Electronic Design

New Auto Electronics Will Deliver More Functions, Performance

Future automotive electronic systems are expected to bring forth high performance and driving pleasure while simultaneously providing safety, economy, and environmental responsibility. To find out more, we interviewed Francis J. Dance, product manager at Telematics Services, BMW North America.

ED: What electronic development will have the greatest impact on BMW cars in the next few years?

Dance: The transition from a 12- to a 42-V infrastructure, which we expect to be phased in slowly about two to three years from now, will have an immense impact on vehicle functionality. It allows not only the replacement of mechanical or hydraulic systems by electrical systems, but its greater power output capability will allow BMW to develop totally new functions, like variable-steering assistance, electrical braking and engine stopping/starting in stop-and-go situations, electric valve trains, electric motor assistance (high torque for startup acceleration) and hybrid drive trains, plus many other customer-relevant features. The resulting safety, performance, emissions, and economy benefits will be considerable.

ED: How will BMW's X-by-wire efforts affect such things as driver interaction and the "feel" of driving?

Dance: We have drive-by-wire pioneering experience and the basic concepts haven't changed that much since then. We've learned that the real added value is embedded in the information pool provided by the different control systems in the vehicle. We've developed a new optical bus to ensure reliable high-performance communication between different nodes in a vehicle.

The aim of X-by-wire technologies at BMW isn't to isolate the driver from the environment and driving experience, but rather to assist in different ways. The new M3 Sequential M Transmission, a shift-by-wire six-speed manual transmission that will be offered as an option next summer, is an appropriate example. In this case, electronics will assist the driver in the daily commute by actuating the clutch and shifting the transmission automatically in traffic. Furthermore, the system will offer race-car functionality to the driver.

ED: What in-car communication networks and/or buses are you planning to use in future vehicles?

Dance: We were one of the early adopters of networks in vehicles. In the future, we'll use a 500-kbit/s CAN bus for power trains and a low-speed CAN for body control. For safety critical applications, we will use a new optical-bus system, starting in 2001 for interconnecting airbags and sensor modules. The MOST optical bus will be used as the backbone for multimedia systems. The bus systems will be interconnected via configurable gateways to allow communication between nodes. In addition to the OEM-centric bus systems, BMW in the future will support open communication standards, such as Bluetooth, to allow customers to use their cell phones and other favorite gadgets within the car safely.

ED: Describe the present and future use of wireless technology in BMW cars.

Dance: In 1996, we were the first automaker to offer a factory installed navigation system with coast-to-coast map coverage. We continue to aggressively pursue wireless technology even further. Expect us to provide wireless weather, traffic, and local information via the rapidly improving digital wireless communication infrastructure, as well as broadcast technologies like FM sidecarrier and the Sirius satellite digital radio network.

ED: How are you dealing with vehicle complexity and driver distraction introduced by so much electronics?

Dance: Our adoption of CAN and MOST bus technologies, building upon our pioneering adoption of the multiplexed BMW K bus, allows us to deal effectively with vehicle complexity issues. All of our advanced technologies may potentially overwhelm the driver, though. We address these concerns by logically partitioning the information and controls within three separate areas of the interior: driving controls residing on or immediately adjacent to the steering wheel; tactile switches for basic functions like heating, cooling, headlights, etc., located within easy reach of the driver; and enhanced comfort, communication, and driver-assistance functions and controls accessible to both driver and passenger. These are located high in the center console within the driver's field of vision. Such controls are displayed on an active-matrix TFT color LCD.

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