Solving design challenges for autonomous vehicles.

A widespread transformation is taking place in the automotive industry. Changes in technology, societal pressures, and environmental regulations are all pushing vehicles to become more sustainable, safe, accessible, and smart. In response to these trends and pressures, automakers are doubling down on electrification and continuing to invest in the development of automated driving features and autonomous vehicles (AV).

AV development will only become more important in the marketplace as the competition to produce new and advanced vehicle features continues to mount. Automakers today must focus on the development of advanced features and functions to stand out in a competitive landscape. As the emphasis on advanced self-driving vehicle features continues to grow, so too does the design challenge for the engineers.

Automakers will be required to transform fundamental aspects of their businesses and organizations to meet the needs of the future of mobility. Years of development in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), vehicle electrification, software, electronics, and other technologies are coming to fruition, driving a massive shift in the composition of the automotive market.

Design Challenges Abound in the Future of Mobility

Figure 1. ADAS features have become increasingly standard across the automotive industry, contributing to an increase in the electrical, electronic, and software content of vehicles. (Image: iStock)

Modern vehicles are massively more complex than those of a decade ago. This complexity growth is the result of multiple technological developments in the automotive industry. The increasing standardization of ADAS throughout the industry has contributed to an increase in the on-board processing power and the number of sensors, actuators, and networks in the modern vehicle (Figure 1). Advanced infotainment systems have also become more common, many of which now include connected features to provide enhanced passenger experiences and over-the-air updates, both of which drive additional complexity in the electrical and electronic (E/E) networks, vehicle software, and more.

The power of these onboard processors and the sophistication of vehicle software will continue to grow as self-driving systems develop. AVs will incorporate some of the most complex electronics devices ever produced. For example, the software operating centers (SoCs) providing onboard intelligence will likely be among the most powerful to date, as they gather and process terabytes of data every second from the various sensor systems around the vehicle.

Vehicle software has also evolved from disparate low-level embedded functions to vehicle-wide software systems that can manage and control multiple vehicle functions. Self-driving vehicles will have even more complex software incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence to process sensor data, make decisions, and send instructions around the vehicle in real-time. As a result, the various sub-systems and domains that make up an AV, from the electronics and software to the mechanical systems, will need to interact continuously as the vehicle operates to support this movement of information around the vehicle.

Even as vehicle complexity grows, companies must integrate all the advanced components and sub-systems required for an autonomous driving system into an all-electric vehicle platform while preserving sufficient drive range and performance characteristics. Some estimates place the drive range penalty of a self-driving system at about 15 percent due to the electrical power demands of the various sensors, actuators, and processing devices. Additional integration challenges involve ensuring the vehicle networks can support the data requirements of an AV, and the creation of an attractive vehicle body, such that the cameras and other sensors are subtle on the exterior of the vehicle.

Embracing Digital Transformation

Figure 2. Overcoming the complexity of designing the vehicles of tomorrow, autonomous or otherwise, starts with the digitalization of the design process. (Image: Siemens)

So, how can companies overcome the design challenges introduced by AVs, accounting for the hundreds of thousands of interactions that can occur within the vehicle’s sub-systems? And how do they understand the potential impacts of a design change throughout the entire product lifecycle, including into the manufacturing and supply chain ecosystems?

It starts with a digital transformation of the vehicle design process ( Figure 2). Digital transformation enables companies to adopt a new approach to mobility solution development and engineering, linking their entire lifecycle through a digital backbone that enables information to flow throughout the organization. Even partner companies can be incorporated securely into the digital backbone, ensuring faster and easier collaboration between organizations, and supporting accountability to overall goals.

Key to this approach is a comprehensive digital twin that captures every aspect of the vehicle design and production. Using such a digital twin, automotive companies can remove the barriers between engineering teams from across the electrical, electronic, software and mechanical domains. This not only helps companies overcome the complexity of AVs, but also fosters a new culture of collaboration and innovation in the company that will carry it through the challenges of tomorrow.

Understanding the Big Picture

The first step in the design of a new AV is to describe the intended vehicle behavior, operational environment, and performance targets. In other words, the engineers must capture how the AV will work, how it will interact with the outside world, and the ecosystem into which the vehicle will fit (Figure 3). This description includes how various sub-systems within the vehicle will interact as well as relevant regulations, manufacturing capabilities, and the supply chain. For an AV, this even stretches to smart infrastructure around the vehicle — smart stoplights, city traffic management systems, and more.

