“It is our business to look into the future”

“It is our business to look into the future”

Interviews |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Manufacturers of development tools accompany the creation and development of new products and technologies from the first drafts to market maturity. Actually a great address to learn about current trends.

Lauterbach Development Tools GmbH, headquartered a few miles outside of Munich, Germany, produces development and debugging tools for embedded systems. The company’s products are used in a wide range of industries – from chip design to software development and its applications, such as automotive and aircraft electronics or networked manufacturing systems. In our context, the interesting branches are the automotive industry and its suppliers. eeNews Europe had the opportunity to speak with two of Lauterbach’s top technical experts about the latest trends in automotive electronics: Ladislav Rehak, systems engineer for complex systems, and Rudolf Dienstbeck, who works as a systems engineer in areas such as RTOS and hypervisors and is also involved in the development of the Autosar standard.

“All large automotive chip manufacturers use our tools”

Because cars are automating more and more driving functions, processing more and more sensor signals, and exchanging more and more data with the cloud or backend, automakers need increasingly complex processors. Heterogeneous multicore processors control the processes in the cars – with high demands on fail-safety and real-time behavior. And Lauterbach’s know-how is always consulted in the development of SoCs. The tool manufacturer’s experts can therefore provide interesting insights into current development trends.

According to Rehak, companies from across the automotive electronics value chain use the company’s debugger and trace modules. “We supply chip manufacturers, tier-one suppliers, and OEMs. We can say that all semiconductor manufacturers relevant to the automotive sector are among our customers,” Rehak says. Upstream of car production, chipmakers are developing complex high-performance SoCs. OEMs and tier-one manufacturers mostly integrate electronic components into the system. And everywhere, flawless program runs and perfect real-time behavior matter. “An important mainstay for us is also SoC validation, at semiconductor manufacturers. So it’s not troubleshooting, but validating the interaction of the various interfaces, processors and hardware accelerators in a complex SoC. With these tools, you get a very deep insight into what’s going on, both in terms of debugging and observing the program flow,” says Rehak.

Auto OEMs  increasingly acquire chip expertise

In the process, activities in the vehicle and chip industries are converging: There are increasing reports of automakers designing their own chips, or at least entering into collaborations with chipmakers to obtain chips tailored to their requirements. This is broadening the market for tool makers like Lauterbach. “So far, SoCs have been developed almost exclusively by semiconductor manufacturers, but now this development process is shifting to other areas of the industry. This is positive for us; it allows us to offer our expertise to a wider market,” Rehak says. “Also, the emerging skyrocketing of RISC-V and its penetration into SoC designs provides additional business opportunities for us.” With the deployment of heterogeneous processor architectures from ARM to RISC-V to special-purpose hardware accelerators, multicore debugging is becoming a necessity.

In this situation, Lauterbach believes it is essential to be at the forefront of technical development, including standards definition. “In order to be able to develop reasonable debugging and trace solutions, we are involved in all the SW committees, including Autosar,” explains Rudolf Dienstbeck. “We talk to everyone up to the OEM, no matter who is doing the developments. Our independence is our advantage here.”

Rudolf Dienstbeck: “Virtualised environments make the challenges much more complex”

Automotive electronics is currently undergoing a radical change: While up to 100 function-specific electronic control units (ECUs) were previously distributed in vehicles, today domain or zone computers are increasingly being used in which these functions, implemented in software, are consolidated as virtual ECUs. Complex hypervisors and similar software constructions run on these computers. How real-time capability and fail-safety can be guaranteed in such environments is explained. Dienstbeck: “This makes the challenges an order of magnitude more complex. We have been supporting operating systems with MMU for a long time. Now we’re adding hypervisors to the mix.”

Lauterbach started supporting hypervisors with its debugger and trace modules half a decade ago. “There are special hypervisors for the automotive industry, and we naturally maintain intensive contacts with them: Elektrobit, OpenSynergy, ETAS, Blackberry, and others,” Dienstbeck says. Sysgo with PikeOS, which has a strong presence in the avionics sector, is also one of the company’s cooperation partners. “With some operating systems, this really goes into high-performance computing; with other products, the focus is more on real-time requirements, such as for controlling brakes,” Dienstbeck describes the scenario. The demand for this comes not only from the automotive industry, of course, but also from robotics, industrial control and numerous other sectors.

AI and real-time requirements don’t get along

Another important technology trend in vehicle electronics is the use of AI. However, AI no longer follows a strict program logic. This makes deterministic timing questionable. How does this affect debugging? “Right, anything that runs on AI is not deterministic,” Dienstbeck says. “That’s why AI is used for tasks that don’t necessarily require determinism. Anything that somehow intervenes in the car – steering, braking, etc. is not decided via AI – at least as of today. And you can’t measure what happens in a learned AI, you have to work with probabilities. But that’s not even the competence of a tool manufacturer: “We can only provide the measurement results – we can’t say how to judge them.”

Data communication – not only in the automotive sector – also poses new challenges for debugging hardware and software. 5G has not yet arrived everywhere, and 6G is already turning the corner. “When we talk about 5G and 6G, the question is: Who will build the chips for this?” asks Rehak rhetorically. And immediately gives the answer: “Qualcomm is. We are in close contact with Qualcomm, and we supply what they need. It’s our business to look into the future and think about what these companies will need in terms of tooling in one or two years. That’s what we deliver. Of course, the demand for this comes not only from the automotive industry, but also robotics, industrial control, telecommunications, medical electronics and numerous other industries.”

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