Audi speeds up infotainment and driver assistance innovation

Audi’s head of electronic development, Ricky Hudi, says the company’s innovative electronics architecture has dramatically shortened the time the brand needs to introduce more powerful processors for in-car infotainment and driver assistance systems. By doubling processor performance and using faster graphics, Hudi says Audi has been able to create a three-dimensional user experience in its vehicles well ahead of its competitors. Hudi explained the advantages in an interview with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.

Shortening innovation cycles to compete better with consumer electronics makers is crucial in the roll out of connected cars. How has Audi sped up this process?

By introducing our MIB (modular infotainment platform) concept that separates the slow-moving parts of the system such as the radio, amplifier and diagnostics from fast-moving parts like the graphics processor, computing power, navigation and connectivity. We put the fast-moving parts on a small board called MMX – multi-media extension. Before MIB we got the complete infotainment system from a Tier 1 supplier and did the HMI (human-machine interface) in-house. At that time we had cycles from seven to eight years. In 2012 we launched the first generation MIB in the new Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. Eighteen months later we launched the next version with the virtual cockpit in the Audi TT. A year later came the next generation in the Audi Q7 and in 2015, with the new A4, we have the virtual cockpit and the Audi tablet that are based on the concept. At the end of 2016 or early 2017 we will launch MIB-2+. With every generation we upgrade and update the hardware and software.

What is the key part of this process?

As software is very important we develop it with our joint-venture company e.solutions. We work together to integrate the software stacks that come from all parts in the world and to create the HMI. Of course, we still have Tier 1 suppliers but they are doing the slow-moving parts and the integration on the mechanical and hardware sides. You can tell how revolutionary this approach is because in about one year we have a new generation on the road — not in a PowerPoint presentation — no other company has been able to achieve this up until now.

How important are partnerships for autonomous driving?

Partnerships are very important. Autonomous driving is complex. You cannot go to just one Tier 1 supplier and get everything you need. It requires a competent and experienced team. With our zFAS [the central driver assistance control unit], for example, we use multiple high-performance computers – one each from Mobileye, Nvidia, Altera and Infineon. Of course the software is crucial and we work on this with TTTech in Vienna, which is a specialist in deterministic ethernet and real-time safety-related software. For piloted driving you need to guarantee that information is where it should be. If one processor makes a miscalculation it is immediately recognized.

What do you need to take the next steps in piloted driving?

Tremendous computing power. Our revolutionary zFAS has 750 gigaflops of computing power. That is roughly what the world’s fastest supercomputers had in 1996. The zFAS, which serves as the brains of Audi piloted driving, uses only 30 watts of power. If you compare this to the 5 to 8 megawatts for the older supercomputers, you can see the breath-taking speed of the progress.

Does all of this computing power take up a lot of space?

Not anymore. Significant technological and engineering advancements in size and efficiency of the zFAS result in a module that is the size of a tablet. In the past it would have taken a football field to accommodate all this computing power. The partner who integrates all of this from the systems side is Delphi – so multi partnering is required once again. Metaphorically speaking we’re like the conductor of the orchestra.

How do you put a price on this?

Today, across our complete range, the value of electronic components in the car is between 30 to 35 percent [of the value of the car]. This will rise to 50 percent in the coming years due to more connectivity and driver assistance systems. It will also exceed 50 percent in electric vehicles like the Audi e-tron.

Connected car guru NAME: Ricky Hudi

TITLE: Audi Executive Vice President of Electronic Development

AGE: 47

MAIN CHALLENGE: Maintaining Audi’s time advantage over its competitors in connected car and autonomous driving technologies.

What is the role of connectivity within the automotive industry today?

Efficiency, connectivity and piloted driving are the top innovation drivers of our industry. The role of the car in society is changing, evolving from a pure status symbol to a mobile device on wheels. Connectivity is enabling a variety of customer functions and gives us the chance to harness the value of data generated by our cars. Connectivity is therefore an essential factor of success.

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE E-MAGAZINE This story is from the current issue of the Automotive News Europe monthly e-magazine, which is also available to read on our iPhone and iPad apps.You can download the new issue as well as past issues by clicking here.

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