Bosch is a global supplier of automotive components and also caters to consumer goods and industrial automation areas. The overall turnover of Bosch is 51.58 billion Euros out of which around 59% comes from the automotive area, and the rest from the other two areas. Around 300,000 associates work worldwide in Bosch. At RBEI, there are more than 11,000 associates working in fields of software, hardware, mechanical, IT, and ITS.
Mr. R. K. Shenoy, Senior Vice President, Engineering Unit – Powertrain Electronics, BOSCH, recently spoke to Abhishek Mutha of EFY about the upcoming trends and challenges faced in designing electronic control units for automobiles
Q. In India, Bosch operates through six companies. Could you just brief us on the significance of these companies?
A. The largest flagship company of Bosch is Bosch Limited, which is responsible for Diesel systems, Gasoline systems, Power tools, and other domains including after-market. The second one is the RBIC, responsible for the safety systems onto the market whether it’s ABS, ESP (electronic stability program), or air bags. Moving onto the next one, RBAI(Bosch Automotive Electronics India Pvt Ltd ) is responsible for manufacturing these electronic control units for any domain of the automotive. Then we have the company which is into the field of drive and control technologies, Bosch Rexroth. We have RBDI in Chennai responsible for Electrical Drives. RBEI is the global supplier of technology and services, offering end-to-end Engineering, IT, and Business solutions.
Q. What is the most significant challenge faced in automotive electronics?
A. In car multimedia, as it is closer to consumer electronics, the challenge is to bring in the change at a much faster rate. This is due to the fact that innovations in consumer electronics are happening at a much faster rate than probably the rate at which we would be able to deploy systems on a vehicle.
The difference is mainly because of safety and security concerns as well as liability issues in a car. We have to be 100 per cent sure that what we deploy onto the car fulfils these norms to be safe and secure for the user. For example, now we have ISO 26262 norms coming up for data safety. When talking of a safe system, car multimedia may be classified differently from a safety system like ABS or ESP. Nevertheless, the challenge in this vertical is to ensure that we have a right balance on the time-to-market.
Q. How do you reduce the development cycle?
A. It is not just a question of the amount of effort being put in but a smarter way of engineering and validating the product by utilising accelerated ways of doing the testing. In power train and safety vertical, we see to it that the product made is safer while the development time is reduced to, say, one or two years to deploy the new system. That is where we have ensured at RBEI that we not only have a team that engineers the software but also a team developing hardware—even the mechanics of the electronic control unit (ECU).
We wanted to ensure that we had a complete EMC Lab where we could test the electronics. This was a big investment made. Each one of these labs cost more than two million Euros. At our lab in Coimbatore, we are able to test whether the electronic components can withstand all the electromagnetic (EM) interferences, while ensuring that these components don’t emit so much EM waves that other ECUs become unoperational in the vehicle. Thus we had to do it both ways. We cannot have vehicles performing differently when they go close to a TV tower, a satellite reception area or even a mobile phone tower.
Reliability is another challenge. When the product is incorporated into a vehicle, it should withstand different temperatures, vibrations and humidity. So the product is tested in a reliability lab where we put it through such tests as thermal shock. Once testing is done, we are able to reduce the development life-cycle by directly doing engineering, having the samples, doing the testing and finally ensuring that we are able to release them for production.
Having a production line is beneficial as we are able to test whether the product developed is easily manufacturable. If there are any issues during manufacturing, we are able to solve them quickly.
Q. The number of ECUs per car is increasing. What are the major advancements in this area?
A. In high-end cars, there are over 60 ECUs, including the body electronics and smaller ECUs. Reduction of CO2 emission primarily starts with engine management. We try to optimise the engine performance by having a more advanced software that runs on these control units and reduces fuel consumption.
Then there is connectivity. For example, when there is connectivity between ECUs, more information flows from navigation system into the power train, running the engine more optimally. Safety can also be improved with connectivity between navigation and driver assistance systems, as the information on an accident or other situation on the road can be used effectively in the car.
The connected vehicle is becoming a hot research topic, eventually leading to a lot of development. Connectivity not only helps to use information between the ECUs more effectively but also to communicate between vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure. By having this information we can actually make a vehicle perform much better, both in terms of fuel consumption and safety.
Another trend is to have more standardisation on the ECUs because we think that it is possible to use and exchange or integrate software from multiple vendors. So there we have a standard called AutoSAR, which is basically an AUTomotive Open System ARchitecture. Bosch is a core member of AutoSAR consortium along with OEMs.
We have defined standards in Europe that are required to know how the software is structured on a vehicle. We feel that this will not only help integrate a lot of software coming from various vendors but will also enhance reuse of software so that we can focus on new functions.
Even though hardware platforms keep changing as microcontroller and memory chip costs go down following the Moore’s law, the issue is always to re-engineer the software as soon as you change the hardware. To overcome that, AutoSAR helps transfer of software—independent of hardware architecture—from one ECU to another.
