The marriage of vehicle electronics with mechanical systems is growing ever closer in intimacy, as the organizers of the first Convergence conference 40 years ago expected. Counseling on that relationship—and the crucial conflicts (e.g., simplicity vs. complexity) that must be resolved for a happy and resilient union—will be offered at SAE 2014 Convergence in the form of a seven-session panel program. Go to www.sae.org/events/convergence for information on the conference and exhibition. Click on "Program" for details on the session topics and speakers.
The conference is slated for Oct. 21-22 at Detroit's Cobo Center.
Automotive Engineering wanted to know what the Chair of SAE 2014 Convergence had to say about the topics to be addressed in each of the seven Convergence sessions, as well as what attendees should expect to get out of the conference overall. The Chair is Chris Barman, Unit Responsible, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Chrysler Group LLC. Here are edited excerpts of our interview with her.
Is Convergence designed so attendees will arrive with questions and leave with answers? Or so attendees will have more questions upon leaving then upon arrival?
We expect a blend of both. We expect them to come in with their ideas of where the industry may be trending; and they may have questions related to understanding what others are doing. We hope that they leave with some of their questions being answered, but we also hope that they leave with more ideas or questions about where the industry is going and that we’ve actually broadened their horizon and given them other factors to consider.
The first Convergence session is “Enhancing the User Experience to Improve the Personal Mobility Experience.” What is the biggest challenge for the industry in this area, and how do you see it overcoming that challenge?”
This topic revolves around the theme of advancement in electronics devices, and elements of that, including: A, how consumers use their nomadic electronic device(s) and the user interface or HMI they are accustom to, and how they may develop expectations of a very similar-type interface in the vehicle. And B, the challenge of providing that interface and balancing it with driver distraction and making sure that the drivers’ eyes are on the road. There is also the challenge of keeping up as these consumer devices evolve—making sure that the car stays fresh and up to date with those devices, and apps, and other software or elements that the customer has come to appreciate and want as part of the driving experience.
Same question for the next session: A Secure Personal Mobility Experience.
This topic has gotten a lot of discussion within the industry. Recently the hacker convention was held in Las Vegas, where there was discussion around the network security of automobiles, and it did reveal that there are some weaknesses in all designs of all automotive manufacturers. The challenge that we will all face is staying ahead of those who are out there that are interested in—for whatever reason, hopefully not necessarily to do harm—hacking.
Millennials: The New Generation of Employees. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Yes, this is an interesting and exciting topic. We will have individuals participating on the panel who have studied trends in the desires of millennials, and we will have millennials themselves who can speak on behalf of the broader audience of millennials. What we’re trying to understand about that group is what interests them in where they may desire to work. It’s not just about getting them in the door, but also retaining them—keeping them as a happy and satisfied workforce. I would say it is very different from those of us who are not millennials, for whom the mind-set may have been more, “I go to a company, I stay with a company because of the benefits they offer, what’s been vested, etc.” But companies now don’t necessarily offer that the way they used to.
I think also that the millennials have the mind-set that it’s almost expected that you will change jobs, and that a change in job or responsibility is going to revolve around what your interest may be in developing yourself as a person—not just a method of income.
For the automotive industry in general, it’s important to make sure that people understand what we do—that we are high tech. The perception that we are just manufacturing is not true. Engineers and others who are coming into the workforce may think the Googles and Microsofts and Apples are really the high-tech companies—the ones who are really evolving and changing. Well, we are doing that as well. Our challenge is to communicate that compelling proposition to millennials so that they have as much interest in us as they do in those other high-tech companies.
There may be some overlap. For the Executive Visionaries Panel, we wanted the top leaders from OEMs and the supplier base, top leaders from engineering, to come in and talk about what they see as the evolution of the technologies and features and how they may come into the vehicle. The executive panel may also discuss some of the near- and mid-term challenges and how we'll address those, either as an individual OEM or as an industry. The panel will probably give us a pretty good indication what the roadmap looks like up to 2025—what the technology and the hardware may look like, the challenges we’ll face, the evolution of software and information that we may need to have to try to achieve that state. I hope they also discuss the evolution of the driver experience in the next 10 years.
What we’re hoping to get out of the 40-Year Look Ahead are thoughts about what the industry will look like in the longer term, 40 years. What does transportation look like? How will people use vehicles at that point in time? Will the change in user experience be evolutionary or revolutionary? I think most of us in the industry would say that around 2025 is when autonomous driving will start—when it becomes a more mainstream feature. So, OK, that’s roughly 10 years from now that we’re starting to get into autonomous driving—and it’s not all cars, but some cars. Well, fast-forward another 30 years beyond that. By that time, cars should be robustly autonomous. So what does a car look like at that point? Does it look like what we have today? Or if it’s some form of transportation pod, then what would I want it to be? Would I want it to be more like my mobile office or mobile living room when I commute somewhere? Do I even own a car, or am I going to be part of a club that gives me access to the transportation device I want when I need it. So if I know I’m going to go to a grocery store, I only need this. If I know I’m going to go away for the weekend with a bunch of friends, I’m going to need this.
The panel also will look at the really far-out futurist challenges as well, like what will virtual reality be in that time frame? How much will you actually be physically moving yourself vs. using virtual reality to be in the place you want to be? I don’t know; that’s a good question. You asked about whether the conference will answer questions vs. pose more questions; I expect the 40-Year Look Ahead, if it is successful, to have all of us going, 'Wow! What could it be? I never thought of that!' And really start to wrap our heads around that.
The Future of Technology Delivery. What are your thoughts on this one?
The big challenge relates to the delivery of software feature controls in the future-gen car. Today our cell phones alert us that there is a software update and ask us if we want to accept it. Will we have that capability on automobiles in the future? I would expect we would. How do we implement that from an infrastructure perspective? How do you bring it into the vehicle? What hardware do you have to have? What software might you have to have? What is the methodology behind delivering updates to consumers so they appreciate that their car is being kept fresh without being annoyed by it?
“And addressing the security of those updates,” added Steve Buckley, Chrysler Senior Technical Fellow for Electrical Engineering and Technical Chair of the Convergence conference, who Barman invited to participate in our interview with her. Barman then elaborated: Exactly. And is it something you can do while an individual is driving? Or is it going to have to be something involving the driver stopping? You wouldn’t want to necessarily do that because you don’t want to interrupt what the driver wants to do daily. But depending on the data you want to send, and the methodology you do that with, there may be challenges.
External Transfer Trends. What’s your thinking here?
We touched on consumer devices earlier. There are also other arenas like aerospace or military that may be developing electronics that we could see starting to migrate into automotive. (Added Buckley: “Part of the development process is being able to use virtual tools, analysis. A lot of these tools are developed for aerospace and military. We don’t necessarily utilize them at this point, but they may make sense for automotive.”)
OK, so we’ve run through the Convergence program. Any final thoughts on any aspect of Convergence and/or vehicle electronics that you’d like to address?
The big thing for me is that the era of electronics is evolving faster all the time—Moore’s Law. So what’s challenging and also exciting for those of us who work in this arena in automotive is understanding how it is going to evolve and making sure we are going to be able to bring that technology in a robust, cost-effective, safe, secure manner into our vehicles to continue to evolve them for meeting customer needs, meeting regulatory needs, meeting whatever the demand may be that would have us compelled to put it into a vehicle. The excitement, for automotive engineers, is the opportunity to create, evolve, and innovate as electronics technology advances.