The automotive industry needs to change its architectural approach in developing vehicle electronics systems. The two main drivers for change—the need to reduce the number of electronic control units (ECUs) on one hand, and the integration of more features on the other—appear to be enmeshed in a proverbial Catch-22 situation, given that more features usually demand greater performance and computational power in ECUs.
ECU reduction considerations are mainly focused on cost savings, including power usage, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), printed circuit board (PCB) area and wiring issues. ECU reduction also will lower ECU-to-ECU communication, which decreases system complexity and cost.
A reduction in the number of ECUs will influence cost from various considerations:
- Hardware cost: A more efficient system architecture will reduce redundant hardware that is available today in more than one control unit. Moreover, vehicle networking can take advantage of a less complex and cleaner system by having fewer nodes and multiplexers as well as a more distributed load.
- Development cost: Development time will clearly benefit from a slimmed down system with fewer ECUs, possibly based on automotive computer platforms like AUTOSAR, GENIVI or proprietary platforms like QNX and Microsoft Auto. The use of such platforms will further reduce software costs due to the reuse of many software components, and also will allow the vehicle configuration—depending on the region or segments—to be chosen in the last stages of the production chain.
- Maintenance cost: System updates or upgrades stand to reap benefits from flexible and slim control units, especially when relying on standard software platforms.
Judging from the factors above, it seems evident that future vehicles systems will become similar to a PC-based architecture in which software will play an increasingly important role. IHS envisions this as the era of the Software-Defined Car, with hardware functionalities such as navigation, telematics and communication all being handled as software applications by a few centralized ECUs. Furthermore, system updates and upgrades will be remotely executed by downloading new software packages.
The integration issue mentioned above is connected to system performance requirements in terms of computational power, which is predicted to increase significantly due to new functionality to be integrated in future vehicles. Examples of such functionality include infotainment, telematics and navigation. In addition, traditional powertrain, chassis and ADAS functions also will add features that require more technology, especially computing power. Progressively better safety and higher fuel efficiency will require new and more advanced electronic devices, with most requiring increased computing power.
Multicores vs. Virtualization
Virtualization can serve multitasking systems and help in rationalizing automotive ECUs, which brings about inexpensive and efficient solutions. However, virtualization systems can only be used for low- to medium-performance systems. Virtualization will be able to offer an inexpensive and smooth solution for existing systems, bridging legacy system platforms toward next-generation and high-end systems, based on an open source OS.
As a result, IHS thinks that multicore architecture in the long run will be the fundamental choice for automotive electronics to cope with emerging and future higher-performances requirements, maintaining control as well on power consumption.
Market Availability and Indicators
Multicore processors are already available for automotive systems. Freescale Semiconductor offers dual-core processors running in the range of 120MHz. As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), BMW is one of the first to approach multicore architecture, having implemented Freescale’s solution in BMW sport activity vehicles. BMW also is expected to implement multicore-based systems in the next 1 -Series, 3-Series and X3 models.
ARM, which recently announced the launch of the Cortex-R5 and Cortex-R7 MPCore processors for use in 3G and 4G mobile devices, likewise is targeting automotive and industrial applications. The ARM processor portfolio covers a wide range of high-performance, real-time embedded applications, which is what automotive markets require.
The new products are particularly suitable for embedded applications requiring high performance combined with high reliability. The processors provide a suite of safety-critical features, including error management, redundant dual-core systems and error-correcting codes (ECC) on all external buses. They also allow high-frequency interruptions, along with fast and deterministic control of data transmissions, for real-time, high-safety applications.