Technological developments are moving rapidly among suppliers in the field of CASE megatrends. In this snapshot, we take a look at Aptiv‘s ‘smart architecture’ approach to the needs of future autonomous vehicles.

Think about all the features you have at your fingertips in your car. Power windows. Bluetooth capabilities. Cruise control. Automatic headlights and windshield wipers. Because these features are easy to operate and are seamlessly integrated in the vehicle, it’s easy to forget about the vast ecosystem required to make it all functional.

Typically, new vehicle features have been added in a modular fashion. From the Model T to the Model 3, we’ve been adding features the same way. What’s the result of this process? Many of today’s cars vary around over two miles of wiring with more than 100 ECUs.

And all of these features have put increased demands on the data and electric systems. Twenty years ago, the electrical power consumption of an average car was comparable to a hairdryer. Today, the power required is comparable to an entire household. In past years, cars transferred 15,000 pieces of data in a second versus processing 100,000 pieces of data in 2020. A car’s data speed used to be approximately 150 kilobits per second. It’s now chugging along at gigabytes per second. And we haven’t even come close to what will be required for the fully autonomous vehicles of the future.

Smart architecture and the ‘need to reimagine’

Aptiv says it began with an initial key principle: Level Four and Level Five autonomous vehicles will experience an architectural break; therefore, the design and manufacturing processes must be ‘reimagined’. However, what Aptiv didn’t realise at the outset was that many of its customers were already having architectural issues in non-autonomous vehicles. The reason? Manufacturers have completely innovated what a car can do – without really revolutionising the way it’s made.

Aptiv says that the modular way in which features have typically been added to a vehicle has led to an inflexible and unaffordable manufacturing process. As advanced driver assist systems evolve from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous, a similar evolution must happen on the assembly line, it claims.

‘Smart Vehicle Architecture (SVA)’ is how Aptiv describes the future of the car. While there are a variety of ingredients – electric, active safety, automation and connectivity systems to name a few that make up a car’s architectural ecosystem – Aptiv says it has envisioned SVA as a unified backbone that consists of three critical systems: compute, network and power. And if you follow the systems and circuitry from sensor to cloud – that’s what it says is the essence of Smart Vehicle Architecture.

SVA, Aptiv says, ‘reimagines the way we architect a car, creating the foundation for the software-defined vehicle of the future, while also enabling the flexibility that our customers value’. Aptiv says it can create customised architectural solutions that ‘speak to the unique parameters of the problem’. What’s important, the company says, is that ‘we’re making the best decisions around architecture to exceed expectations when it comes to flexibility and safety’.

“Smart Vehicle Architecture is the  intersection of everything we do here at Aptiv and sets the bar for systems integration,” says Lee Bauer, Vice President, Aptiv Mobility Architecture Group. “And when you look at it holistically and are able to break it down into its parts, solutions manifest themselves that make the entire system perform better, cost less and are more reliable.”

Bauer says that SVA was born “because we found that Level Four or Five autonomous vehicles created an architecture break – in the delivery of the increased functionality and ability to package in the vehicle. We validated this with our customers and with our own fleet of autonomous vehicles.”

Aptiv customers were already having a problem with vehicle architecture as new features have created the need for feature boxes to be distributed throughout the car. “It’s a tremendous amount of dispersed intelligence. All of this is making the technology itself unaffordable and inflexible,” Bauer maintains. “So we re-imagined the existing architecture and consolidated those features into a more flexible and affordable package. We completely reconcepted how the entire car was architected.”

What makes Aptiv different, the company says, is that SVA centralises compute and decision-making for all the various safety systems (and other systems) in and around the vehicle. This is key, Aptiv says, to efficiently and effectively utilise both ADAS hardware and software for customers to upgrade their capabilities.

Individual systems and lifecycles approach

Traditionally, cars are manufactured and sold as a monolith composed of embedded software and hardware, making it difficult to improve upon individual features. SVA solves this problem by allowing for different lifecycles of the hardware and software components by treating them as individual systems. By separating them in this manner, Aptiv says it is able to develop the vehicle’s hardware while at the same time creating a flexible software framework with tailor-made computing, data and power distribution networks to support it.

This, it is claimed, means that drivers will be able to add more functionality and more content to the vehicle without having to upgrade costly hardware. In the future, Aptiv says you will be able to download updates to your software without taking it into the shop – just like a cell phone.

Safety first…

It should come as no surprise to read this: cars should be safe. And for years, cars have been designed with safety first. But – what happens to safety when cars themselves are reinvented?

While Aptiv was ‘reimagining ways to create vehicle architecture’, it says it was simultaneously reimagining the safety systems that would keep drivers safe should one of the architectural components malfunction or fail. Aptiv’s team developed what it describes as a ‘three-layer, fail-operational design which embeds resilience in all three layers (compute, network, power)’. This embedded resilience means that, in the face of a partial or total breakdown of a system, the vehicle is still able to come to a safe stop.

In order to develop this ‘holistic’, fail-operational design, Aptiv says its engineers had to continually ask questions about all three layers to ensure there were solutions for each.

  • Compute: What happens in a critical computer failure? Aptiv: “We quickly realised we couldn’t depend on a centralised compute node, so we incorporate enough redundant compute power into the architecture to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.”
  • Network: What happens if there is a failure in the network connectivity within the vehicle? Aptiv: “Knowing that the architectural real estate is already limited, we knew we couldn’t create an entire redundant network, so we innovated a dual ring topology system. SVA’s ring topology is the intersection of flexibility and affordability, where each node connects to two other nodes, forming a continuous pathway – a ring – for signals to travel through each node. This approach is highly efficient and handles heavier loads better than traditional star topology, allowing us to achieve the redundancy we need in an affordable way.”
  • Power: Can we rely on only one power source as cars have traditionally done? Aptiv: “This was the quickest ‘no’ in recent memory. Our Smart Vehicle Architecture solutions include smart, dual ring power supplies with smart fusing, allowing us to affordably deliver fail-operational performance.”

Aptiv says it is passionate about making the future of mobility work, safely. And the foundation, it says, to making this new world of mobility real begins with Smart Vehicle Architecture (SVA). Suppliers it seems, like OEMs, are having to think very differently about new product development – and new solutions for systems integration – as increasingly advanced CASE technologies are fitted to vehicles.

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