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Automotive Electronics--Present State and Future Prospects

H. Kopetz

Technical University of Vienna
[email protected]


One of the challenging application domains of dependable real-time computer technology is the field of automotive electronics. In this paper we describe the characteristics of this exciting field, investigate the present state of the art of computer applications onboard vehicles and speculate about upcoming computer applications, such as intelligent cruise control, and vehicle dynamics control. These safety critical applications require very high reliability, while the maintenance effort should be minimal. In the final section of the paper we discuss the impact of the automotive electronics developments on other real-time applications.

1 Introduction

The level of computer controlled functions onboard a car is ever increasing, driven by the technological advancements and cost improvements of the semiconductor industry as well as the demands of the market for improved vehicle performance, less fuel consumption and exhausts. After a conservative approach to computer control over the last ten years, a number of automotive manufacturers now view the proper exploitation of computer technology as a key competitive element in the never ending quest of increased vehicle performance and reduced manufacturing costs. Whereas some years ago the computer applications on board a car focused on non critical body electronics or comfort functions, there is now a substantial growth in the computer control of core vehicle functions, e.g., engines, brakes, transmission, suspension, etc.. In the not-too-far future we will observe an integration of many of these functions with the goal to increase the vehicle stability in critical driving maneuvers.

The control of many of these core vehicle functions does have safety implications. This is one reason why the topic of dependability of automotive computer systems is capturing ever more interest from the automotive design

engineers. It is felt that the dependability community could benefit from investigating some of the pressing reliability problems that are discussed in the automotive industry.

It is the objective of this invited paper to introduce some of the reliability issues in the field of automotive electronics, to discuss the present state of the art in this growing field, and to speculate about future developments and the upcoming challenges that face the system designer.

This paper is organized as follows. In the next section we present the characteristics of automotive applications. First we discuss the functional requirements in body electronics and in systems electronics and continue with an extensive analysis of the dependability requirements. In the following section we introduce the present state of computer applications onboard cars. Finally we speculate about the future developments. After describing some of the foreseen new automotive applications we focus on the grand challenges that have to be tackled by the system designer. Finally we ponder about the impact of the automotive electronic developments on the real-time system market in general.

2 Characteristics of the Application Domain

An automobile is a complex mass product that is composed of a number of sophisticated subsystems (e.g., the engine, transmission, chassis, etc.). Each one of these subsystems itself contains hundreds of different components. All these components have to cooperate and to interact smoothly in order to provide the transportation service and the look and feel that a customer expects from the system "car".

Whereas ten years ago, most functions within a car have been implemented without the application of computer technology, this situation has significantly changed in the recent past. The proliferating demands of the clients and the society on the functionality, dependability and environmental compatibility of a car