The convergence of electronics technologies across the transportation sectors, and with the consumer electronics industry, brings challenges and opportunities to product and standards development. Jim Buczkowski, SAE International’s new Cross-Industry Standards Adviser for Vehicle Electronics & Innovation Integration, recently spoke with SAE Magazines Senior Editor Lindsay Brooke about the profound changes taking place. Buczkowski is Ford Motor Co.’s Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems and a Henry Ford Technical Fellow.
Where is the common ground between automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle electronics going forward?
The common point is the consumer. Electronics are allowing the consumer to blend all the facets of their life, whether it’s in the car, in an aircraft, at home, and in other places. The consumer electronics industry tends to lead in terms of technology. While they don’t have the risks, regulations, and the testing rigor that automotive and aerospace have to deal with—things like electromagnetic interference, for example—they set the expectations for the kinds of experiences customers want, no matter where they are.
The industry sectors have a stake in working more closely and effectively together so we can provide solutions for consumers to use portable devices more seamlessly between their various environments.
What regulatory drivers will automotive electronics face within the next 5-10 years?
The one that’s the hottest right now is related to driver distraction. We get all kinds of user feedback on this. On one end of the scale are the very confident folks who say they can multitask and will constantly push the limit on what they think is doable in the vehicle. On the other end of the scale are those who want us to keep it really simple and basic.
The auto industry is very interested in providing those experiences in a safe way. So we’re going to be working hard in understanding what the safer way is. And safer is different, depending on the individual and on the driving circumstances. A straight road on a nice sunny day with no traffic is different than a twisty road on a rainy night. Technology can help us deal with these different situations by offering different levels of human-machine interface that are most appropriate.
Looking at the common HMI issues among light vehicles, aircraft, and trucks and heavy equipment, can those various industries teach each other about minimizing operator distraction?
Yes, and there are different aspects of it, too. In aircraft, there is a lot of training required before a person can get behind the "stick" and in heavy equipment, too. But we accept the challenge: People want a lot of capability, but they want it very simple and intuitive. I don’t think those two are in conflict with each other. We have learning systems that are getting smarter and algorithms that are getting better all the time. It is possible to use technology to help us have very adaptable systems that can be adjusted to match the circumstances and your capabilities. We just have more work to do to really figure these out and refine them. It’s not a question of just eliminating a lot of features and functionality in order to minimize distractions.
How might engineers in the three industry sectors collaborate on this?
There is a lot starting on the far end of the research side. There is a lot of work and opportunity in terms of human performance and understanding of cognitive loading, among other areas. There are still a lot of unknowns. There are certainly opportunities in workload management and operator fatigue. In the aircraft industry, they have to deal with pilot fatigue.
Ford is a member of the GENIVI alliance. What are the implications of a broad adoption of an in-vehicle infotainment open-source platform?
It’s a complex subject. I can argue both sides of the equation, but what’s important to us is to really focus on where we can differentiate for our customers in terms of the experiences we create and the value they see in those experiences that are associated with Ford. So things like operating systems and drivers, all the stuff that’s buried behind the scenes, customers don’t care about. An OS, for example, is just not going to be a differentiator for a customer. What’s important is what we build on top of these enablers and infrastructure. In the end, people are going to compare us on the experiences we bring to the car, not the technology we use.
What’s going on in Silicon Valley? Ford, like other OEMs, has a facility there to allow your scientists and electronics engineers more freedom of thought and collaboration, so to speak.
Silicon Valley is really a hotbed for innovation, along with some other regions of the world such as Israel and more recently, St. Petersburg [Russia], with strong innovation cultures. This is a source of opportunity for us, to establish more collaborative relationships with technology providers. Certainly we’ve got to take it to the step of robustness that’s appropriate in the vehicle. But the ability to quickly tap into these start-ups that are trying out ideas and moving them forward very quickly is really important.
Ford’s Silicon Valley office has a couple roles. They do some projects on open innovation, to generate some ideas for us. They have an interface responsibility to network with the innovators and start-ups. And, of course, we have relationships with the strong universities in the Valley area including Stanford and Berkeley.
What’s also important about that culture that spreads into the consumer electronics business is the speed in which they can innovate and bring new ideas forward. The auto industry has a number of challenges because of the regulatory environment and expectations of quality and durability. But I believe we can find ways to match them. It’s not one-size-fits-all in terms of speed and a fast design cycle. We’re learning a lot from Silicon Valley in finding ways to speed up development and implementation in certain areas.
Are standards part of that learning opportunity?
Yes. There are certain standards in the consumer electronics business—USB and WiFi, for example—that we in automotive don’t have to completely reinvent, as long as they’re applied to certain areas of the vehicle that are connecting to consumer-electronics related products. For example, do we need to have a special design USB standard that’s "automotive grade" for hooking up to a device that just meets the consumer standard?
Maybe some of the existing automotive standards need only small changes to make them much more usable in the auto industry. On the other side, the creators of consumer electronics standards didn’t have any automotive input. So there is opportunity on the edges and in the overlaps to come up with better solutions by working together.
Autonomous-vehicle development is gaining greater industry and public focus. What role should SAE be playing in this space?
That’s a complicated question. Automated driving is emerging very quickly, as sensor-data fusion capability increases. A lot of areas need to be worked on in terms of specification requirements, particularly around testing and validation. There are some ISO and other standards that help define safe systems that are important. But a lot of work is needed in testing and validation that will build confidence in fully automated driving before we can give it the "thumbs-up" to go to production.
How big an issue is cyber-security as it applies to design of electronics platforms for vehicles?
It’s very, very important. We’re just at the beginning of this discussion. So far the systems on vehicles have been less connected to the surrounding environment, in terms of the real-time exchange of information. However, as our vehicles get more connected—and more dependent on that connection for their operation—we must ensure the security of those systems. And it’s not an easy topic. We can’t just look to the IT and enterprise guys for the answer, and think you can then put it in the car. They’re still struggling with hacking that threatens to take control or to steal personal information.
There are some real challenges for embedded systems and for enterprise systems. The solution is to take best practices from those, many of them in the enterprise space, who have been dealing with these threats. I’ll never say we have this issue licked.
In terms of electronics standards, what are the key areas for industry collaboration?
Interoperability is always very important. Cars are no longer in isolation; we have to constantly consider V2V and V2I communication. Our products need to talk to our competitors’ products, as well as to the surrounding infrastructure around the world. While we have to work through proprietary issues, standards will allow us to share across the industry.
But it’s a lot more than just a bunch of logical engineers getting together and saying "this is the way it’s going to be." It will take a broad understanding of regional needs around the world. The challenge is to agree on something quickly.