December 23, 2014: As 2014 comes to a close, I was thinking about what I saw and experienced this year in our automotive industry, and more importantly, what those observations indicate is ahead for us and our customers.
It is clearly a time of massive innovation in automotive, driven by strong forces on multiple fronts – consumer demands and thinking, the environment, government regulations, competition. Consider some of the “mega trends” – autonomous driving, fuel economy reaching 54.5 MPG by 2025, reducing road fatalities to zero, the connected car – they are fueling ingenuity, creativity, passion, technology, and strategy at magnitudes not seen in quite a while, I’d wager.
Booz and Co. reported that in 2013 the global automotive industry spent $102 Billion in R&D, while the entire aerospace and defense sector invested only a quarter of that. A single European automaker accounted for almost 10% of that total automotive spend – wow, I have to imagine that company’s products reflect the very nature of being innovative. Indications are that level of investment in the industry only grew in 2014.
The biennial SAE Convergence conference is typically a good barometer for R&D focus in automotive, and this year, autonomous driving was a preeminent discussion area. This is incredible considering that just a few years ago the idea of active systems intervening in automobile function did not seem to resonate well with consumer opinion, regardless of data justifying the benefits. Now this thinking has shifted dramatically. It is a mainstream topic, and milestones of autonomous highways in 2035-2045 are projected consistently in various forums. Even state-of-the-art areas today, such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), are becoming “feeder” technologies for the autonomous future.
This is truly a pivotal time in our industry.
So, in thinking about current and future innovation that will shape our automobiles, it is clear that the space is wide open, definitely in controls and electronics. New technologies, integrating other domains, and connecting to the consumer and world – all are on the roadmap for vehicle electronic systems and software, so lots of challenging but exciting stuff for our customers and dSPACE to work on.
Ultimately, the ideas − and subsequent conversion into technology and product − are based on the creativity and efforts of people, as individuals and teams. Innovations are planned, as well as unexpected. I believe those unplanned inventions, the ones that are the result of fostered and maybe also unbridled creativity in development teams, contribute significantly to standout product differentiation. So, focus should never depart from enabling the people, from giving them the freedom and capability to generate those breakthroughs – I like to think of it as “development muscle”.
To make mass self-driving vehicles a reality, you can be sure concepts and technologies − which at present are not yet invented or at the least foreign to automotive controls, like crowd-sourced data as a sensory input − will have a role in our cars of the future, and will be integrated at a pace not previously experienced. A lot of development muscle is needed to realize that future.
To support both, the already-demanding planned developments, as well as the possibility for unforeseen organic invention, engineers need development environments that provide the power, flexibility, and ease-of-use to explore ideas and express their ingenuity. This set of requirements aligns fundamentally with Model-Based-Design (MBD) and dSPACE tools, evidenced by the fact that they are used in all these major application development areas across the globe by OEMs and suppliers. So that’s a great marketing statement, but what does this “development muscle” translate to and how does it apply to tools?
One area is Rapid Control Prototyping (RCP) systems that can run highly-sophisticated control algorithms to explore concepts, develop requirements, investigate technology options, and integrate brand new domains. One example is the increasing trend to use predictive models integrated as part of controllers to deal with more sophisticated applications, where a “look ahead” is critically necessary, or a comparison with expected behavior for advanced diagnostics.
With autonomous applications, predictive modeling can add realms − such as traffic prediction and human behavior − where data coming from other systems, vehicles, and infrastructure has to be fused and applied. We have continuously improved our RCP systems to meet such needs – faster processors, more memory, FPGAs, more interfaces, etc.
Even what might be thought of as extremely mature and stable spaces, like the internal combustion engine, are likely to have transformative breakthroughs in the future to meet the upcoming CAFE standards and beyond. To achieve such advancements, a prototyping system that does not provide the ability to re-think core aspects and implement an altogether new approach has no place. Luckily for our customers, dSPACE RCP systems help remove boundaries, instead of introducing them.
A few years ago, I witnessed an amazing example of engineering creativity being enabled, both planned and unplanned, where dSPACE tools provided the means for those engineers to express their capability.
While I cannot name this customer, they are a large Tier-1 supplier of engines. The customer described how they were able to successfully implement all features identified as “high risk” in a particular program plan in a record amount of time – a feat never achieved at their company before. That was the planned part. They moved to dSPACE RCP tools (from their previous internally-developed MBD-based tools) with the intent and idea that there would be significant benefit. So while impressive, it was more or less expected.
It was the unplanned part that was monumental. This supplier invented a double-digit amount of brand-new features on the engine directly – features not really part of their program plans, but ones that added capability and value to their product.
It was that “muscle” they gained with dSPACE RCP tools that provided the team a platform to take complex “what ifs” and quickly test them out. That kind of development agility not only benefits the company through better end products, but it also contributes to more engaged engineers who can exercise their ability. And that, in turn, creates opportunities for innovation that may surprise even the most visionary product planners.
Getting back to my starting thought of reflection on the year and innovation, a common discussion we all have heard is how the scope and complexity of software in automobiles today is daunting.
Driven by the high rate of that very innovation, and the increasingly prevalent strategy to address consumer and market segments − through fewer vehicle platforms but more product variants − controls, electronics, and software engineering are pushed to be more intelligent, agile, and effective.
Virtual development and validation, improving and expanding simulation approaches and technology, and data management have emerged as key areas of focus for dSPACE to help address these development challenges.
It’s proving to be a good strategy, as our customer base is evaluating these very same areas to leverage and cut vehicle mule and prototype stages, integrate and validate virtual products early, and achieve more effective management of development artifacts and processes.
2015 will undoubtedly see the bar for technology and applications being raised, resulting in complex development requirements and challenges. However, it certainly has the promise to reveal unexpected innovations, and we at dSPACE are committed to helping you achieve that.