Advanced Automotive Electronics 2007

Motor Heritage Centre, Gaydon, 31st January 2007


The second AAE conference and exhibition was held in January at the Motor Heritage Centre, and was another excellent event by all measures.  The attendance was possibly similar to the first event of last year as far as delegates, but the exhibition seemed to have grown by about 20% and certainly had a larger space and some major names again in attendance.


Last year one negative was the lack of vehicle manufacturers presenting, this year there were 3 involved; Aston Martin, Bentley and Honda, adding a definite air of both quality and significant content to the proceedings.  The format was also changed to include a keynote presentation at the beginning and an interactive session after lunch.  Initially I was personally sceptical about how successful these would be (I have attended IEE interactive sessions in the past that proved very non-active), but in fairness these added 2 very useful and innovative features to the regular presentation sessions and both worked extremely well on the day.


There were a total of 3 streams running simultaneously, unfortunately I could only cover one stream.  Although you were able to change streams after each presentation, I tended to stick with the same stream throughout.  I concentrated on what appeared to be safety and telematic applications, but there were streams on automotive software issues and in-vehicle networks and integration.  These are my interpretations of the stream contents as they were not specifically named as such.


Note: The museum itself was being renovated so was unfortunately not open for delegates, however some exhibits were being displayed in the foyer of the conference suite and those who want to see some of the vehicles on display we have put together a few pictures (follow this link).


Introduction and Keynote


After a very brief and understated introduction to AAE 2007 by Jim Hook of MIRA, Alan Bennett of Aston-Martin gave a presentation on the use of electronics in low volume manufactured vehicles and some of the challenges this presents.  This included the problem that probably faces even the higher volume makers, that of the differences in the speed of development of a vehicle and consumer electronics.  Mr Bennett used the example of the DBS development and that of the iPod, roughly starting at the same time in 2001, but by the time the DBS hit the streets the iPod had been through 3 evolutions and in 2001 when both programmes started who could foresee the need to have a iPod or MP3 media player interface to in-car entertainment?  (Personally I think I could have predicted the need for an "EXT" stereo jack input but nothing more.)

Motor Hertitage Centre, Gaydon, venue for AAE2007.


Exhibition space was larger than previous year and well supported.


Alan Bennett's keynote speech was well received and prompted many questions.


There were several Aston-Martin cars on display, including this DBS convertible in the refreshment area, sadly I was unable to take it home with me!


Mr Bennett used the presentation to show several video clips of Aston-Martin vehicles in action (including the crash scene from the latest Bond movie), believing the audience were more interested in these perhaps than the presentation, but I think he undersold himself and the numerous questions after the talk showed a great interest in the content and some of the issues raised, particularly that of obsolescence of semiconductors.  Again given the relatively long life of a vehicle, questions on the problems of service life and notification of availability and obsolescence by suppliers to a relatively small volume customer were raised, it was also noted by one audience member that Aston-Martin were not seen as a way into Ford by their suppliers.  Although not mentioned at the time, after the Bentley presentation (see below) it seems curious that Aston-Martin do not appear to use any electronic platform developments from their parent company Ford (especially Jaguar where I believe they do share some mechanical parts).


Unfortunately neither Mr Bennetts' presentation or the clips of the DBS in action were included in the proceedings.


Understanding What Customers Really Want from Navigation

Nick Ford, Frost & Sullivan


The title of the presentation is a bit open ended, but it's not too difficult to see where this was going.  The results were presented from nd user studies conducted in 2006, primarily those with installed systems, those with portable systems and non-users (potentially the most interesting group to Sat-Nav producers).  The presentation looked at some of the recent market dynamics, the preference for portable navigation devices (PND's) by 71% of respondants where programming the journey beforehand is seen as a major benefit.  Despite this preference for PND's there was still a strong desire for in-car interfacing and those preferring fixed cited security, hassle of fitting and the full integration with their in-car entertainment systems as main reasons for choice.


