MUNICH, Germany Increasingly complex electronics has as one of its side effects decreasing quality and reliability. This paradox has been the central problem of automotive developers. Experts are pointing to a way out of the dilemma with calls for a stronger role for software and widespread standardization.
Despite more electronic systems, quality is declining in automobiles. Thomas Scharnhorst, director of vehicle system electronics at Volkswagen, told the 8th annual Euroforum that the industry is caught in a Catch-22: It is no longer possible to manufacture cars economically without loading them with electronics, At the same time, however, spiraling use of electronics is causing more breakdowns and hurting manufacturers' reputations.
The increasing role of electronics in automobiles and the overall complexity of electronics are already reflected in the breakdown statistics. While electrical and electronic systems caused 45.2 percent of all breakdowns in 1990, industry estimates found that they accounted for 49.7 percent of problems in 2001. Currently, such problems are responsible for one out of every two cars that won't start.
"Reliability is the ruling topic today. The wild horses we have to tame are roaming around in the electronics", explained Willibert Schleuter, director of development of electrical and electronic systems at Audi (Ingolstadt, Germany).
To counter complexity, Scharnhorst is planning on reducing the number of controllers in vehicles. "If you look at a vehicle with a lot of controllers, you can imagine that just a few [but powerful] computers could do the job," said Scharnhorst.
BMW is taking another route. "We're not trying to reduce complexity like a lot of Japanese manufacturers," said G¼nter Reichardt, director of system architecture at the BMW Group, here. "Instead, we have to master complexity to maintain our competitive advantage in innovation. In the future, innovations will only be implemented for complex systems that are highly networked".
BMW is proposing a structure for future system design, architectures and how they are implemented. "Another key element is managing the conflict in goals between function, cost and quality," said Reichardt.
"Integration of hardware and software components today requires enormous overhead, which doesn't allow for adding hardly any new functions with additional control devices," added the BMW manager. Simply cutting a few control devices, which would then control a number of functions like a central computer, would not solve the dilemma either. That would merely shift the complexity to the control device and to the software level, according to Reichardt.
Rainer Kallenbach, president of the Bosch subsidiary Automotive Systems and Engineering Technologies, proposed a list of standardized interfaces, modular software, time-controlled bus systems and improved diagnostic capability for all parts systems and components. The industry is also seeking to create a standards development organization, AUTOSAR.
The experts all called for greater standardization of software. "A key element of simplification is standardization," said Reichardt. BMW's representative called for manufacturer-independent standard software containing central functions such as an operating system, network management and diagnostic functions.
"An open system architecture such as the one used by AUTOSAR is a logical and consistent step towards mastering complexity".
--Christoph Hammerschmidt is editor-in-chief of EE Times.de.