We have been evolving toward our Smart Vehicle Architecture™ approach for some time, and last year we formally unveiled SVA™ to detail more of that vision for our customers. Recently, other companies have begun to talk about new architectures as well. But depending on the role a company plays in the vehicle, its perspective on what defines “architecture” can be rather limited. As OEMs look ahead to the not-too-distant future, it becomes critical to consider a broader approach to architectural design that takes into account the entire vehicle.
Many times, when companies talk about architecture, they are referring to the compute function within a vehicle. The industry is rightfully taking steps to address the fact that the complexity that comes with adding intelligence via individual, distributed electronic control units (ECUs) is unsustainable. Each ECU adds cabling, housings and processing requirements in a space that is already tightly packed. Centralizing those functions into domain controllers is the first logical step to address this problem, and Aptiv was the first in the industry to introduce a domain controller.
Centralization also naturally leads to opportunities for more innovation through software. By abstracting hardware and software and separating their development tracks, developers can more easily and quickly update software with automation features, even after a vehicle has left the factory, through over-the-air (OTA) updates.
That abstraction is one of the key tenets of the SVA approach. But OEMs should not stop there.
Abstracting I/O from compute
What gets lost in some conversations is another type of abstraction: that of abstracting input/output (I/O) from compute. This second tenet of SVA is a fundamental shift in the electrical/electronic architecture and is key to enabling further advances. Each sensor, actuator and peripheral in a vehicle is part of the vehicle’s I/O. By abstracting I/O from compute, a centralized domain controller has a much simpler and more consistent interface with the rest of the vehicle versus today’s star network topologies. This enables the “server-ization” of compute, which in turn simplifies its architecture and life-cycle management.
Zone controllers perform the I/O abstraction. They handle all of the power and data requirements for sensors and actuators for an area within a vehicle and then aggregate communications onto a minimum number of data links to the domain controller. They can also lower costs by up-integrating some processing functions in the zone where it makes sense, reducing cost and physical complexity.
Another aspect of next-generation electrical/electronic (E/E) architectures that cannot be overlooked is the need for redundancy and failover capabilities for power, data and compute throughout a vehicle. As vehicles move up the levels of automated driving, they must be able to withstand a failure in their systems and keep the passengers safe.
Among other things, this means including redundancy in compute and having the architecture in place to reroute power and data, if needed. The SVA approach proposes using a unified power and high-speed data backbone in a dual-ring topology that is resilient, efficient and able to provide redundancy when required.
The industry is rapidly embracing a “clean sheet” architecture approach to electric vehicles (EVs), creating opportunities to intelligently consider both low-voltage electronics and the high-voltage components needed for electric vehicles as one holistic design. In part, this means reducing the size and weight of the electronics, data networking components and power lines to help make room for the bulkier high-voltage cables and busbars and increase the vehicle’s range. But it also means using intelligent power management to deliver power when and where it is needed most, ensuring that the EV battery is conserved.
By starting from a clean sheet of paper, OEMs can avoid having to adapt designs that have been optimized for combustion engines. This is a substantial undertaking, and no OEM wants an architecture that will be obsolete in a few years. Consequently, the move to EVs is often also a catalyst for adopting SVA principles to ensure vehicles can easily and efficiently scale to higher levels of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and in-cabin user experience — including leveraging OTA for maintenance and life-cycle enhancements.
On top of all these trends, any next-generation E/E architecture has to take into account ease of assembly. With labor costs rising, OEMs are looking for solutions that allow them to automate assembly wherever possible, so an E/E architecture must have elements to enable that. The SVA approach uses a Dock & Lock™ system that attaches to the floorboard of a vehicle, acting as a base for a robot to attach SVA components, as well as zone controllers that segment the wiring of the vehicle into more manageable zones.
These are complex issues requiring whole-vehicle thinking. Aptiv holds a unique position with both the brain and the nervous system of the vehicle — a perspective that enabled us to conceive, specify and deliver SVA. We play at every level, and that gives us a full view of the electrical/electronic architecture, from the high-voltage busbars that deliver power, to the software that makes critical driving decisions. As OEMs continue to ramp up EVs and increase automated-driving capabilities, Aptiv will be a significant partner in their journey.