Later On

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How Software Is Eating the Car

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Robert N. Charette writes in IEEE Spectrum:

Predictions of lost global vehicle production caused by the ongoing semiconductor shortage continue to rise. In January, analysts forecast that 1.5 million fewer vehicles would be produced as a result of the shortage; by April that number had steadily climbed to more than 2.7 million units, and by May, to more than 4.1 million units.

The semiconductor shortage has underscored not only the fragility of the automotive supply chain, but placed an intense spotlight on the auto industry’s reliance on the dozens of concealed computers embedded throughout vehicles today.

“No other industry is undergoing as rapid technological change as the auto industry,” says Zoran Filipi, Chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research. “This is driven by the need to address impending, evermore stringent CO2 and criteria emission regulations, while sustaining unprecedented rate of progress with development of automation and infotainment, and meeting the customer expectations regarding performance, comfort, and utility.” 

The coming years will see even greater change, as more auto manufacturers commit to phasing out their internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicles to meet global climate-change targets by replacing them with electric vehicles (EVs) that will eventually be capable of autonomous operation.

The past decade of ICE vehicle development illustrates the rapid progress it has made, as well as where it is heading.

“Once, software was a part of the car. Now, software determines the value of a car,” notes Manfred Broy, emeritus professor of informatics at Technical University, Munich and a leading expert on software in automobiles. “The success of a car depends on its software much more than the mechanical side.” Nearly all vehicle innovations by auto manufacturers, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as they are called by industry insiders, are now tied to software, he says.

Ten years ago, only premium cars contained 100 microprocessor-based electronic control units (ECUs) networked throughout the body of a car, executing 100 million lines of code or more. Today, high-end cars like the BMW 7-series with advanced technology like advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) may contain 150 ECUs or more, while pick-up trucks like Ford’s F-150 top 150 million lines of code. Even low-end vehicles are quickly approaching 100 ECUs and 100 million of lines of code as more features that were once considered luxury options, such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, are becoming standard.

Additional safety features that have been mandated since 2010 like electronic stability control, backup cameras, and automatic emergency calling (eCall) in the EU, as well as more stringent emission standards that ICE vehicles can only meet using yet more innovative electronics and software, have further driven ECU and software proliferation.

Consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited estimates that as of 2017, some 40% of the cost of a new car can be attributed to semiconductor-based electronic systems, a cost doubling since 2007. It estimates this total will approach 50% by 2030. The company further predicts that each new car today has about $600 worth of semiconductors packed into it, consisting of up to 3,000 chips of all types.

Totaling the number of ECUs and lines of software only hints at the intricate electronic orchestration and software choreography found in vehicles today. By observing how they perform together, the extraordinary complexity that is meant to be invisible from a driver’s perspective begins to emerge. New safety, comfort, performance and entertainment features, the commercial imperative to offer scores of options to buyers resulting in a multiplicity of variants for each make and model, and the shift from gasoline and human drivers to electric and artificially intelligent drivers and the hundreds of millions of lines of new code that will need to be written, checked, debugged and secured against hackers, are making cars into supercomputers on wheels and forcing the auto industry to adapt. But can it? 

Features and Variants Drive Complexity

The drive over the last two decades to provide more safety and entertainment features has transformed automobiles from mere conveyances to mobile computing centers. Instead of . . .

Continue reading.  There’s much much more, including an interesting chart showing what jobs are assigned to microprocessors.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 1:00 pm

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