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Car makers, Linux and embedded software leaders convene in Detroit

Mentor held its 12th Integrated Electronics Solutions Forum (IESF) in Dearborn, Michigan on Thursday.  It was very well attended, with over 500 visitors representing automotive OEMs, tier 1s, and a range of services and support organizations.  There was a real sense that some of the business drivers and values in the automotive world have changed for ever – it is hard to imagine now that car makers have in the past proudly declared their automotive fuel consumption figures at less than 10 mpg,  and cars weighing in at over 5000 lbs.  The new badges of honour are those of safety, economy, planet-friendly, and low cost.  With the change in approach to design and materials,  software has become a massive component in a modern vehicle. The concepts of virtual prototyping have become mainstream as highlighted in the keynote speech by Dr Mircea Gradu from the Chrysler Group Powertrain division.  Virtual Prototypes allow design wrinkles to be identified earlier in the design life-cycle,  and engineers can begin integration activities sooner rather than later.  The second keynote speaker,  Dr Cole from the Center of Automotive Research,  picked up on the fact that building cars was now a very diverse, multi-disciplined activity.  In the past the design process was dominated by mechanical engineers,  but now software engineers, computer scientists, and process engineers, and many others  are as important.  The continuous challenge of integrating teams, tools and processes has not gone away,  and it is reported by Peugeot Citroen (PSA) that this remains the real holy grail.  Car maker want fewer process automation tools, rather than more,  but they all need to communicate with each other, and share common data.

This year at IESF,  seven parallel “expert tracks” were established,  covering a wide range of automotive topics : Wire Harness Design, Manufacturing Process, AUTOSAR, Vehicle Network Design, Embedded Software, Thermal Analysis, and Automotive Data Management.  The anticipated rapid adoption of AUTOSAR was picked out  in the keynote speech of Mentor CEO Wally Rhines as a key area to watch,  Today just 2% of vehicle Electronic Control Units (ECUs) are AUTOSAR based,  but this is expected to be 25% by 2015, as more and more vendors standardize on AUTOSAR as a way to define the interface between the software function of the ECU,  and hardware platform  runs on.

The Embedded Track featured several new and existing technology areas.  The GENIVI Executive Director Steve Crumb highlighted the role that the GENIVI standard platform for Infotainment systems is now playing,  and that the first production units based on GENIVI-compliant Linux  platforms should be driving round within 12 months.  GENIVI has established an ambitious roadmap of new functionality reaching out over the coming years,  and as more features are added,  the research and development costs of infotainment platforms should fall.  The flexibility offered by Embedded Virtual Platforms was highlighted by Karry Kleeman of Open Kernel Labs – this will offer the ability to combine multiple operating systems, such as Linux, Android, RTOS/OSEK,  on a single hardware platform.  Freescale and Mentor have solutions endorsing this approach and are seeing strong interest from prospective adopters.

On the software side,  Jim Zemlin,  Executive Director of the Linux Foundation,  spoke about the massive role that the Linux operating system plays in the world already,  and this is set to grow in automotive.  Every day,  over 800,000 new Linux-based mobile phone handsets are registered,  90% of the Wall Street’s financial transactions occur on Linux servers,  and we now see massive growth in embedded Linux in car Infotainment systems and Cluster Consoles.  The software component in a luxury vehicle today is said to represent  13-15% of its value,  and growing all the time.  Part of this is already open source software,  that has crept in by stealth from Tier One component suppliers, and open source software   but is now ready to be adopted and recognised as a main stream component.  Automotive companies are having to take on the issues of liability, maintainability and integration of open source.

Paul Hansen,  editor of the Hansen Report,  spoke about the future possibilities of “the cloud”.  Vehicles not only communicating with each other,  but communicating with live databanks of information,  reporting on experiences of other vehicles,  such as slippery road conditions ahead,  or stationary lines of traffic.  Google would likely have a key role to play,  as self-elected keeper of global street map information.

Each year the numbers have grown at IESF,  and Mentor is running additional events in Japan, Germany and Shanghai later this year.  It was a very interesting day.

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About Andrew Patterson

Andrew PattersonAndrew Patterson is Business Development Director for Mentor Graphic’s embedded division, specializing in the Automotive market. Prior to Mentor Andrew has spent over 20 years in the Design Automation market specializing in a wide range of technologies including wire harness design, automotive simulation model development, virtual prototyping, and mechatronics. Currently he is focused on working with the GENIVI industry alliance, and leading Mentor’s Infotainment and in-vehicle Electronic Cluster and Telematic solutions. Andrew holds a masters degree in Engineering and Electrical Sciences from Cambridge University, UK. Visit Embedded Blog

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