Automobiles of all types have evolved from basic transportation to elaborate “systems of systems,” which incorporate hardware and software components that give consumers a range of software-enhanced experiences. These range from the highly visual multimedia dashboard to the data-driven performance of fuel delivery, braking, and drivetrain systems. To meet market demands, automakers are launching new cars with the latest technologies, or they are substantially re-engineering older models to retain and expand their existing customer base.
This means that advances in automotive technology have led to exponential increases in complexity, competition, and cost. Within the automotive space, perhaps more than in any other industry, these three “Cs” are directly related to each other. Growing complexity derives both from the need to stay competitive within the supply chain and from the tremendous increase in software and systems engineering practices that play the biggest role in vehicle design—all of which impact cost. Specifically, the electrical, electronic, and software components determine 75% of a car’s value these days, with up to eighty electronic control units (ECUs) and ten million lines of code per vehicle.
The complex combinations of mechanical and electronic equipment that define today’s automotive products are essentially large systems comprised of smaller systems. Relying heavily on software for data-driven performance and competitive differentiation, these “systems of systems” require stakeholders to understand that decisions made during the conceptual design stages impact all other areas of engineering and development.
Never has this sort of detailed understanding of design, materials, suppliers, and processes been more critical. The auto industry has seen a dip in earnings over the past decade, with many bankruptcies or mergers and acquisitions impacting the bottom line. Along the way, rapidly rising prices for raw materials were another factor. To reduce costs and increase profit margins, automotive companies are seeking new ways to cooperate with each other.
The remainder of this article will explore how the recent alignment of automotive manufacturers under the AUTOSAR initiative is beginning to improve on these industry-wide constraints, and, as an example, how IBM and its partner Elektrobit are advancing automotive design and development technology that helps businesses implement these new capabilities.
The automotive industry responds with AUTOSAR
In order to manage the complexity and challenges throughout the automotive industry supply chain as well as the internal challenges businesses have in staying competitive, automobile manufacturers, suppliers, and tool developers jointly developed an open, standardized architecture called AUTOSAR. Established in 2008, AUTOSAR (AUTomotive Open System Architecture) is helping the industry at large with the following benefits:
- Standardization of basic system functions as an OEM wide “Standard Core“ solution
- Scalability to different vehicle and platform variants
- Transferability of functions throughout the network
- Integration of functional modules from multiple suppliers
- Higher penetration of Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) software and hardware components across product lines
AUTOSAR is a layered architecture approach to design and development.
AUTOSAR provides incentives for manufacturers to replace their proprietary software/hardware interfaces with standardized interfaces to an independent architectural layer; this allows much easier component and integration testing, because hours and weeks of engineering around each interface are eliminated. Instead, manufacturers retain their ability to compete without requiring other vendors to take on the overhead associated with proprietary interfaces.
AUTOSAR compliant components ensure that the development and integration process functions as smoothly as possible, with reduced development time and costs as well as enhanced quality and efficiency.
Early indicators suggest that the vision around AUTOSAR is paying off. By 2014, more than 100 million ECUs with AUTOSAR technology are expected to be on the road. A recent survey
of 150 German AUTOSAR experts indicates that within five years, more than 55% of all EE development projects will be based on AUTOSAR technology.