43rdDesign Automation Conference, July 24-28, 2006
September 21, 2006

The 44th DAC provides a unique opportunity

Gabe Moretti, editor

The Automotive Electronics theme of next year's conference in San Diego provides opportunities for a more varied technical program than in previous years. Not only are disciplines like PC Board design and FPGA based systems very important in automotive applications, but cabling and hardware/software co-development also play a major role in the development of automotive electronics systems. In addition, the rapid changes in automotive design, due principally to the need to improve fuel conservation and to limit the impact of cars on global warming, are giving raise to new opportunities to the EDA and electronics industry. Integrating an electronic assembly into an automotive system, the engine, the brakes, or the collision avoidance system, provides truly system level problems that require thinking and working at a higher level of abstraction in a manner the EDA industry has never faced. It would be very exciting to hear papers and panel contributions from professionals outside of our industry. Their contribution may offer new insights into market segments we already serve or provide a look at markets we should expand into.
Whatever your expectations, I predict an exciting and different DAC than any before: one not to be missed

EDA, where the modern automobile begins
By Gabe Moretti

Mankind's love for the automobile is well known, and it is one of the few things that transcends nationality, age, and sex. Thanks to the advancements in electronics the automobile has undergone a profound transformation in recent years, and more changes are coming. The modern automobile is a product of the EDA industry. Without electronic design automation it would not be possible to design and manufacture the most vital parts of the modern car, let alone those functions that we are growing to take for granted that allow us to communicate, navigate, and drive in comfort and safety.

It makes sense, therefore, that the next DAC should choose automotive electronics as its theme. Dennis Brophy, director of strategic business development at Mentor Graphics, is the New Initiatives Chair and is thus responsible for fostering the theme of the 44th DAC. Although at first blush some people may be puzzled by the theme, Dennis thinks that it is an indicator of how accustomed we have grown to the sophistication of our automobile, to the point that most people do not realize that there are 31 microprocessors and microcontrollers in the average car. Mr. Brophy then goes into much more detail stating: "There has been considerable growth in the complexity of automobile electronics. There has also been the rapid increase of mechatronic (electro-mechanical) sub-systems included in the electronics architecture of modern vehicles as well. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) describes mechatronics as 'the synergetic integration of mechanical engineering with electronic and intelligent computer control in the design and manufacture of industrial products and processes.' (see http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/RecentIssue.jsp?punumber=3516)
Combining sensors, actuators, electronic control units (ECU) and the network that links them, the design of mechatronic systems bridges across multiple engineering disciplines, requires resolution of complex problems interwoven among hardware, software, control, mechanical and electrical engineering domains. Several of these disciplines intersect
at the Design Automation Conference that makes this venue an excellent location to discuss the complexity of design for automotive systems.

With continued growth in automotive electronic applications and expansion of consumer choice are together creating a serious complexity challenge for design teams. As complexity is the common thread among the problems designers must overcome while striving to reach competing goals, design teams need to effectively manage it. The traditional complexity of chip design which is a DAC stalwart will include complexity of automotive electronics in its many forms."

Some of the most demanding electronic systems in your car are those you will never see and, hopefully, never have to worry about. I am speaking of the engine control system that determines and measures the fuel mixture and calculates the timing of the ignition of the fuel in the cylinders to maximize power output and minimize consumption and pollution.

Whether you are driving an automatic car, a sport car with semi-automatic gear shifts, or you are fortunate enough to be driving a high-end sport car with sequential gear shift, you have electronics to thank for its smooth operation. The most important thing after being able to move in the direction you desire, and some -- people would argue even more important-- is the ability to brake. Here too electronics help insure a safe and reliable operation with anti-skid and anti-lock functions. And, of course, we all know about air bags, the ones in the car I mean. A sophisticated climate control system keeps the occupants comfortable, an entertainment system most people would like to have in their homes dispels the commuting boredom, a navigation system insures that we no longer have to fight to unfold a map while steering with our knees, and a bluetooth communication system allows us to talk with the rest of the world while we are in transit from one stop to the next in our busy lives. Fans of Formula1, or F1 as its fans call it, can see either the Intel or the AMD logo on the cars of the top performing teams. At the 2004 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis I was a guest of the Williams/BMW team courtesy of Xilinx whose FPGAs are an integral part of the car's engine control unit. Now of course BMW has its own factory team and Williams uses another manufacturer's engines - but that is a different article.

The automobile is also a very egalitarian platform that requires the skills of IC, FPGA, and board designers. In fact, it is a place where cable and harness developers can truly claim that if it was not for their expertise, the rest of the electronic systems would not work. If we just focused on what is already widely available we could fill the technical program and the exhibit hall. But, like every other piece of high technology, there is much more to come. Collision avoidance is an application area that is attracting a lot of interest lately with the need for RF, analog/mixed signal, digital, and even antenna design. Automobile manufacturers have used system level design well before our industry coined the ESL moniker, and hardware/software co-design is a necessity in their application domain. The automobile is also the most important platform for the development of batteries and electrical motors for both hybrid and electric propulsion. Living in Florida I often wonder what obstacles exist to recharging the batteries of these types of cars through solar power, since on average, they spend a lot of time in parking lots being warmed by the sun.

The DAC has at times, and I am guilty of this, been accused of being too IC centric, giving short shrift to PC board and FPGA designers. The 44th DAC does provide an unprecedented opportunity to submit papers to the technical program and panels to the panels committee on these subjects and more, like cables design, hardware/software co-development, and even electro/mechanical system design and integration. At the 2005 DATE conference in Paris, Mentor had a racing game in its booth, complete with a chassis and bodywork of an F1 BMW, to highlight the contributions that its various products make to the development and functioning of a competitive racing machine. Of course it was just a mockup: it takes the body of a most athletic jockey to fit in the cockpit of the real thing! F1 is one of the few sports where being tall is a disadvantage. But even without a F1 machine, there is plenty of opportunity to show how EDA companies are contributing to the advancement of the automotive industry, and for the leaders of the industry to glimpse opportunities to expand the industry into new market sectors.

Copyright 44th Design Automation Conference
5405 Spine Rd. Suite 102 - Boulder, CO 80301 USA


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