Research project sketches centralized computing architecture for e-cars

March 09, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
It has become somewhat silent about electric vehicles, and at the current Geneva Motor Show, e-cars do not take center stage, much in contrast to the past few years. This silence however is deceptive; behind the stages, the industry is feverishly working on the design of this type of vehicles. Recently, a research project has been launched that gets granular on the software architecture for electric cars - and it aims to the core of architectural concepts.

The global Siemens research department Corporate Technology is working with partners to develop new information and communications technology (ICT) for future electric cars. In vehicles built with this new technology, the driver assistance, safety, and infotainment features will mostly be installed as software instead of being managed in separate control units. This will reduce the current complexity of the ICT architecture and at the same time increase its power. The partners intend to demonstrate the benefits of a centralized ICT architecture with two electric car prototypes. The recently launched project RACE (Robust and Reliant Automotive Computing Environment for Future e-cars) is scheduled to run for three years and is being funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.

Today, drivers and vehicle occupants enjoy improved performance, comfort, and safety thanks to functions like the anti-lock braking system, electronic stability program (ESP), active parking aid, emergency brake assistant, lane departure warning system, and proximity-controlled cruise control. However, the associated ICT that has grown up in vehicles over many years is becoming increasingly complex. This is making the introduction of new features increasingly labor-intensive and expensive. The individual components are connected with many different data transmission systems, for example. It is hardly possible to upgrade cars with new functions that weren't built in to the vehicles during the initial manufacturing process. Electromobility offers the opportunity to rework the ICT architecture and to quickly integrate new functions.

To this end, the partners want to bring together all the functions in a few central computers with a single bus system. The advantage here is that new systems would be installed via plug-and-play technology like on a PC - extra control units and wiring would no longer be necessary. The new architecture should also enable the vehicle to communicate with a future intelligent power grid and transport system and allow the development of completely new functions - such as an "autopilot" that could steer