The average price people are willing to pay for a navigation system.  You can buy a PND for the price shown here, but not a fixed system which are typically 3 times this target price.


Perhaps less surprising is the low cost people are willing to pay for Sat-Nav, although the difference between fixed and PND's was quite marked, the current cost of PND's is closer to the desired level than the fixed system price (284 and 644 respectively).  This alone might explain why PND's are currently more popular and maybe if vehicle makers can get their systems down to the 650 price region they could claw back some of this market.  In a similar vein the update of maps and location based services was also priced in the 15-20 per annum range so again a long way for fixed system companies to go before they can match this.


I am skipping over much of the content as it was a very thorough study including user interfaces, position in-cab etc., but one final item that caught my attention was the very high brand recognition that Tom-Tom achieved throughout the geographic markets examined.  Even the people who used fixed systems had a higher brand awareness of Tom-Tom than any other single supplier.


It was an excellent presentation and even if only a Sat-Nav user, the results very very interesting.  If involved more directly (I'm an ex-Sat-Nav hardware developer) then the results were quite eye-opening, I just hope some of the Sat-Nav suppliers out there take this on-nboard to improve their customer offerings because to be honest there are some abysmal products out there that give the whole industry a bad name (map data in particular needs to be considered more highly at purchase).


AML Solutions: Active Headrest

Jesus Murgoitio, Robotiker


This concept was genuinely one I had not come across before, that of actively positioning the seat headrest via motor drive to maintain the correct position regardless of driver profile or seating .  The presentation was a bit technical on the positioning systems and sensor placement (both IR and US sensors considered) at the start, but a video of the system in action on a test rig was explanation enough.  The associated proceedings contained a paper on the topic but unfortunately not the video.  It was stated that the system was only a new concept and yet to be installed in any vehicle, but I can imagine this could be a new safety feature on the high end vehicles of the future.


A frightening statistic given at the start of the presentation was that nearly 70% of drivers have incorrectly positioned headrests and injuries from related accidents costs the EU 10 billion per annum.  If nothing else this attendee certainly checked his headrest and if even a few of the readers of this piece do the same it will have been worth attending and writing about.  


Wireless Cellular Technologies in-Vehicle

Stefan Gudmundsson, Tellit Wireless Solutions


There was some resonance with the keynote in this presentation, opening with the differences in the development cycle of telecommunications (9 months) compared to Automotive systems (36 months).  Other probematic issues raised included problems of standardisation in a global market for phones, particularly in the three big markets of Europe, North America and Japan where the networks and coverage are different, particularly machine-to-machine communications.  Similarly there are great differences in the quality levels, vehicles requiring better than 10 ppm for its' electronic systems, whereas telecommunications are accepting of 1000 ppm. Other differences include the quantities manufactured, the automotive world thinks it has large volumes with global output of 45M units, but the handset market at 1000M units dwaves it (value however is probably about equal).


Challenges for the future are to maintain module compatibility given the rapid development of the telecomms market compared to the automotive a market to allow long term repair and upgradeability (I/O interface and form factor retention).  Higher levels of integration, particularly with GPS and GSM.  Other challenges include legislative changes and rapid developments of newer communications standards such as UMTS and WCDMA.  


Interactive Panel Session: New Electronic Safety Features


Anthony McDonagh Smith - Director of SAE UK (Chairperson)
Philip Somarakis - Senior Solicitor at Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons
Dr Mark Young - Research Lecturer at the School of Engineering & Design, Brunel University
Mr Peter Anthony - Chief Engineer - Delphi

Mr Raj Johal, European Programme Development Manager, Honda


The Panelist (from left to right): Dr Mark Young, Philip Somarakis, Anthony McDonagh-Smith, Raj Johal, Peter Anthony

This became a very lively debate on electronic safety features in newer vehicles, including lane departure warning, active cruise control, electronic stability programme etc. as well as who would be responsible in the event of an accident where a driver was relying on these systems.  The make-up of the panel ensured viewpoints on both the technical aspects, vehicle makers view in terms of both dealer and driver usability, legal implications and social responsibility issues were well covered.  The audience also gave as good a response as some of the panellists, and made their own comments and observations, as well as raising questions.


