AUTOSAR Could Transform the Auto Electronics Industry
It’s been more than a year since the AUTOSAR software development consortium announced its intention to develop a standard software architecture on which all automotive electronics development will be based. If it is widely adopted, AUTOSAR will dramatically lower software development costs, significantly improve the reliability of software and make automotive electronics much more affordable. If carmakers widely adopt the architecture, most microcontrollers, electronics control units and software application modules will have to accommodate AUTOSAR. The consortium aims to apply the AUTOSAR architecture to all vehicle systems: chassis, powertrain, safety, human machine interface, body electronics and multimedia.
AUTOSAR planners are making great progress in establishing AUTOSAR as a global standard. The number of core partners has grown from the six founders, BMW, Bosch, Continental Teves, DaimlerChrysler, Siemens VDO and Volkswagen — to include Toyota, PSA Peugeot Citro?n and Ford. GM, which has just resolved its own legal hurdles, says it will also join as a core member. Twenty-six premium members have also signed up including Nissan, Honda, Porsche, Volvo, Denso, Delphi and Visteon.
One of the greatest benefits of AUTOSAR is that application software modules, a brake module for example, needn’t be dedicated exclusively to one car model or to one supplier’s electronics control unit. Any sufficiently capable ECU with an AUTOSAR interface would work. Carmakers would not have to spend a lot of design effort adapting the application software to the ECU or go through all the testing and re-qualifying that is necessary today.
AUTOSAR aims to standardize basic software that the customer doesn’t see, for instance, the runtime environment, network and nonvolatile memory management. With a standard AUTOSAR architecture, carmakers can focus development resources on unique features that attract customers and distinguish one car from the rest.
Mercedes and BMW have been the main instigators behind AUTOSAR. Their cars are among the world’s most complex, and that complexity has affected quality. Experts note that not only do Mercedes and BMW have to deal with multiple communications buses, they have approached the threshold on the number of modules they can put in their vehicles. Standards can bring order to complex vehicle systems.
BMW expects to install AUTOSAR software modules in ECUs in production vehicles as early as 2008. “To do that,” says Harald Heinecke, BMW electrical engineering executive and spokesman for AUTOSAR, “standard specifications will have to be ready by the middle of 2006. Standard software must be ready by mid-2005 in order to begin the testing processes.” Honda also intends to employ the AUTOSAR specification in a production vehicle by 2008.
Despite making good progress, it’s not at all certain yet that the AUTOSAR partnership will be successful. Back in October 1998, the world’s major carmakers formed the AMI-C consortium to develop standard interfaces — not for all electronics systems — just for multimedia components. After two years without a global consensus, AMI-C began to unravel, and BMW, Mercedes and VW withdrew their support.
Alliances along national lines within AUTOSAR have already started to form. In early September 2004, Toyota and Nissan announced the start of JASPAR (Japan Automotive Software Platform and Architecture) a partnership to jointly develop software and network specifications, including AUTOSAR specifications. While JASPAR intends to cooperate with AUTOSAR, its adherents are conscious that AUTOSAR is dominated by the Germans, who have five core members compared with only one core member from Japan — Toyota. Honda, which intends to join JASPAR, and Nissan are only premium members of AUTOSAR, without a vote. JASPAR, they feel, will give the Japanese more influence in AUTOSAR’s outcome.
While a boon to carmakers, AUTOSAR will be a bad thing for many electronics suppliers caught without a strategy. If AUTOSAR takes hold, the price of hardware and basic software is sure to decline precipitously, as will the market for the redundant engineering work required today when carmakers change suppliers or move an application to a different vehicle. 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.