Automotive Challenges and Solutions

In December of last year Automotive News published that Toyota’s Japan market Crown luxury sedan went from 60 MCUs to just four.  This news quickly spread across the automotive industry as car manufacturers sought to reduce the complexity and weight of the existing networks of processors and wiring that permeate modern motor vehicles.

Your typical car contains 25-35 microcontrollers and luxury cars have 70 or more.  Connecting all the sensors to those controllers as well as interconnecting the processors to ECUs is the CAN (Controller Area Network) which currently has a data rate of 1Mb/sec.  Another proposed standard is FlexRay which is designed to move data at a rate of 10 Mb/sec.  Motorola has been experimenting with a network design they call Switch Fabric that should move data at a rate approaching 2 Gb/sec.

Automotive designers and manufacturers are struggling to reduce the weight of cars as the demand for more processors and the cabling necessary network them and their sensors increases.  Manufacturers admit to their mid-range cars containing 45 to 65 pounds of wiring, but the figure is likely much higher and especially for luxury cars.  Reducing or eliminating the weight of wiring can drastically improve fuel economy.  Some cars are using Blue Tooth to communicate from switches to controllers in order to eliminate wiring.

The term domain-based computing is being used in automotive design and as a result is more multi-core processors and moving current systems to 32-bit architecture.

Today 32-bit microcontrollers are used in engine, transmission, navigation, ABS, entertainment, GPS, and stability control.  Sixteen bit MCUs are used for SRS (air bags), body control, instrument panel clusters, even HUD.  8-bit controllers are used on power mirrors, door locks, HVAC, radios, CD players, lighting, anti-theft, seat controls, power windows, etc.

With hybrid cars coming into the car population in ever increasing numbers as well as a smattering of electric cars, micro processing needs are ever increasing.  Regenerative braking, power management, and multiple battery systems require more processing, networking, and programming.  Oh yeah, and more wiring.  That’s right, I said multiple battery systems.  As more systems are employed the electrical demands are soon outstripping the capacity of a single 12-14 volt electrical system.

New regulations concerning collision avoidance systems, passenger SRS systems, multimedia, etc., will require more of the above.  If our homes were this integrated we would be paying five times as much for the privilege of having a roof over our heads.

On the bright side, Philips Electronics has released the LUXEON Altilon power LED headlamp. 

While we have seen LED technology employed in automotive and truck taillights as well as in traffic signal controlled intersections, it is now advanced to the point that it can be used to light the road ahead. 

Audi now uses this LED lighting in the R8 headlamps for both high and low beam functions as a $5000 option.  These provide more than 850 lumens with a color temperature of 5600K that conforms to both ECE and SAE specs.

You can expect pricing of this technology to drop dramatically as it becomes the new lighting standard that will not only enable far more flexibility in vehicle body design, but also dramatically reduces power consumption for lighting.  LED life is also far longer than conventional bulb technology and produces far less heat energy.

Soon your eyes will have to adjust from dealing with the HID blue headlight beams to the LUXEON LED wave length.  You can expect conversion kits for existing HID headlamps, too.

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3 Responses to Automotive Challenges and Solutions

  1. Pingback: Automotive Challenges and Solutions | Cars....

  2. Noel says:

    Let me be devil’s advocate here.
    The downside of all the computers in cars is that it leaves less and less for the average pistonhead to do, other than relatively straightforward mechanical work. That may be OK, but there’s a bigger issue, IMHO.

    And with the demand for competent, trained techs to work on these electronic marvels already outstripping the supply, we could well find ourselves owning cars that only a handful of people can service. “Fixing” an electrical or electronic problem already often winds up meaning black box replacement which is great under warranty but incredibly expensive once the warranty ends. Big picture, this could mean a lot of cars wind up being partially functional because they are too costly to repair for their 2nd or 3rd owners. And they won’t be worth much as used cars.

    While electronics can be very long-lived, I suspect this also offers more opportunity for planned obsolescence when many subsystems are involved.

    Just because something can be done doesn’t always mean it should be done. Just my 2 cynical cents.

  3. Jim's sister says:

    Was at the airport yesterday and there was an ad on TV about the car of the future built on “nano-technology.” Couldn’t help wondering how much a nano-technologist would cost to keep around the garage for when those cars came in with a problem.

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