Chuck, Excellent article. It's amazing that high end vehicles could have as many as 100 microcontrollers but it makes sense. Infotainment and new "smart" features just add to the load. Will be interesting to see how quickly there could be some combining of functions. I assume that is a trend for the future?
Yes, combining of functions is the plan going forward, Al. There are two theories: Domain control, in which electronics are clustered by function; and zone control, in which electronics are clustered by geography. I think it will be a combination of the two, with domain control rpobably being more prvalent. Either way, it will take a lot of computing power to bring it all together.
The more complex a processor/MCU the more prone to failure it can become. Every PC I had locked up at one point, every phone eventually failed, even my graphing calculators would experience an error. Cars will need to be reset in the future like our smartphones, I wager.
Simple MCUs that perform one specific task with little outside connectivity are easy to test and ensure they will work the same every time. Not the case with more transistors onboard.
I'm not suggesting living in the past with cars... but better safety is needed. Hope that is the case.
Informative article, Chuck. This does indeed sound like a complicated problem. It seems like that the auto industry's microcontroller evolution has been similar to many other types of technology (I'm thinking of IT networks in particular): attack the problem with as many as you can first, then realize you've created quite a big ball of twine and need to scale back and take a bit of a less-is-more approach. I'm sure they will eventually figure it out and at some point there will be one super-intelligent microcontroller for everything. Then people will fret about that type of design, worrying what might happen if that fails...and the process will start all over again.
The automotive industry needs to develop a standard similar to MIL-STD-1553 or ARINC 429. A common bus to handle all the data inputs. You could then have a common display(s) for all the systems to readout. You could see GPS information on the backseat DVD screens. The technology is already in-place just needs to be implement into an automotive frame.
I like the ball of twine analogy, Liz. This ball of twine has been growing since the late '80s, when I first wrote about electronically-controlled transmissions. In 2007, awareness of the problem grew, but the the numbers are still creeping upward. The only difference today is the complexity is not growing as fast as it was 15 years ago.
"A single master controller" would be one huge nightmare from a number of different perspectives. First and very obvious is the replacement price, which would undoubtedly be over a thousand dollars. Not bad while the car is under the 3 month new car warranty, but a real killer for the second owner owner of a ten year old used vehicle. Next comes the fact that wswith all of those dozens of functions in one module, the wiring to that module would therefore consist of all the wiring that went to all of those modules. The resulting multipin connectors would be a horrible reliability problem, and a real pain to install and remove. Next comes the millions of lines of code that would undoubtedly have a few errors that would not appear until after the first few thousand cars had been sold. And have you ever heard of software that somehow connected otherwise unrelated processes? Just consider those possibilities.
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If there’s a microcontroller-based Web server in your future, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, "How to Build An Embedded Web Server: An Embedded TCP/IP Tutorial.”
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