Q. Hybrid vs electric—which side is the current technology favouring?
A. For pure electric technology, there is still a long way to go. Though we also do a lot of work on hybrid and electric systems, penetration depends quite a lot on the efficiency and cost of these systems. Basically, we still don’t have cost-effective solutions for batteries, so storage of energy is a big issue.
We also work on electric vehicles that have conventional engines. We make sure that they run in the most optimal way by making use of the concept of storage in battery like brake recuperation. It means that while braking a vehicle, it is possible to feed the energy back, store it in a battery and then drive the vehicle using this restored energy. These sorts of systems are available only for high-end cars but now we are trying to develop systems that can also be used for low-priced vehicles.
Q. What would be the future roadmap for a hybrid vehicle?
A. The simplest form of hybrid is ‘start-stop.’ The engine can be switched off when the vehicle is stationary, and if it is possible to predict start and stop timings, power can be saved. The next level is to use it during braking, regenerate electric power from it, store it and then use it later. The highest level is pure electric and then a range extender. These are also projects where you switch on a generator only to charge the battery, otherwise the vehicle primarily runs on the battery.
Q. What is the biggest challenge when working with mechatronics?
A. For mechatronic products, we need expertise not only from the mechanical or hydraulic side but also from the hardware and software side. Getting all these competencies together to develop products that will be very competitive in the market is a big challenge. On the experience level, we have been able to put a matrix team together that can work with all these competencies as very few people have all of them together. Assembling this team together was a big challenge, especially considering new technologies like Web 3.0.
Web 3.0 is a machine-to-machine communication, allowing autonomous management of systems. When talking about Web 3.0, I am not only talking about these multiple competencies but also knowledge of multiple systems. For example, there can be a car multimedia product with power train along with driver assistance and safety systems together adding value to the vehicle. So in that case, we need expertise from various domains coming together and then develop systems that can give value to the end customer who is driving the vehicle.
Q. Could you tell us about the products that are in the pipeline?
A. There are special products on the navigation like dual-view which would provide comfort as well as safety at the same time. For example, the driver would be able to see the information only he’s supposed to see on the central display — navigation as well as information about the car and performance — whereas the co-passengers would be able to see, on the same screen, a movie. So this is one such product on the head unit area. Also, there are products which give head up display (HUD) to bring about some information directly onto the windscreen so that the driver wouldn’t need to take his eyes away from it and use this information in a blended way.
Q. How is the Internet of Things (IoT) making its way to the automotive industry?
A. Use of Web 3.0 or the Internet of Things on the ECU gives the ability to connect vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure and bring value to the driver. For example, if it is possible to predict the next signal light, or another vehicle around the corner in a U-turn, the safety of a vehicle can be increased.
In the future vehicle will become a part of the Internet. The vehicle itself becomes a transmitting unit of a lot of information in a car. For instance, it can be said that the car is like a weather station because temperature and other weather conditions of the particular area are known, which can be consolidated and used. This information could also be analysed for improvement of the engine performance or any other vehicle parameter.
The other way round is to take information from the outside into the car and provide it to the driver. Other trends include use of more number of cameras and various sensors like radar sensor. Radar sensor can detect the surrounding of a car and intelligently integrate information from the outside to make the car safer.
Q. Talking about safety, you mentioned dual-display, do you think it’s safe enough for the driver as he has to concentrate on the wind-shield as well as on the road?
A. That’s a good question .We have a big challenge which we call user-experience that is kept in mind when we develop products. This was an initiative which was started a couple of years back so that we don’t develop a product from an engineer’s point of view but also keep the user perspective in mind. This gave us a lot of insight into our products that were probably not well-developed in a way considering user-friendliness. When we consider things like dual-display or head-up display, these are the trends that are possible from an engineering point of view but they should ultimately add value to the driver. In one way, more of autonomous driving is required which means some simple questions need not be asked to the driver. For example, having automatic temperature controller in the vehicle is no longer needed to be set by the driver as auto-mode can be used. Similarly there are other modes even for wiper control. Rain sensors from Bosch can sense rain and control the wiper speed. So innovation is done in such a way that driver interaction is lesser but at the same time giving more information which is useful.
Q. How has voice control evolved over the years?
A. There can be different levels of voice control. Now, we are reaching level three. Earlier in level two, it used to be more of Q&A, means it was more of getting a question from a head unit and then responding to it and taking the next decision, whereas now a pretty complex sentence can be given to the head unit. For example, if you want to go to a place X in a country Y, then the system would take the sentence as it is and then decipher into the address or a navigable address. Similarly to tune into a radio station, you can decide and say the genre of music you wish to hear and things like that, and the system deciphers and tries to switch on that particular station. So this interaction actually brings comfort to the driver by virtue of reducing the number of inputs he’s supposed to give.