Friday, July 19, 2024

The Evolving Landscape Of Vehicle Control Units

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Discover the latest advancements in vehicle control units, which include enhancing EV safety, integrating cutting-edge technologies, and steering towards sustainable mobility for a smarter, greener future.

In the evolving landscape of control systems in the automotive industry, as we navigate towards a greener and more technologically advanced future, it is essential to understand the pivotal role that control systems play in this transformation. The automotive industry is on the brink of a transformative revolution. Control systems are at the heart of this evolution as we embrace electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and shared mobility. Traditionally, automotive control systems have been the brains of vehicles, coordinating and regulating various subsystems to ensure smooth and safe operation.

While control systems have long been a staple in four-wheelers, the landscape rapidly changes as one moves towards electric vehicles (EVs). However, the focus on control systems is not exclusive to four-wheelers; it also extends to two-wheelers.

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The automotive industry is currently guided by four pillars: autonomous driving, electrification, enhanced safety features, and shared mobility. This is depicted as follows:

Achieving these goals necessitates a seamless integration of control systems that communicate effectively with all vehicle subsystems. This synergy is critical to realising advanced driver-assistance systems, especially in reducing road accidents. Besides technological advancements, environmental concerns are a significant driving force behind the shift towards electric vehicles. Governments worldwide are pushing for reduced emissions and sustainable transportation options. To meet these objectives, adopting control systems that enhance performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is crucial.

The evolving control systems

While control systems in four-wheelers have seen substantial development, the focus in this article is on two-wheelers. Currently, most two-wheeler manufacturers prioritise basic control systems. However, many companies are working on advanced systems that promise more sophisticated features, including collision detection, emergency braking, distance warnings, and balance maintenance.

Despite the temptation to consolidate all intelligence into a single motor control unit (MCU) or battery management system (BMS), this approach has its challenges. MCUs and BMSs are already responsible for critical functions within a vehicle, such as controlling the powertrain and managing the battery. Centralising all subsystems into these units can lead to complications and significantly increase the risk of severe failures in the event of system malfunctions.

The future of AUTOSAR in EVs
As the automotive industry advances toward developing autonomous vehicles and intelligent features, AUTOSAR’s role becomes even more critical.
• AUTOSAR is the cornerstone for seamlessly and safely incorporating advanced technologies into electric vehicles (EVs).
• An illustrative instance of AUTOSAR’s importance can be seen in the widespread adoption of vehicle camera systems. These systems, contributing to safety and aiding autonomous driving, are now standard in electric and internal combustion engine cars.
AUTOSAR enables the efficient integration of these technologies, making them accessible to a broader range of vehicles.

The role of vehicle control units

To succeed, manufacturers must prioritise safety, adhere to global standards, and adopt innovative solutions like vehicle control units (VCUs) and AUTOSAR (automotive open system architecture). By doing so, India can lead the way in the supply chain, delivering cutting-edge features, reliability, and safety to discerning consumers worldwide.

VCUs have emerged as a central communication hub to address this challenge. They coordinate and manage critical components like motor controllers and battery management systems while facilitating communication with other subsystems. This approach enhances overall vehicle safety and intelligence.

In India, it is imperative to prioritise safety and quality for the automotive industry. Establishing high standards in the design, production, and verification of electronic systems is vital. Adhering to international safety standards, such as ISO 26262, is essential for ensuring the reliability and safety of automotive control systems.

ASIL, or Automotive Software Integrity Level, categorises the reliability and safety of vehicle systems. It considers factors like failures’ criticality, frequency, and ease of control. Systems are classified into four categories: A, B, C, and D, with A being the most critical. ASIL guides the development process, helping manufacturers design systems that meet safety and reliability requirements.

In 2025, 2-wheelers are expected to be equipped with advanced features and electronic systems to enhance rider safety and convenience. These include an advanced rider assistance system (ARAS) encompassing features like a traction control system, remote passive keyless ignition, body control module, lighting controller, and semi-active suspension. Additionally, on-board diagnostics, navigation, and telematics will be integrated into the 2-wheelers, along with GPS-USB charging for mobile devices and smartphone connectivity. Other notable features comprise an electronic steering damper, bank angle display, and infotainment functionalities. In total, these vehicles will boast 20-30 electronics features, accounting for approximately 20-25% of the overall vehicle cost.

