Automotive safety: The very words conjure up images of air bags and seat belts. There is, however, more to the safety movement than this. Today's automakers see a mountain of potential safety hazards on the horizon. And some of those problems can be traced to the very features that are designed to keep us safe.
Telematics, for example, can be an automotive blessing or a curse. On-board cell phones and navigation systems can save stranded drivers, or they can distract overloaded ones. Similarly, by-wire systems could one day enable vehicles to tie into intelligent transportation infrastructures. Or, if improperly implemented, they could render brakes and steering systems virtually useless at the wrong times.
"Right now, safety and security are the driving forces behind the decision to put telematics in the car," noted Marc Erickson, project manager for IBM's Embedded Systems Group (Raleigh, N.C.). "But one of the problems today is that many cell phones are completely independent, and there's no way for the phone to 'know' if you're able to accept a call."
IBM, along with tier-one vendors and automakers, is looking for solutions. In their contribution to this week's Focus section on automotive interconnect and compatibility issues, Jonathan L. Gabel, a software engineer at IBM Telematics Solutions Group (Charlotte, N.C.), and consultant Robert W. Kelton examine the human-factors issues posed by the proliferation of multimedia electronics, and offer some solutions.
IBM is developing a "workload manager," which could one day consider such factors as vehicle speed, distance between cars, weather, time of day and even the driver's heart rate before allowing a phone call to go through to the driver. "Research is going on right now that would enable us to come up with a driver workload number that could tell the system whether or not to bother the driver," said Gabel. "Ultimately, though, the auto industry will be the real usability expert."
Telematics isn't the only area in which electronics will play a critical safety role, however. Research is also taking place on the development of time-triggered, fault-tolerant architectures that could serve as the electronic backbone for brake-by-wire, steer-by-wire and throttle-by-wire systems.
Also in this section, two engineers at Delphi Automotive (Warren, Ohio)-Brian Murray, manager for system safety engineering, and Robert Steele, senior staff, research engineering-look at key technologies, including fault-tolerant architectures, for drive-by-wire systems.
Similarly, Franz Fink, general manager of the 32-bit Division at Motorola Transportation & Standard Products Group (Phoenix), provides an introduction to FlexRay, a time-triggered architecture now gaining favor among German automakers, particularly DaimlerChrysler and BMW.
For such technologies to be successful in the automotive marketplace, however, proponents know they must first promote openness and encourage standardization. Without it, the technologies face an almost-impossible uphill battle toward acceptance.
In contrast, standardization simplifies the task of automakers and vendors alike. By agreeing on a standardized design, automakers can drop in new electronic components at the eleventh hour of the design process, and vendors needn't redesign their products for each new implementation.
In his contribution, Arlan Stehney, executive director of the IDB Forum, addresses the issues surrounding openness and standardization. The forum aims to foster acceptance for the ITS data bus.
"Openness is the key to success," said Erickson of IBM. "As the auto industry defines its customer requirements, we as technology providers can start to fulfill its needs."