Insights from automakers' top E/Es

  • 05-Nov-2008 03:26 EST
Tuesday morning panelists.jpg
The “Car Makers Speak” panel at Convergence 2008 featured (from left) Ford’s James Buczkowski, Honda’s Toyohei Nakajima, BMW’s Guenter Reichart, Chrysler’s Andreas Schell, and General Motors’ Chris Thibodeau.
Even during the world’s current erratic economic conditions, the task of designing vehicle applications that rely on electrical/electronic technologies continues seemingly unabated.

“We can’t turn away from developing critical technologies,” said Chris Thibodeau, General Motors Corp.’s Director of Global Technology Engineering for Electrical/Electronic Products, at the recent Convergence 2008 event. He was part of a panel of top-level electrical/electronic engineers and was responding to moderator Paul Hansen’s question about what impact the volatile economy will have on current projects.

Thibodeau suggested that some technology deployments could be delayed. “Portfolio adjustments are a part of business,” he said. One aspect of the vehicle-making business that doesn’t appear to be undergoing a drastic transformation is the amount of electronic control units (ECUs) on a vehicle.

BMW’s “high-end cars” can have as many as 70 ECUs, said Dr. Guenter Reichart, Vice President of Driver Assistance, Body Electronic and Electrical Networks for the BMW Group. Other panelists also cited double-digit ECU numbers—although not as many as on a high-end BMW vehicle—and they gave no indication of any immediate en masse reduction in the number of ECUs. “Connector suppliers should be happy to hear all of your remarks,” said Hansen.

Toyohei Nakajima, Senior Chief Engineer for Honda R&D in Tochigi, Japan, said the industry should consider adopting a human-machine interface standard. “A customer might want to see the same icon on the [touch] screen and the same icon beside the switch, but the switch itself needs to be differentiated,” Nakajima said. His viewpoint is that alerts—for lane departure, forward collision, and other safety features—should be conveyed as “clear and simple information to the driver.” According to Nakajima, even different audible alerts are “kind of annoying and hard to understand.”

Speech-recognition technology is “very important now,” said James Buczkowski, Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems Engineering Implementation at Ford Motor Co. Buczkowski noted that the automaker has 280,000 vehicles on the road today using Sync technology, a factory-installed, voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft.

Natural-language speech recognition is an end goal for automakers. “Consumers don’t want to be trained to use certain commands,” said Andreas Schell, Vice President of Electrical/Electronics Engineering Core for Chrysler LLC. GM’s Thibodeau said natural-speech recognition is a technology that needs to be precise. “It’s interpretation of natural speech, and that is something you want to model really well,” he said.

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