Unfortunately I didn't take notes so that's about as much as I can recall of the details, but it was quite lively and had to be called to a conclusion so that the afternoon sessions could be started.


Willingness to Pay for Lane Departure Warning Systems

Ian Riches, Strategy Analytics


In many ways this presentation was similar in concept to the Sat-Nav presentation above, only targeted on lane departure warning systems (LDWS).  Safety was stated as being the fastest growing arena for automotive electronics and the interest level in safety had clearly been demonstrated in the previous interactive session.  Primary market drivers were legislation but also technology capability, product differentiation and consumer pull was being observed for some new systems such as LDWS.  Inhibitors to up take were proof of safety, number of solutions, cost and bundling issues.  Much of the presentation was directed to explaining some of the details of the consumer research to get answers that are close to reality (i.e. asked directly people tend to lie).  To validate the cost people were prepared to pay for LDWS, the research asked questions that hid the product within option bundles for various vehicle sectors.  The result was 225 for LDWS.  Future challenges include cost reduction, consumer education on the benefits and use of LDWS and intelligent bundling by the OEM's.


Ian Riches of Strategy Analytics gave credit to the Citroen C4 for raising the general level of awareness of lane departure warning systems as a safety feature.

System Testing Approach for Luxury Brands

Tom Fussey, Bentley


Again low volume luxury brands were discussed, as per the keynote, however the focus in this presentation was on the testing side.  The "iPod" and "Tom-Tom" experiences were reiterated as being especially critical for luxury vehicles where there is a very high customer expectation that exceeds those of mass market brands.  Unfortunately because of the volumes often the development budgets for these high end vehicles are fractions of that spent on the mass market brand development, hence there is a real conflict of purchase price compared with development spend.  Some of the other vehicle metrics were thrown in to the equation; the growth in wiring harness length from 1700m to 3500m from 1990 to 2007, the inclrease in ECU's from 7 to 50+ over the same period.


Bentley take the sensible approach to their systems and "borrow" from group (VAG) products and add "Bentleyness" in to these where appropriate and contribute some input to new developments with the Bentley requirements where possible at the start phase.  However, the main topic of this presentation was testing and the way Bentley use Hardware-in-the-Loop (HiL) methods for system testing and integration was both interesting and would have application in mass market as well as low volume development.  While not many vehicles have the high speeds of Bentleys, the testing of tyre deflation at maximum velocity would still be something most test drivers would like to avoid, hence the lab-car not only saves valuable prototype vehicles, it also saves test time and people!  The other benefit is being able to quickly make a change and repeat the test.  The future testing is believed to be even more automated testing running scripted scenarios on a 24/7 basis.


Introducing 2004/104/EC: The New Automotive EMC Directive

Martin O'Hara, Automotive EMC Network


This was the last presentation of the day and since I was presenting it probably isn't appropriate for me to comment.  I would like to thank the 25 or so attendees who remained until the end only to have to suffer me!  No one fell asleep so I hope it was bearable at least and those who are interested the paper is now available via the above hyperlink.




Overall the conference was actually better than last year.  I don't think there were as many papers as 2006 but the quality was definitely higher as there were no "sales" presentations, even though last years event was still a good event as the "sales" presentations were well put together.  The interactive session and the venue all added to the event and numbers appeared to be slightly higher than last year and justified the larger venue.  The proceedings were complete (i.e. no missing content) although mixed in that some parts included the presentation and others had a more detailed technical paper.


Martin O'Hara

February 2007 2007                                                           TOP OF PAGE                                                                 HOME