Keeping up with rapid innovation in cockpit domain controllers

By Jeff Hancock |  No Comments  |  Posted: September 6, 2022
Topics/Categories: Embedded - Architecture & Design, - EDA Topics, Embedded Topics, Embedded - Platforms, User Experience  |  Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jeff Hancock is a Senior Product Manager in the Embedded Platform Technology Business Unit of Mentor, A Siemens Business. He oversees the Nucleus and Mentor Embedded Hypervisor runtime product lines, as well as associated middleware and professional services.Jeff Hancock is a Senior Product Manager for the Embedded Platform Solutions group at Siemens Digital Industries Software. He oversees the Nucleus real-time operating system and Hypervisor runtime product lines, as well as associated middleware and professional services. Over the last 20 years, Jeff has held numerous roles in the embedded space. Jeff earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Purdue University.

In today’s automotive industry, a car’s marketability is driven more by its technical abilities than its mechanical ones. Every aspect of the vehicle’s performance is controlled by a complex network of hardware and software. Nowhere is this more apparent than the interface between the driver and the machine, known as the ‘cockpit domain’.

This domain comprises several digital displays that are continually changing in size and capability and that stretch across the entire dashboard. These include the instrument cluster display, and the center stack display that handles infotainment such as audio, navigation, and climate control. Many features are accessed via touch screens, but can also be managed by the driver via controls on the steering wheel. Some have roles critical to safety, while others do not.

To succeed in this domain of fast-paced advancement, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must understand the growing consumer and industry trends, current challenges, and solutions, and what it will take to remain competitive.

Four trends

Four major trends are pushing automotive innovation.

The first is autonomous driving. Autonomous driving features (e.g., braking to avoid a collision) have become standard in many of today’s vehicles. The volume of data moving through the increasingly autonomous car will likely add up to 4 terabytes daily.

The second is increased connectivity, boosted by emerging 5G network technology. While increased connectivity provides opportunities for new features, additional security and privacy issues have to be addressed.

The third is the shift to electric vehicles (EVs). In a report for the Environmental Defense Fund, consultancy firm ERM projects that global automakers will spend more than $515 billion by 2030 to develop and build EVs, which are expected to account for 55% of car sales by that point.  For EVs, space and weight are primary concerns.

The fourth is shared mobility, such as the use of a single vehicle by several users, either at the same time or in succession. Major international cities are already seeing this tends in the shape of shared e-scooters.

All of these automotive industry trends rely on embedded software development.

Why cockpit domain trends are critical

The already fast pace of design innovation in the cockpit domain continues to accelerate. The increased functionality within it requires more processing power in a limited amount of space, leading to the implementation of multicore SoCs.

These advanced processors can run multiple devices with different operating systems in a heterogeneous computing environment. Sometimes, functional safety and non-safe functionality will be contained in a single SoC, resulting in quality management (QM)- and automotive safety integrity level (ASIL)-rated features running side by side. However, this mix raises a unique set of challenges for an embedded software designer.

Chip manufacturers have recognized the changing landscape in the automotive industry and are producing sophisticated, 64-bit multicore chips that can handle the workload. For example, NXP has its S32G vehicle network processor based on the Arm Cortex-M and Cortex-A cores; Xilinx has its Zynq and Zynq UltraScale series built on the Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53; and Texas Instruments offers a variety of products, such as the Jacinto 7 series. These devices include extensions and graphics acceleration via graphics processing units (GPUs).

Ethernet and other high-speed capabilities may also be present on these chips. To address them within the compute space of an automobile, semiconductor companies are building safety and security features into their chips such as real-time cores (a.k.a. ‘safety islands’) that are rated for functional safety.

Security issues are being addressed through hardware encryption and hardware separation between the cores, and also between memory and peripherals for isolation and protection. The same technology that applies to security also applies to functional safety. Additional peripherals such as 5G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are part of the mix, with the resulting cockpit domain being akin to an advanced smartphone.

The cockpit domain controller (CDC) provides a more efficient way of presenting additional information and entertainment to the driver. The trend is for infotainment and instrument cluster functionality to be contained within a single electronic control unit (ECU). Therefore, driver monitoring systems, camera support, GPS, acoustics, voice control, and over-the-air (OTA) updates are all moving through the CDC.

Multicore means differentiation and consumer choice

Additional trends driving the move toward a CDC is the reduction in hardware to save space and eliminate weight, which also saves on the cost of modules. These trends also lead to multicore solutions.

Car manufacturers are continuously seeking new features and designs in screens and displays to differentiate themselves from the competition, including distinctive cluster designs, larger panels with higher resolution, and the capacity to address the emerging capability of artificial intelligence (AI) and video processing. Plus, increasing connectivity via the emerging 5G network provides a pipeline for the vehicle to bring in even more features.

Greater access brings with it an increased risk of malware contaminating the system. Common strategies for handling security include secure boot, memory access protection, hardware, and software partitioning, among others.

The ambitious and creative embedded designers in cockpit domain control have never been in a better position with access to available embedded technologies. However, there are key considerations and requirements that must be analyzed and me to develop and refine applications that meet and exceed the expectations of today’s modern consumer.

The embedded design team must address mixed-safety criticality, detection and prevention of failures, isolation of critical functions for multicore systems enablement, operating system selection, management of security and safety software updates, design requirements, and standards compliance. Competition in the automotive space is becoming increasingly fierce and embedded development teams must be aware of these key aspects.

Further reading

To learn more about what it takes to maintain a competitive edge in automotive cockpit domains, read the Siemens Digital Industries white paper, “Responding to the Rapid Advancements of Domain Controllers.” Download the paper now:



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