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Reinventing the SAE World Congress

by on Apr.27, 2010

The annual gathering of auto engineers, the SAE World Congress, has been shrinking for years. But the 2010 event was intentionally downsized, claim its organizers.

If the SAE World Congress looked smaller to those attending the industry’s premier automotive engineering event at Detroit ‘s Cobo Center earlier this month, that’s because it was smaller – by design, according to conference organizers, though recent history shows the once massive event has been shriveling on its own for a number of years.

Some 300 companies exhibited at the event last year but the 2010 World Congress saw just 103 firms on the floor, according to Andrew Brown Jr., chief technologist at Delphi Corporation and president of the SAE for 2010. The number of papers presented at the conference was smaller, as well – about 1,090 versus 1,370 in 2009 – and attendance was down from 16,000 to somewhere beyond 10,000.

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“The food court was nearly as big as the displays,” complained one participant, asking not to be named, but echoing a comment heard repeatedly during this year’s show.

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Electronics Meltdown?

Toyota hearing raise new question about in-car electronics.

by on Feb.23, 2010

It may look like a simple mechanical device but behind this pedal, Toyota (like other automakers) has wired up a spider's web of electronic controls.

The ongoing Toyota safety crisis is putting the spotlight on the use of electronic controls for critical vehicle systems such as brakes and throttle.  During today’s hearings, on Capitol Hill, testimony raised serious questions about Toyota’s claims that it had developed a safe and reliable engine controller that could and would not cause vehicles to unexpectedly surge out of control.

Whether or not the automaker is ultimately cleared, with more electronic content in cars today, especially as electronic systems replace mechanical functions, a fundamental question has arisen: Are automakers equipped with the right tools to design and develop these digital systems — and, more importantly, do they have the right testing mentality?

(A university professor’s 3-hour experiment could show that Toyota electronic systems are flawed. Click Here for that story.)

The electrical and electronics complexity inside cars today is enormous, and with relentless attention focused on fuel economy, reduced emissions and improvements in safety, it’s unlikely to abate.  By some estimates, as much as 40% of the value of some premium cars will be in the onboard electronic systems by mid-decade.  It’s like having a full computer network on wheels.

“Frequently a single function – braking, for example – involves multiple electronic control units (ECUs), as well as a lot of application software, communication software stacks, and operating systems,” explains Serge Leef, vice president at Mentor Graphics. His firm markets software that car makers use to verify that the communications between ECUs are transmitted and received accurately and on time.

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Perspective!

“There may be one ECU that controls the brake pedal, another for tire rotation information, and another responsible for braking signals – and it’s quite possible that all three ECUs come from different vendors. When you consider what happens when the driver hits the brakes, the opportunities for error from network communication inside the vehicle are phenomenal,” Leef says.

“If all the computers involved come from different sources, and the only way they know how to communicate is because the automaker gave the suppliers specifications for the type and timing of each message, the first time that everything comes together is in the automaker’s lab.”

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Automakers Find Way to Race Products to Market

New car design method wins engineering innovation prize.

by on Dec.23, 2009

A new software system, dubbed ACP, should help speed up vehicle development time - and lower costs.

Among other imperatives, like improving fuel economy, automakers are under pressure to develop products faster, and at lower cost. An engineering firm thinks it has found a new way to achieve those goals, and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum (MITEF) agree.

At a recent dinner meeting SAE and MITEF selected Troy, Michigan-based Engineering Technology Associates (ETA) as a winner in this year’s Innovation Accelerator Competition.

(Judges also awarded a prize to a Massachusetts start-up that is working to make batteries last longer. The winners gain consulting time with industry gurus who will help them bring their technology to market sooner than otherwise possible.)

Tools!

Time-to-market is a critical metric for automakers mired in an ongoing sales slump made worse by the intense pressure to innovate in order to differentiate despite resource limitations. They cannot survive without sophisticated software tools – and combinations of tools – designed to save time, lower cost, and make it possible to try out many different concepts without having to actually build any of them.

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Makers Deliver Better View From the Driver’s Seat

Bigger, better and brighter displays mark dashboard design.

by on Nov.13, 2009

The 12-inch video display in the 2010 Range Rover replaces traditional gauges and instantly adapts to changes in vehicle settings.

The 12-inch video display in the 2010 Range Rover replaces traditional gauges and instantly adapts to changes in vehicle settings.

Loaded with electronic features, cars are fast becoming smartphones on wheels, and that makes the view from the driver’s seat more important than ever. The dashboard is a focal point of competition, and automakers are embracing displays, designs, and development platforms in search of the best fit for infotainment, comfort, safety, and performance systems, most of which require driver interaction.

