On the road to intelligence

Self-configuring automotive systems could integrate a car’s software and upgrade it automatically.


Volvo and DaimlerChrysler are part of a nine-member consortium that has received €22.9m (£15.5m) from the European Commission to give cars and their drivers more autonomy on the road.

Researchers on the 30-month Dynamically Self-Configuring Automotive Systems (DySCAS) project aim to design an intelligent car that can, among other things, self-diagnose and ultimately self-heal its own faults, update its own computer devices and interface with a drivers’ mobile phone, personal organiser and satellite navigation systems.

Dr Richard Anthony of The Autonomics Research Group at the University of Greenwich, a member of the consortium, said that in terms of mobile or portable devices, there are endless application opportunities in an intelligent car.

‘A car’s satellite navigation system could directly be able to take you to somewhere specified by your friend’s address on your PDA, instead of having to enter a co-ordinate,’ he said.

‘Your PDA could have some locations in your address book and your satnav could directly interface with that and all you would have to say is, “Take me to Fred’s house”, and it would find Fred’s house from that.’

The consortium, which also includes automotive components giant Bosch, first met to discuss the intelligent car project in Gothenburg in June. Last month In Stockholm, the group worked out how to design the self-configuring vehicular control system architecture so that it is flexible enough to incorporate all the embedded software systems in a vehicle.

Swedish information technology company ENEA is in charge of the overall design architecture of the system.

In Stockholm, Anthony said the partners mulled over the aims of the project. ‘We haven’t fully scoped out how far into the future we can use these ideas. We have a whole range of quite ambitious goals.’

The partners divided out some of the more achievable targets into several groups of ‘use cases’. For instance, one group lists goals in terms of new software functionality integration in the car.

Anthony explained this use case would be handy to consumers because usually, when they buy a car, its electronic device configurations are fixed and it is difficult to upgrade them easily.

If so-called intelligent cars are able to connect to the internet via WLAN hot-spots, however, they will be able to download the car manufacturer’s latest upgrades without any trouble.

‘Suppose you buy a Volvo this year and next year the car maker finds a slightly better way of making the engine run more fuel efficiently,’ said Anthony. ‘You wouldn’t even have to know about it as a driver, but when going past a wireless hot-spot it could download Volvo’s latest configurations for the satnav or the engine management or whatever else.’

Another application the consortium discussed in Stockholm was location-aware behaviour. With that function, a car could use information from a satnav device to better adapt to its environment. This means, for instance, that a car could adjust its security system depending on whether it is parked in front of its driver’s home or somewhere much less familiar.

‘Once you start bringing location awareness into the picture, it opens up a whole raft of new possibilities in ways of self-configuring the car,’ said Anthony.

Another class of use cases discussed in Stockholm related to applying closed reconfiguration, or load balancing, to an intelligent car’s computer system. With this, researchers believe, fault tolerance on a vehicle can be enhanced.

‘For the most part, you have an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for each thing separately — your central locking, heated seats, sunroof and alarm system,’ said Anthony. ‘When that ECU fails — on a window for example — the thing won’t open. If the design is based on relocatable software, it can be sent to another processor, so the window might still open.’

In addition to Greenwich, other universities involved in the project include Paderborn in Germany and KTH in Sweden. The consortium also includes two Swedish-based SME partners, Systemite and Movimento.

The consortium plans to wrap up the project and display its results by May 2008.