Audi rainmaker sketches new computing architecture for cars

Audi rainmaker sketches new computing architecture for cars

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By Christoph Hammerschmidt

With the millennials being almost coming of age, usage patterns of cars are currently undergoing massive changes. This has consequences for the hardware and software installed in the next generation of cars. In his keynote speech at the Automobil Elektronik congress, Audi’s top electronics developer Ricky Hudy, discussed the current situation of the industry. “Our customers expect that the car integrates seamlessly into their digital living environment,” Hudy said.


Obviously, there is a gap between this expectation and the reality in today’s cars. Future vehicles, Hudy explained, will load the user’s profile and preferences automatically, to provide just a small example. “We need to establish an end-to-end user experience for our cars”, he said. What this means: Virtual vehicle cockpits, complete connectivity for cars and their passengers, the possibility to enjoy the same digital lifestyle as at home or in the office. This will, of course, only be possible if the car is connected – increasingly not only with the infrastructure and service providers, but also with the cloud. And, the other precondition, that it is capable of driving autonomously. Plus, the car will become a platform for new services and functions – which will require a depart from the concept of fixed functions in a car as it is the case today.


This is not just a philosophical or marketing consideration. Hudy, whose job is to coordinate the electronics development for Audi, explained in detail how these considerations are affecting the hardware and software in the car. “It is now the time to make the step from from traditional microprocessor and microcontroller architectures towards a more centralized computing architecture with strong ties to the cloud”, Hudy explained his vision. Of course the connection to the cloud is not a purpose in itself. Instead it is driven by new ways to handle data and to establish new business models. Given the fast design cycles in consumer electronics and accepting the necessity to speed up the automotive industry’s own design cycles, Hudy advocated that the car industry should significantly speed design cycles. A pivotal requirement for faster design cycles will be upgradeability of functions hitherto implemented in hardware. “Existing functions must become updateable, and it must become possible to download and install new functions even after the car has been delivered to its owner.


The domain architecture, a rather new approach that combines the functionality of multiple microcontrollers in a more powerful computing platform (one per domain, hence the name) could already be outdated before it has been established in the industry. “The domain architecture is only a transition”, Hudy said. “We need much more powerful computing platforms – basically a central computer for the entire car”. He added. The reason: Today’s SoCs and software are much to heterogeneous to handle. Typically, in the electronics development of a car, multiple design teams are involved. “This is much too complex”, Hudy said. His proposal: The I/O level should be radically purified, the functionality be relocated to a central computer, multiple functions be implemented by means of virtual controllers running on this central computer. Of course, to implement such plans a powerful operating system will be needed – a real-time operating system that also has to be safety-certified. This central computer will stay in close contact with several cloud-based services, and towards this end, 5G mobile radio would represent “a major contribution”.


Hudy believes a Linux-based RTOS with virtualization elements could do the job. The central computer will be, according to the Audi chief developer, extremely powerful – it will perform 100 to 1000 times faster than we can imagine today”, he said. “The domain architecture is only an intermediate step though it is just about to take off”.


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