Co-founder, VP Marketing
As the electronics market turns from industrial to consumer markets, many companies believe one of the largest growth areas is the automotive market where there is a captive customer, the desire for built-in functionality, a bundled sales process and broad customer interest for a myriad of products and features.
However, counter to consumer markets, long automobile design and test cycle times have made predicting which cellular standards, frequencies, networking, audio/video/3D/digital radio/television features and specifications to include an impossible problem. Whatever the starting requirements, they are guaranteed to change between initial design, product release and customer acceptance. This dilemma is only the tip of the iceberg for the automobile manufacturer.
After 10 years, a car is anything but obsolete; gas, oil, roads and highways are readily available; insurance and services are plentiful. Automobile parts are interchangeable and a myriad of maintenance items are reasonably priced; from paint jobs, interiors, engine improvements, customization projects, or simply new mufflers. In this world, electronic systems should follow the same model. And, yet, the industry builds only rigid, un-modifiable embedded SOC solutions with no ability to service or easily add improvements. Instead, the industry incorporates every possible feature into the base product leading to the VCR equivalent of the blinking LCD and it’s inevitable response – “A Mercedes-Benz electronics vice president recently told an innovation symposium that it had already removed 600 electronic functions from its cars and that the process continues.” 
Understanding what the right solution should do is easy; it should be electronically modifiable for individual customization at the factory, the dealer, or the local service establishment for both new and used cars. It would lower the 10 year physical inventory requirement, lower overall manufacturing costs, improve system reliability, and, for a small additional cost, be capable of supporting just about any application that comes along over at least a 5 year period.
The solution starts by realizing that for most of the time, most automobile electronics sits unused. For example, the seats, windows and mirror electronic systems are seldom used, and never are they used at exactly the same time. And yet, the hardware for these tasks is always available. The same is true for much of the audio/video, TV, telecommunications and other electronics in today’s automobiles. Obviously, if the hardware that “isn’t needed now, but will be needed sometime in the future” could be removed until its needed, then less hardware would be necessary. A new breed of IC is needed which is capable of modifying its internal hardware structures to map itself to the problem at hand and then change itself for the next application is needed. Then, when the seat needs to move, it can provide that function, then adapt for the mirror and etc. But, it would accomplish this not by running many software instructions through an ALU or MAC, but by quickly building very explicit hardware. The increased efficiency of directly creating a hardware solution can meet the much more complex requirements of wireless communications, infrared warning systems, DVD systems, GPS, and others, but still keep the flexibility provided through software.
Another part of the solution is to build this new kind of IC out of “lego-like” building blocks; so that if one building block develops a defect (either in fabrication, or during use), it can be replaced by another like block (equivalent of the same size, color, and shape lego block) and the system continues to work. This “overlapping-in-time” reuse of hardware, and the utilization of a small number of elemental building blocks that are “interchangeable with each other” means future automotive systems can be created that are very inexpensive, easily adapted during the design, manufacture, test and delivery of a vehicle to provide new functionality, and extremely reliable.
Truly, less can be more.
Not More, Electronics in Mercedes-Benz’ Future; EETimes,