Consolidating control units: A complex balancing act
The idea of consolidating various control units into a single package poses several challenges. While this concept could simplify vehicle design, it poses several challenges.
• Experts caution against merging all control units onto a single processing unit, emphasising the importance of maintaining separate cores dedicated to different processes.
• Consolidating control units into a single enclosure is a viable option. Such an approach can reduce the complexity of wiring and communication distances within the vehicle. Still, it requires meticulous engineering and consideration of factors like space constraints, heat management, and the potential impact on communication devices and sensors.
As the automotive industry continues to innovate, finding the optimal equilibrium between these factors will be crucial in delivering the next generation of advanced and connected vehicles. This endeavour will shape the future of mobility, enhancing the driving experience and ultimately redefining the way we interact with cars.
Safety standards, ISO 26262

AUTOSAR: A revolution in EV development

To streamline the development process and ensure effective communication between subsystems, the industry relies on AUTOSAR. AUTOSAR offers a standardised approach to mapping functions and logic, simplifying the integration of diverse components and systems. This advanced software platform has become the backbone of modern EVs, enabling a level of flexibility, standardisation, and reliability.

Traditionally, each component had its proprietary protocols and interfaces when developing automotive systems. This lack of standardisation made it challenging for different systems to communicate effectively, leading to inefficiencies and complexities in the vehicle’s architecture.

AUTOSAR changes this paradigm by providing a common framework for developing automotive software. It integrates various functions into a single software stack, simplifying the development process and ensuring compatibility between different components and systems. This approach allows automakers to focus on the functionality of their systems rather than the intricacies of communication protocols. Various advantages include:

Vendor neutrality and interoperability

One of the most significant advantages of AUTOSAR is its vendor neutrality. In the past, automakers were tied to specific suppliers for their software solutions, making them dependent on a single source. AUTOSAR breaks these chains, allowing automakers to choose components from different vendors while maintaining interoperability. This vendor-agnostic approach encourages healthy competition among suppliers, leading to improved product quality and cost-effectiveness.

Stacks as insurance

When automakers adopt a specific software stack, they often receive assurance from the stack provider that the software has been rigorously tested and is compatible with the chosen microcontroller. This assurance acts as a form of insurance, protecting automakers from potential recalls caused by software failures. In the event of a software-related recall, the stack provider may cover the expenses associated with the vehicle’s recall, reducing the financial burden on the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

ESP certification: Ensuring safety and quality

ESP (electrical/electronic software platform) certification is a critical aspect of AUTOSAR. It provides confidence to OEMs and customers by ensuring the development process adheres to strict safety and quality standards. ESP certification ranges from level zero to five, with higher levels indicating more rigorous adherence to standards. Significant OEMs, such as Mercedes, BMW, Honda, and Toyota, often require at least a level two ESP certification from their suppliers. This certification proves the supplier follows a robust development process, resulting in safer and more reliable products.

Pioneers driving innovations

Many startups are driving innovation in AUTOSAR-based control systems by developing vehicle control units (VCUs) and hybrid control units (HCUs) that are essential for the optimal functioning of hybrid and electric vehicles. VCUs and HCUs manage energy sources such as fuel and batteries, ensuring efficient vehicle performance. Moreover, these units can collect valuable data, which can be stored in the cloud for analysis and decision-making. The potential for data collection and analysis extends beyond manufacturing, benefiting passenger vehicles and shared mobility solutions.

One key advantage of AUTOSAR-based VCUs and HCUs is their ability to accurately monitor and predict the state of the vehicle’s battery. This feature addresses a significant concern in the EV industry: the uncertainty surrounding battery life and replacement costs. Knowing the expected life and depreciation of a vehicle’s battery is crucial for EV buyers and fleet operators. Therefore, an ‘intelligent’ battery management system, integrated into AUTOSAR, provides precise data to estimate the battery’s lifespan and performance. This information clearly shows the vehicle’s resale value, allowing businesses to plan for depreciation accurately.

We are now seeing many such startups that are pushing the boundaries of AUTOSAR-based control systems, contributing to the growth of the EV market and addressing critical challenges, such as predicting battery life and resale value. As we look ahead to the future of electric mobility, AUTOSAR will remain a cornerstone, enabling innovation and driving the industry towards a more sustainable and intelligent future on the road.

