Accelerating software and hardware production cycles from the hotbed of the auto industry in southern Germany
In the southwest corner of Germany, away from Intel’s various offices in and around Munich, a small team of Intel engineers are developing automotive technology using a novel new approach to Intel’s traditional hardware and software development cycles.
The Intel Automotive Innovation and Product Development Center was established in 2012 in Karlsruhe, Germany, a hotbed of automotive industry and just a few hours away from major car manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen as well as major suppliers like Bosch and Continental.
The center employs a hundred automotive engineers, over 40 percent of whom have Ph.D.s, and covers all aspects of automotive technology design, including hardware, software, silicon and consulting. They have produced and implemented several reference designs to date and have been instrumental in getting Intel inside future models from Jaguar, Toyota, Hyundai, among others.
The center even includes a secure car park/test driving area and an underground garage designed to allow Intel and its partners and customers test and showcase the technology being developed there.
Focused on in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) and telematics, and most recently the IVI brains within the 2016 Jaguar XF sports sedan and 2016 Jaguar XJ luxury sedan that the British car company calls “InControl Touch Pro,” Intel engineers have produced several automotive solutions while adhering to rigorous and stringent automotive quality requirements that are second only to military requirements.
But potentially more surprising is the detour Intel took from its traditional silicon, hardware and software development cycles in order to meet aggressive production cycles outlined by the automotive industry.
Adapting to Rapid Technology Cycles
In the automotive industry, timelines are different than silicon production cycles for traditional computing, so the design team had to adapt to match up with the development cycles of new vehicles.
“To make sure our silicon could intercept the timeline [the car manufacturers] needed, we had to come up with innovative approaches…to allow Intel to release silicon earlier outside the company,” explains Kevin Murphy, engineering director and site manager at Intel’s Automotive Center. This allowed car and equipment manufacturers to test the hardware and software and configure their applications. Releasing out of cycle was termed the “good-enough silicon approach” and is now used routinely across Intel when an accelerated customer schedule must be met.
Intel’s software approach also had to be transformed to match the release schedule for car manufacturers.
“They want features released early, iterated often, so they have multiple times, multiple touch points and multiple opportunities to give feedback on how they want the feature to evolve,” says Murphy. “We came up with a whole different software development methodology – basically we were doing one major release per month.”
Part of the accelerated release cycle was developing a continuous integration environment where the software team can compile and deliver a new software image every 24 hours. This new process received several software quality awards as a result, including Intel being the only non-automotive qualified supplier to receive an “A” quality audit rating by leading tier-one auto suppliers from Bosch, Denso and Magneti Marelli.
Intel’s In-Vehicle Infotainment Innovations
“What we provide today is an IVI reference system that the car customers can adopt,” says Murphy. “It will accelerate their adoption of Intel technology into the car but also the adoption of their new technology into their lifecycle so they can go to market much faster with our reference design.”
Intel aims to differentiate from others in the market such as Nvidia and Qualcomm by providing an all-in-one solution consisting of hardware, software, silicon and technical consulting as a “system-level sale,” says Murphy.
The center has generated over 30 patents (either filed or in review) and engineered an “instantly on” IVI system that boots up in less than two seconds. Fast boot is critical for today’s automotive features such as a rearview camera, which has to be available as soon as a driver starts the car.
“Because the car is a safety-critical device, we wanted to get that system to come up really fast, and we wanted to take the image from the camera on that system really fast as well,” explains Murphy. “To do that, we had to come up with the technology that we call the ‘Instant-On Startup Capability.’ The whole IVI system will come up in two seconds and, as part of that, it will render the image from the rear camera onto the display. In PC language, that’s a complete cold-boot startup.”
Murphy says it took his team about a year and a half to reduce the startup time from today’s 15 seconds typical of a Linux PC to under two seconds through optimizations of the kernel and only having critical systems as part of the boot up process.
Bringing Ethernet to the Car
Murphy and his team have also been working on how to handle audio and video signals inside the vehicle. Today’s cars typically have miles of cabling , but the Intel automotive team replaced proprietary cabling with an Ethernet-based system to distribute the audio and video signals, thus standardizing the system, reducing weight and lowering costs. Murphy said the team also developed an innovative way to bridge and synchronize the A/V streams, a first, according to Murphy, for any connected car.
Among the first vehicles to deploy the audio video bridging (AVB) technology will be the 2016 Jaguar XF sedan.
“When we went about designing this together with Intel, we went about it the way a technology company would do, not a car company,” said Chris McKinnon, product marketing director at Jaguar, about the technology in the 2016 Jaguar XF sedan. “And we really thought about the end user who are used to using tablets and expecting a swift response, touch and swipe technology, and that’s what we have with the InControl Touch Pro. It’s based around a 10.2-inch screen. It has quad-core processors from Intel. And really delivers a number of unique features.”
Intel’s Automotive History in Germany
While Intel has provided silicon for various automotive solutions for several years out of its embedded technology group, now known as the Internet of Things Group, the automotive segment became a significant new focus in 2010, according to Murphy.
Indeed, the connected car and autonomous driving technologies have spurred rapid growth over the last several years, with more than 80 percent of the innovation and new features attributed to electronics, according to PwC. BI Intelligence estimates that revenue from automotive connected services is expected to reach $152 billion by 2020.
“We wanted to create a worldwide automotive product innovation center, and R&D center, and we decided to locate that in Germany because the bulk of the innovation today for the car industry is centered out of Germany,” explains Murphy. “We wanted an independent site from sites that Intel already operates in Germany.”
Wind River, a subsidiary of Intel, also works with the design center, providing an additional 50 to 100 engineers in an automotive center of excellence in Romania.
Murphy and team aren’t putting on the brakes on innovation despite some recent design wins. Working in the same space as some other technology companies, such as Nvidia, the team is looking at replacing hydro-mechanical gauges with software-based instrumentation. In addition to reducing weight, electronic gauges offer customization options for both the driver and manufacturer.
Murphy also proposes rear- and side-view cameras that pipe the images through the existing IVI infrastructure so drivers can look forward to having 270-degree visual coverage of the sides and rear of their vehicles.