Three cars in one via systems integration

  • 09-Nov-2009 04:22 EST

By selecting one of three vehicle profiles, the corresponding ECU settings across multiple system boundaries are changed within an instant.

During the 14th International Electronics Systems for Motor Vehicles Congress at Baden-Baden (Germany), Continental revealed a completely new approach to making complex vehicle functions easily accessible to the driver. Under the project name Simplify your Drive (SyD), the supplier presented a demonstration vehicle that changes its feel and character according to three preprogrammed vehicle profiles.

“Vehicle electronics are offering so many options these days that we are getting to a point where system proliferation can be difficult to manage for the driver,” said Helmut Matschi, member of the executive board of Continental AG’s Interior division. “We need to work on the human-machine interface to make controlling electronics easier.” A test drive in the Volkswagen Passat CC model, which serves as demonstration vehicle, illustrated what the supplier is talking about.

At the push of three buttons, the car changes between comfort, sports, and eco modes. A sports mode is nothing new in principle. Existing BMW or Audi models, for instance, offer the driver more sporty suspension characteristics or pedal feel at the push of a button. Yet, the Continental approach goes far beyond that. SyD is, in fact, a systems integration and control concept.

“Roughly 200 of our engineers, working in the powertrain, chassis, and interior divisions, cooperated to design, develop, and integrate the concept in the demonstrator vehicle," said Ralf Lenninger, Senior Vice President of Continental for interiors. During the development work, the supplier defined three different vehicle modes. Activating one of them results in fundamental changes of control settings across multiple domain boundaries. The system concept networks engine control and acoustics, automatic transmission control (gearshift timing), suspension, driver assistance functions, energy management, and the human-machine interface (HMI).

A gateway controller or embedded gateway control function communicates with the domain ECUs (electronic control units) via a controller area network (CAN) bus to activate the appropriate setting or map within the ECUs.

“In principle, SyD is inspired by the preprogrammed profiles of digital cameras,” Lenninger explained. “These are activated by turning a central control knob. Without bothering about technical settings, the user can switch from portrait to landscape to night time to get the best out of his camera.”

Exploiting the full potential of fuel efficiency

Vehicle profiles also aim at making the driver’s life easier. Instead of setting a multitude of control options, the profiles ensure that all relevant domains are instantly adapted to the driver’s preferred choice. The eco mode is probably the best example as it tangibly tunes the car to high fuel efficiency. Once activated, engine power and maximum speed are limited in eco mode. At the same time, the chassis is lowered.

However, the biggest single change for the driver is throttle behavior. The supplier has integrated its accelerator force feedback pedal (AFFP) in the SyD vehicle. Whenever the driver tries to accelerate more strongly than is good for high fuel efficiency, the pedal will gently kick back to make the driver aware that he or she is impacting fuel efficiency.

This part of the HMI will train the driver to optimize fuel efficiency and fully exploit the vehicle’s technology. As the car is making the driver’s mind up for him/her, even a cooperative driver may think at times that this is a bit too much. But the point is that the profile can be changed at any time while driving.

“The car can be an eco car during daily commuting," said Lenninger. "It can be a highly comfortable family car that demands minimum activity or HMI attention from the driver, and it can be a sports car at any time.”

Freely programmable instrument cluster

Another highly visible feature is the instrument cluster’s changing look and information content. This HMI feature is based on a fully programmable instrument cluster that exploits the design freedom offered by a large TFT (thin-film transistor) display.

“For this project, we said goodbye to just imitating the look of the last generation of analog instruments,” said Guido Meier-Arendt, principle technical expert for HMI within interior electronics solutions. “Instead, we combined succinct digital information with graphic elements, colors, and symbols, which are all tailored to each individual profile.”

For the vehicle manufacturer, SyD offers benefits as well, according to the supplier.

“By giving a single vehicle the characteristics of three different types of car, the vehicle manufacturer can offer the driver a new level of freedom. Also the profiles could be a means to limit the growing number of models and niche models,” Lenninger explained. “On the electronic hardware level, there needs to be little, if any, change within one platform,” Lenninger adds, “as the profiles can be defined by setting software parameters individually as per model.”

According to Continental, the technical requirements are very limited. Most ECUs offer enough storage space to hold another map or set of settings anyway. Also, the bus traffic is limited as the gateway controller just sends short messages to the ECUs.

Freely changing the designs of the instrument cluster and ambient lighting is another highlight, according to Meier-Arendt. “Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly communicating the HMI as an element of defining their vehicle’s character,” he said.

In the long run, the supplier also considers allowing the driver to put his or her own choice of settings together within an individual profile.

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