user (driver and passengers) experience.

“To keep pace with the consumer electronics market, infotainment system flexibility is crucial,” adds Gareth Williams, strategic technologies manager for audio, video and communications. “FLEXConnect takes advantage of the audio-video bridging architecture to ensure flexibility in the future. The current system enables several features that car manufacturers could implement in the near future, such as occupant recognition and distracted driving prevention.”

Current capabilities include an “any media on any screen” feature that allows sharing from one screen to another with a simple tap on the screen, and interactivity between screens, so passengers can play games or send photos back and forth.

Then there’ll be cameras installed above each rear seat so that someone in front, like a parent, can monitor rear seat occupants. They (the parent up front) will also be able to preview/override rear seat programming.

“The FLEXConnect infotainment system is perfect for families because it lets kids entertain themselves in rear seats, while parents have ultimate control of the kids’ entertainment,” says Ray. “It essentially eliminates the need to bring content into the vehicle on a disk. Passengers now control the content and the way it is displayed using paired devices and streaming.”

And then what? Mitsubishi is thinking about letting passengers choose a destination and send it to the vehicle’s navigation system. Also an occupant recognition capability that would allow each user to step into their own personal entertainment system with audio preferences, device defaults, and the like. And the ability to offload alerts from the head unit to a tablet that a front seat passenger can use to aid the driver, lessening the potential for distracted driving.

Life is becoming more sophisticated.

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