Understanding vehicle architecture: A prerequisite

One of the pivotal challenges automakers face, specifically in the case of EVs, is the complexity of vehicle architecture. With the transition to electric powertrains, the architecture of the EV is shrouded in uncertainty. Questions about the number of inputs and outputs, the multitude of sensors, and the organisation of subsystems make designing a unified system daunting. Industry experts shed light on the future of control units in EVs. They explore the necessity of understanding the vehicle’s architecture before developing control systems, the importance of data management and privacy, and the feasibility of consolidating control units into a single package.

One of the fundamental challenges in the EV industry is the lack of clarity regarding the architecture of future vehicles. Without a clear understanding of the vehicle’s architecture, it is impossible to develop a regular set of standard systems that will work seamlessly. In traditional automotive design, various components and systems operate with proprietary protocols and interfaces, making integration a formidable task.

AUTOSAR, as discussed in a previous article, is instrumental in addressing this issue by providing a standardised framework for automotive software development. However, to leverage AUTOSAR effectively, automakers must first establish a well-defined vehicle architecture.

Revving up quality with ASPICE
ASPICE, or automotive software process improvement and capability determination, is a framework and standard designed to assess and improve the software development processes within the automotive industry.
Primary goal. To ensure high-quality automotive software development and management processes. This includes enhancing product quality, reducing time-to-market, and providing the safety and reliability of automotive software. It is particularly crucial in the context of vehicle software’s increasing complexity and critical nature, such as in advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment, and vehicle control systems.
Application and benefits. Companies within the automotive supply chain use ASPICE to evaluate and improve their software development capabilities. By adhering to ASPICE, organisations can achieve better process control, risk management, and product quality. Certification against ASPICE standards is often a requirement for suppliers by major automotive manufacturers (OEMs).
• Challenges. Implementing ASPICE can be challenging, especially for smaller organisations, due to the need for significant process changes, training, and possibly cultural shifts within the organisation.
However, the long-term benefits of product quality, customer satisfaction, and market competitiveness often outweigh these initial challenges. ASPICE plays a critical role in shaping the quality and reliability of software development in the automotive industry.

Decentralised control systems: A pragmatic approach

Given the uncertainty surrounding future vehicle architectures, experts advocate for a flexible vehicle system that can accommodate a wide range of inputs and outputs. This approach involves designing a hardware platform that integrates auto stacks, ensuring compatibility without sacrificing flexibility.

In many cases, a single control system cannot manage the vast number of subsystems that may exist within a vehicle. Consequently, decentralised control systems have emerged as a solution. Multiple control units can oversee specific groups of subsystems, allowing for greater adaptability to evolving architectures.

As EVs become more interconnected and data-driven, data privacy and management concerns are paramount. In Europe, stringent data protection regulations, such as GDPR (general data protection regulation), govern the use of personal data, including data collected from vehicles. These regulations demand explicit consent from vehicle owners for data usage and strict controls on data monetisation.

In contrast, data privacy regulations in India are less stringent. However, experts argue that it is essential for both organisations and governments to establish minimum standards for data privacy and cybersecurity in the EV ecosystem. Cybersecurity norms must be implemented, especially in autonomous driving scenarios where communication is vital.

Collaboration among automakers, technology providers, and governments is crucial to navigating this complex landscape successfully. By establishing clear vehicle architectures, implementing robust data management practices, and carefully considering control unit consolidation, the EV industry can usher in a new era of sustainable and interconnected transportation. As technology advances, these discussions will undoubtedly shape the future of electric vehicles and mobility.

The role of vehicle control units, adherence to safety standards like ISO 26262, and classification under ASIL categories are essential for seamless integration and global objectives. AUTOSAR, with its vendor neutrality, insurance-like stacks, and ESP certification, revolutionises electric vehicle development, fostering compatibility and competition.

Understanding vehicle architecture and adopting flexible, decentralised control systems are crucial for navigating evolving designs, and data management and privacy considerations are necessary for compliance. As the automotive industry progresses, transparent vehicle architectures, robust data practices, and collaborative efforts will shape the future, paving the way for a sustainable and interconnected transportation landscape.


This article is from a tech talk session at EFY Expo 2023, Pune, by Ashwin Badri, Chief Technology Officer, Blaer Motors. It has been transcribed and curated by Akanksha Sondhi Gaur, Research Analyst and Journalist at EFY

Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Sondhi Gaur is a journalist at EFY. She has a German patent and brings a robust blend of 7 years of industrial & academic prowess to the table. Passionate about electronics, she has penned numerous research papers showcasing her expertise and keen insight.

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