Like smartphones for which myriad “apps” are available, automakers are allowing customers to personalize their vehicles. Visteon Corporation, for example, designed a configurable digital instrument cluster platform for Jaguar Land Rover’s Range Rover that features a 12.3-inch color display – one of the largest available in a vehicle – with a virtual speedometer, virtual gauges, and a message center. Drivers can customize the system warnings and vehicle information displayed in the message center as well as the audio and telephone displays. The message center provides information on steering angle, wheel articulation, suspension settings, and Terrain Response™ settings, and the instrument cluster can reconfigure itself dynamically as the vehicle shifts from one drive mode to another.

Display the Latest News!

Display the Latest News!

“Integrating larger and more complex color displays is cutting edge in driver information systems today,” says James Farrell, Visteon’s senior manager for driver information. “This allows automakers to bring the consumer electronics experience into their vehicles, which is a growing expectation of the driver.”

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Wireless ‘Hotspots’ – From Cafes to Cars

Internet access inside cars opens up more than a browser.

by on Aug.04, 2009

From cafes to cars, Internet access is becoming ubiquitous, and with it, your kids may soon start asking, "Already?" rather than, "Are we there yet."

From cafes to cars, Internet access is becoming ubiquitous, and with it, your kids may soon start asking, "Already?" rather than, "Are we there yet."

We like to think of ourselves as a “mobile” society.  A new generation of wireless technology will make that term more appropriate than ever.

Autonet Mobile markets an electronic device that resembles the wireless router you may have in your home, and it does pretty much the same thing, providing access to the Internet for nearby computers, game controllers, smart phones, and other connectable devices. The difference is that the Autonet device provides Internet access via cellular data networks for devices in a moving vehicle. That is a deceptively difficult feat, according to Autonet CEO Sterling Pratz, but an important one for automakers, dealers, suppliers, service providers, and car buyers, as well as for kids playing games or watching YouTube videos in the back seat, and for front seat passengers checking email or browsing Facebook.

Stay connected!

Stay connected!

“The car is moving between cell towers while it’s uploading and downloading files, we’re accommodating all kinds of devices, and we’re doing it without requiring users to install any software,” Pratz explains. “It wasn’t enough just to build a router; we had to design an intelligent network specifically for moving vehicles – one capable of managing content as well as the connection and the devices, that didn’t interfere with the car’s electrical system, and didn’t require the driver to pull over to the side of the road and ‘reboot’ the connection.”

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Suppliers Find Safety a Hard Sell

New breakthroughs abound, but will motorists pay?

by on Jul.01, 2009

Volvo's City Safety system can bring a car to a complete halt to avoid an accident. But are motorists willing to pay for advanced technology like this?

Volvo's City Safety system can bring a car to a halt to avoid an accident. But are motorists willing to pay for advanced technology like this?

Despite the loss of more than 40,000 lives on U.S. roadways, each year, Tier One suppliers are finding it’s a hard sell to get their newest technology out onto the road.  They hope the government can help, less with money than with legislation.

A variety of safety systems are available to keep drivers alert by making objects more clearly visible, especially at night; warning drivers of danger; waking them up, if necessary, and even hitting the brakes when drivers don’t. While all of these systems have the potential to reduce fatalities, relatively few are in use, and most of those that are appear on high-line luxury vehicles, such as the BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

In the U.S. market, suppliers are hoping that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will help stimulate sales when the agency revises its NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) standards.

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Platforms and Partnerships Mark Detroit Telematics Conference

Safety and infotainment systems becoming "must haves" for connected car buyers - and revenue-hungry suppliers.

by on Jun.05, 2009

Ford's Sync system has become one of the more popular - and most flexible entries into the expanding world of Telematics.

Ford's Sync system has become one of the more popular - and most flexible entries into the expanding world of Telematics.

Telematics – wireless communication to and from vehicles – has reached critical mass, or so seemed the consensus among attendees at this week’s Telematics Detroit 2009 in Novi, Michigan. Telematics – wireless communication to and from vehicles – has reached critical mass, or so seemed the consensus among attendees at this week’s Telematics Detroit 2009 in Novi, Michigan.

“Every major automaker is planning to deploy the technology,” according to Phil Magney, vice president of iSuppli Corporation and head of the firm’s automotive practice. “Are telematics services necessary to sell cars? The consensus, increasingly, is ‘yes,’” he said.

That’s because car buyers, especially younger ones, expect to enjoy much the same “connectivity” in their vehicles as they have in their homes and other gathering places. Cars have to accommodate iPods and other MP3 players, smartphones, and whatever other hot new devices the consumer electronics industry can dream up over the course of a vehicle’s lifecycle.

Trouble lies in the mismatch between the short product development cycles common to consumer electronics and the much longer timeframes required for cars. Designing for an unpredictable future is a complex problem, but automotive system suppliers are responding with so-called open development platforms that they promise will be future proof. The platforms are similar if not identical to those now being used by third party vendors developing smartphone applications. Automakers know they need to capitalize on that same kind of creativity, though they have to be much more careful in doing so. (more…)