Figure 3. The first step in designing an AV is capturing how it will fit into its operational environment, including how it will interact with smart infrastructure. (Image: Siemens)

This process results in a system-of-systems picture of the vehicle and its operating environment. To begin the design, this picture must be translated into a set of requirements and constraints that outline the design space, the constraints, and the capabilities the vehicle will need. Traditionally, teams have attempted to describe, cascade, and decompose these requirements throughout the organization using a document-based approach. But this approach will not scale to meet the complexity of AVs.

Through digitalization, these requirements that codify the big-picture understanding of the design space can be integrated with the product lifecycle, enabling a structured and traceable process of decomposing requirements throughout the organization. The result is a clearer, more detailed picture at the top level of what the vehicle needs to do, how it should behave, what size it should be, what kind of performance metrics it needs to meet, and how various systems will interact. As this high-level description is decomposed, engineering teams obtain specific targets and constraints to guide the development of each component and sub-system.

For example, a high-level requirement for an AV may require that the vehicle can detect objects (other vehicles, infrastructure, pedestrians, etc.) in a 360-degree circle around itself. Decomposing this requirement may identify the types of sensors and quantity of each needed to achieve 360-degree perception, and optimal locations for each in the vehicle body. Decomposing further may produce constraints on the size and placement of these sensors due to packaging, power, thermal properties, and more. With these requirements, engineers can begin to design and place the sensors, ensuring the various requirements and constraints are satisfied.

Facilitating Collaboration to Tackle Complexity

Figure 4. In a digitalized vehicle design process, engineering data such as simulation results can flow throughout an organization to all program stakeholders. (Image: Siemens)

The digitalization of the automotive design process can also enhance and accelerate the design work of the various engineering teams involved in the creation of an AV. The flow of information in a digitalized design process is not one-directional. Just as requirements and constraints are decomposed and cascaded down to each of the design teams, component and sub-system design data, simulation results, and changes can be communicated up to the vehicle-level and even across other engineering teams and domains (Figure 4).

This ability to communicate quickly and effectively across domains will be crucial. AVs will rely on highly integrated systems of electronics, software, mechanical devices and structures, and an increasingly complicated network architecture linking everything together. Traditionally, the development of these systems occurs in isolation from each of the others, leading to integration issues when they are finally brought together. As a result, many companies allot up to fifty percent of their program schedule to integration processes.

Digitalization enables engineering teams, even between the OEM and suppliers, to start working together early in the design process. Advanced vehicle digital twins enable a digital thread that connects people, projects, models, and data to efficiently tackle these complex problems. Digitalized solutions for electronic circuit design and simulation, mechanical CAD, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), electrical and E/E architectures, and more help engineering teams design from a holistic vehicle perspective.

Engineering data is available to all related stakeholders, allowing for multi-domain simulations, design optimization, and early verification/validation of design work. As systems are designed and refined to meet requirements, digital engineering solutions can also help teams to evaluate and choose between design options based on cost, thermal properties, power consumption, ECU utilization, weight, and more. Furthermore, engineering changes can be quickly communicated to all affected teams, ensuring everyone is up to date throughout the vehicle program.

The result is a system-of-systems that is integrated continuously throughout the design and development lifecycle. Issues are resolved as they are identified, leading to fewer issues late in the development cycle, and faster cycle times overall.

Building the Future of Mobility

Overcoming the vast complexity involved in nearly every aspect of AV design is proving to be one of the greatest challenges of the future of mobility. Traditional automotive design methodologies that rely on document-based requirements tracking and siloed engineering domains have fundamental shortcomings when dealing with such complexity.

A new approach to vehicle development is necessary. AV manufacturers must embrace digitalization and break down the boundaries that often exist between engineering domains and the stages of product development. Key to this approach is a comprehensive digital twin that captures every aspect of the vehicle design. Using such a digital twin, AV manufacturers can connect engineering teams from across the electrical, electronic, software and mechanical domains. Ultimately, this means AV manufacturers will be able to design, verify and validate AV platforms, ensuring the highest standards of safety, reliability, and passenger comfort.

At the heart of this transformation is the concept of a comprehensive digital twin of the vehicle, covering every aspect of the vehicle and its environment, over its entire lifecycle. Such a digital twin becomes the backbone of product development — capable of delivering greater insight, reducing development cycle time, improving efficiency, and increasing market agility.

This article was written by Nand Kochhar, Vice President of Automotive & Transportation, Siemens Digital Industries Software (Plano, TX). For more information, visit here .