What an Engineer Should Know Automotive Embedded Systems (Part 1)

With the advent of technology, particularly in the domain of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence, vehicles and automotive systems have become "smarter". 

Cruise control, collision detectors, navigation systems, and several other such devices are implemented in private and commercial vehicles today. Such features are meant to aid the driver in getting better control of the vehicle, to increase security, or to use the data for analysis. These tools, technologies, and processes are collectively called automotive embedded systems.

For example, the cruise control automatically drives the car at a constant specified speed without the driver's intervention. The traffic sign recognition feature can detect the speed limit of the zone you are in and adjusts the vehicle speed accordingly. High-end vehicles today use over 100 such tools implemented using Electronic Control Units (ECUs) that transmit 3000-5000 communication signals. 

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What Are the Different ECUs Available?

Most of the ECUs found in vehicles today can be broadly classified into six categories. 

  • Powertrain: Engine and transmission controls are classified under powertrain. If the vehicle is a hybrid one, the controls related to those functionalities also come under this category.
  • Chassis: Steering control, braking and anti-braking systems (ABS), electronic stability control, suspension, and two-wheel or four-wheel drive controls (2WD or 4WD) are classified under chassis.
  • Body: The controls related to the periphery or skeleton of the vehicle come under this category, like doors, windows, lighting, and key fob.
  • Multimedia, Telematics, and HMI (Human Machine Interface): This category includes the components of the infotainment or the media system in the car, the dashboard or the instrument cluster, and the entire telematics unit that ensures vehicle connectivity.
  • Active and Passive Safety: The different components in a vehicle that provides safety are the airbags, seatbelts, cruise control system, collision warning system, and other such assistive tools. Most of these features are new and are being developed rapidly in recent times.
  • ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems): Another recent addition in automobiles, ADAS systems cover a variety of tools like parking assistance, 360-degree view, traffic sign indicators, and other systems that make use of multiple cameras and sensors to relay information. Based on the cost of the vehicle, these devices can have simple as well as advanced functionalities.
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Current Trends

The domain of automotive embedded systems is relatively new in automotive engineering, and here are some of the trends you can notice in the industry today. 

  • As more manufacturers shift to hybrid vehicles, the engine technology undergoes a massive change. Powertrain systems have to incorporate these changes as electric or hybrid vehicles are likely to dominate the roads in the future.
  • Earlier, vehicle networking was based on the CAN (Controller Area Network) system. Now, the networking system components like ADAS and telematics need to use 4G or 5G technology to accommodate the bandwidth demands. This upgraded version is called CAN-FD.
  • The three central HMI units: infotainment systems (radio, music player, TV), navigation (typically a standalone GPS), and instrument clusters are being consolidated into a single ECU, an integrated digital cockpit.
  • The cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) communication network allows the vehicle or the driver to communicate with other cars or to a central server. This feature is primarily used to enhance the driving experience using digital marketing techniques and improved safety tools.
  • Self-driving vehicles are likely to become a reality soon. Several OEMs are carrying out trials for driverless vehicles to achieve complete or partial automation, although no commercially available vehicle is automated yet.

State-of-the-Art Automotive Embedded Systems  

Electrification

As mentioned earlier, many vehicle manufacturers are shifting to hybrid or electric vehicles to reduce pollution and use alternative vehicular fuels. Such vehicles will have a modified engine that brings in further challenges like battery storage and energy optimization. 

HMI

Apart from the integrated digital cockpit, the other features that are being developed in the HMI category are gesture or voice-based controls (tuned to handle local languages and accents as well) and virtual assistants. 

Safety and Security 

With an incline in the use of digital and electronic tools, there is also a higher rate of cybercrime. In the case of automobiles, safety systems must be kept in place so that hackers cannot take remote control of your vehicle through the ECUs. Driver monitoring systems and vehicle health monitoring systems are other recent developments, especially for commercial vehicles. 

Some devices scan the driver's eyes for signs of abnormal behavior like drunken driving or fatigue and other tools that track engine parameters and usage to predict when the vehicle must be serviced next. Similarly, devices that track how a driver uses a car can help them get cheaper insurance policies based on the actual distance driven.  

Connected Vehicle 

Telematics and IoT devices help companies like Uber and logistics businesses track their fleet across locations. Vehicle tracking, along with GPS technology, can help fleet managers route their vehicles optimally to avoid traffic or deliver the goods in the shortest time. 

Truck platooning is another feature that has picked up relevance recently. Here, if several trucks or vehicles are travelling on the same route, only the first truck communicates with the outside world while all the trucks that follow only talk to the first truck, creating a chain of trucks, interspersed in one long line. 

Latest Technologies 

Some of the futuristic trends that will be embedded in automobiles in the future are:

  • Computer Vision: Image and pattern recognition for sensors and cameras.
  • Sensor Fusion: How multiple sensors can interact with each other to achieve a common goal.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: Any form of data analysis, language processing, and decision-making involves AI.
  • Autonomous Driving (not commercially available yet): Complete or partial control of driving without human intervention.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): AR headsets and models are available in other domains like gaming and entertainment. In vehicles, AR can be used to display information for the driver on the windshield.
  • Vehicle Ethernet: A robust enough Ethernet network that accommodates all these high-bandwidth features.

Conclusion

The future of automation will rely heavily on digital tools and technologies, so now is the right time to upskill yourself in this domain. To get professional training in mechanical engineering subjects, check out the master's certification courses offered by Skill-Lync today. 

 

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