Monday, November 28, 2016

Evolving into a Domain Controlled World

Thomas Bloor
Business Development Manager
BlackBerry QNX

In 1859, Charles Darwin set out his theory of evolution by natural selection. He defined natural selection as the "principle by which each slight variation [of a trait], if useful, is preserved." The concept is simple but powerful: individuals best adapted to their environments are more likely to survive and reproduce.
Of course, the unspoken corollary is that species with extremely short lifespans, such as insects, will be more successful as they get to go through more evolutionary cycles and adapt to changes in their environment faster. Anyone who has seen the movie “Jurassic Park” knows that while the dinosaurs died out, the mosquitoes essential to the plot evolved and survived to annoy us even today.

A similar evolutionary challenge plagues automotive, with product cycles spanning three years or more, we struggle to keep up with the faster evolution of smartphones whose consumer driven life cycles can be as short as only twelve months. Now as we look forward to the fully autonomous car it’s obvious that car makers and suppliers who can adapt and evolve faster will win in these new markets. This is especially true because cars are becoming more and more software-defined.

In order to contain the rapidly rising cost of electronics innovation in the car, the industry is looking towards consolidating functions into a number of domain/area controllers that will evolve from today’s complex architecture  based upon an increasing number of Electronic Control Units (ECUs) scattered throughout the vehicle.
Automakers are currently racing to bring new innovations into the car across Infotainment, Driver Assistance, Autonomous Driving, and other things.  The winners in this race will be the companies with the ability to evolve their products faster, while tackling the challenges of safety, security, and escalating system costs.

Evolving the Vehicle Architecture
With the advent of technologies such as virtualization, the industry is looking at making the first evolutionary steps towards a consolidated domain/area controller architecture. Some forward thinking automakers are looking to a flexible and scalable vehicle architecture that can be configured to support entry to premium level applications by varying the number and configuration of domain/area controllers in the vehicle and the software they run.

Now this will not be a one step process. Consolidation of systems into these domain/area controllers will be a process that takes place over several generations as the interfaces and communications become more standardized within the vehicle architecture. The ability to flexibly compile functions into different build configurations will then depend on a unified software architecture, so the choice of software architecture and platforms will become a strategic decision that can enhance flexibility and time to market. Conversely, the wrong decision, or no decision, on a consolidated software platform can slow product evolution and flexibility and potentially lead to extinction. 

Key here is the selection of a software environment that is capable enough to be the foundation across the range of applications such as infotainment, driver assist or even autonomous drive

Automakers or Tier 1 suppliers that create a unified operating system environment across multiple functions within the car will be able to consolidate faster, and with more flexibility, by avoiding the penalties of increased cost and time to market when consolidating systems with disparate software environments.

As security continues to be in the public mind, automakers are facing the reality as in corporate IT that security will evolve continuously as vulnerabilities are identified leading to a process of patch issuing that need to be applied over the lifetime of the car.

Now with a fragmented operating system environment, security costs escalate as each operating system will have its own vulnerabilities and security flaws. An entry point for a hacker can be anywhere in the car, making automotive security a system level issue that necessitates an automaker to identify and fix security vulnerabilities across all operating systems in the car. 

As the electronic modules within the car are supplied by multiple Tier 1s, ensuring system level security of the complete automobile becomes a challenge for the automaker, requiring penetration testing of the complete car. With this reality a unified operating system environment is better and simply more secure. While we may never get to a single operating system in the car consolidating from the 6 to 8 in use today to 3 or 4 is a realistic objective.

Future Proofing
The auto industries' traditional business model is being challenged by the need to quickly evolve the features in their products. Cars were traditionally sold with fixed functionality with no concept of upgradeability of electronic systems. This is changing with advent of connectivity. Manufacturers such as Tesla, who is a leader in the industry when it comes to remotely upgrading the software in their vehicles remotely.
Such remote over the air upgradeability is constrained by today’s distributed ECU architectures as each ECU performs a fixed function with defined outputs, with only limited elements of the system having the ability to be upgraded. Moving forwards, a more consolidated domain/area controller archtecture with an advanced Over the Air (OTA) update capability will enable automakers to maintain and upgrade systems in the field a lower cost than traditional software recalls.  

Unified Solutions
Known as the market leader in Infotainment and Telematics software, QNX provides a unified operating system and suite of products that help solve the challenges of the fragmented operating system environments found within today's vehicles. A family of solutions branched off of a common core ensures efficiency in investments while enabling the flexible scalable domain/area controller architectures of the future.

With a new paradigm appearing in automotive security QNX is positioned to  provide the basis of the next generation of safe and secure vehicle systems. True type 1 hypervisor solutions enable the flexibility to host cluster and infotainment functions within a single domain/area controller, while meeting ASIL requirements for the driver display. The same technology enables hosting of separate operating systems such as adaptive Autosar to extend lower body domain/area controller functionality and enable a truly flexible vehicle architecture. 
The need to evolve vehicle architectures will place critical importance on the choice of operating systems and software in the car. Over the air updates, safety and security robustness, and overall flexibility will be critical attributes determining the success or failure of automotive software environments. 

With over two decades of automotive software experience, BlackBerry-QNX is used in more than 60 million vehicles today across infotainment, telematics, advanced driver assist, vehicle control, and over the air updates. 

Evolving architectures with the benefit of thirty years of experience QNX is the software platform that can enable consolidation, feature evolution, safety and security at lower overall cost in response to the changing needs of the automotive industry.