The coming year should see no let up in the growth of automotive electronics systems, which is being spurred in large part by safety concerns and government edict.
Along with this exponential growth is concern on the part of electronics design engineers for reliability of not just the hardware but the growing software that controls and adds functionality to auto electronics systems. Further evidence of this concern is in the recent introduction of the first vehiclethe 2007 BMW X5to incorporate the deterministic, fault-tolerant FlexRay data bus communications architecture. Used in the suspension control system on the X5, BMW plans on expanding FlexRay use to more control systems for the 2008 models.
As for safety driven improvement, tire pressure monitoring (TPM), mandated previously by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will continue to be implemented and refined by automotive electronics suppliers, Tier Ones, and OEMs. Simple systems based on differential wheel spin of the lower pressure tire (for instance, using the ABS electronics) are being replaced by more precise direct measurement of tire pressure. Developments for locating the electronics to achieve this in the tire valve stem or elsewhere on the wheel focus on durability under the vibration and acceleration of the wheel. Another concern is long battery or power life, enabling the system to function for up to 10 years before servicing.
Late in 2006, NHTSA mandated the incorporation of electronic stability control (ESC) into vehicles beginning with select models in the 2009 model year. The value of these systems has been proven as optional items and standard features on high-end models, particularly in tech-savvy European cars. These systems sense over- or under-steer conditions with their potential for skidding or sliding. If a dangerous condition is detected, selective wheel braking, or even electronic steering inputs are made to bring a vehicle "back from the edge" of control.
Seeing more application will be vision-system based lane departure warning (LDW) systems. Right now it is a high end option, but its utility, as proven in the trucking industry, could force another NHTSA ruling in the coming years.
Finally, infotainment applications will continue to grow as design engineers look to integrate consumer hand-held electronics and cell phones into cars. The greatest design challenges here involve keeping automotive systems that may have to serve up to a decade flexible enough to incorporate new consumer products that haven't yet been designed, much less be on the market yet!
In addition, systems such as navigation will be seeing greater functionality beyond providing location and route guidance. Concierge services, including location of nearby attractions, service facilities, stores, and restaurants will provide more utility for drivers and passengers. Coupled with location and routing, new near-real-time traffic reporting can tell drivers if a diversion due to an accident or construction is needed, and how long the rerouting will add to their trip.
Aiding such infotainment utility will be the further incorporation of automotive wireless systems. These, such as Bluetooth, can link consumer devices, including cell phones and music/video storage devices and players, to the car without cables. Wi-Fi will be used in the home and at auto dealers to change media file storage as well as update navigation and other systems data without using hard media such as DVDs or CDs.
All these electronic developments can eventually contribute to realizing safe, autonomous car operations in the future.