Software as Product
Functional software is fast becoming the most essential ingredient in automotive electronics, the means by which carmakers implement distinguishing features, the features that add to the vehicle’s value in the mind of consumers. Functional software helps a vehicle stop faster and steer better. It improves fuel economy and makes a vehicle safer and more fun to drive.
Great pattern-recognition software will enable lane-departure warning systems.
Effective speech-recognition software will lead to safer operation of navigation and multimedia equipment and cell phones. In the future, functional software will be sold as a separate stand alone product not necessarily tied to a particular electronic control unit or ECU.
In order to make that happen, carmakers, specifically the German carmakers, recognize that an open, non-proprietary standard system architecture be required. They are learning that infrastructure software, which supports functional software, needn’t be unique. Operating systems, application programming interfaces and network protocols, the software nuts and bolts, don’t necessarily help carmakers win customers.
With that understanding, VW, Bosch, Continental Teves, BMW, DaimlerChrysler and Siemens VDO Automotive have recently announced the AUTOSAR partnership to jointly develop standard software architecture.
While all the founding partners are German companies, they fully intend to open up the partnership to the international automotive electronics community.
If enough of the major carmakers of the world embrace AUTOSAR standards, suppliers will be able to sell software and hardware products to many different carmakers. Besides allowing greater design flexibility and simplified integration, software development costs would be drastically reduced.
With standard programming interfaces and a standard operating system like OSEK, functional software could be used in different ECUs regardless of the manufacturer or which microprocessor is employed.
The electronics control unit (ECU), which has been the basic building block of automotive electronics, will be more common and more flexible. As ECUs become more generic, their unit price will decline as will the price of microcontrollers. The days of “add a feature, add a new ECU” will eventually end.
Standards will make it possible to run more than one application on a single ECU. As a result, the number of ECUs in a vehicle will begin to decline, and quality will improve. With the adoption of AUTOSAR, an ECU will have standard interfaces enabling its use on a number of different vehicle platforms, by a number of different carmakers, for a number of different functions.
For instance, application software for electronic stability control could be run in the powertrain ECU or in the brake system ECU, depending on vehicle feature content and the total number of ECUs needed. Carmakers will no longer look to distinguish themselves with special ECUs, rather, unique application software will make the difference.
As the top electrical engineer at BMW, Hans-Georg Frichkorn has garnered a great deal of software experience. “The two most important topics to the industry are system architecture and the stability and robustness of the software development process. … In order to serve carmakers like BMW, VW and Mercedes in the future, suppliers need a thorough understanding of how their components will fit into the overall system architecture of the vehicle,” he said.
Toward that end, carmakers and suppliers around the world have become much more reliant on software development tools to improve the productivity of software engineers and improve the quality of software implementations. With increased standardization of the software infrastructure, carmakers and suppliers can expect an increased level of support from tool vendors.
In order to compete effectively, carmakers will need to maintain world-class software expertise. Carmakers should either make software development a core competence, where they can create some of it in-house. Or, they need to become expert software specifiers and testers. Paul Hansen is a strategy consultant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He publishes The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics, a business and technology newsletter. www.hansenreport.com.