Vehicle-performed features and capabilities continue to rise

Data collection and distributed system architectures allows engineering teams to build upon validated pieces and integrate into larger systems.

Ian Fountain, Director of Application Segments, National Instruments
Ian Fountain, Director of Application Segments, National Instruments

responses by Ian Fountain, Director of Application Segments, National Instruments

[TECH OF THE FUTURE] Where is the heavy-duty vehicle industry lagging? 

In many ways, the heavy-duty vehicle industry is actually ahead in terms of key technologies. For example, there have been some projects to advance vehicle electrification, but we have not seen the widespread adoption of these technologies in this industry like we have in the passenger car market. There is also still a bit of a brute force approach to systems engineering of embedded electronics in heavy-duty vehicles which leads to a slight lag in quality. Passenger vehicle manufacturers are very concentrated on vehicle quality due to the high cost of a recall, but heavy-duty manufacturers have significantly less volume, allowing them to tolerate some potential quality issues by offering field support to their customers.

[TECH OF THE FUTURE] What current ideas and new technologies have the most potential for future gain?

The industry seems to be heavily investing in technologies like robotics and general automation. This desire for vehicle automation creates a heavier reliance on embedded software to control different aspects of their tasks, which means that their ability to test and validate the systems more easily and efficiently becomes critical in the development process. Similar to passenger vehicles, the more embedded software is present, the more emphasis there is on safety and making sure the vehicles will reliably operate as expected.

How will distributed system architectures be incorporated into the heavy-duty vehicle industry?

Distributed systems are ideal for transportation-related industries because the growth in capabilities and functions needed to be performed by a vehicle continues to rise due to consumer, environmental and legislative demands. This means there will be growing networks of embedded electronics in heavy-duty vehicles.

This network of distributed ECUs is great for engineering because it allows for engineering teams to break down the overall functionality into specialized pieces and focus on one problem at a time. The systems can then be integrated into larger systems and more and more components once functionality is validated.

This approach is part of the typical design V for embedded software. Companies should always be doing this system-level test by simulating different parts of the vehicle and ensuring that they are testing early and often for the entire system. This reduces the number of bugs introduced into the software that could cause problems for the end user.

With the National Instruments (NI) test platform, we work to provide our customers with a scalable platform that easily allows them to test a single component and then reuse these test components as the pieces scale to a larger system, ultimately implementing this in a full vehicle.

How will data collection and machine communication continue to advance?

We see four major trends related to the collection of data and equipment communication:

  • Big Data – NI has recognized that engineers are producing more data through testing, controlling and automating the world than humans are able to produce through transactions on the internet and Twitter among other things. We call this Big Analog Data™, our version of the Big Data trend. NI is investing in Big Analog Data by helping engineers gain knowledge and insights from this data by allowing them to log, search and analyze the data more effectively.
  • IoT – By turning equipment into a “thing” in the Internet of Things, we will enable data and insights to transparently flow from the field back into the offices of the customer and manufacturer, which is useful for operation insight. If the manufacturers are able to access this information, they will be able to build products that are more effective in carrying out customer’s mission and improve future products using this insight. Engineers who understand exactly how equipment is being used and how it fails can build smarter products.
  • Condition monitoring – By combining Big Analog Data with the data produced by turning equipment into a node in the internet, engineers will be able to build machines that predict when they will fail (prognostics) and help users “schedule” these failures for when they are acceptable (i.e. the winter).
  • Evolving communication standards – Due to the fact that there are more sensors producing more data that will be critical in distributed control, embedded networks in vehicles will have demands pushing them to efficiently communicate more data in a deterministic manner. As a result, we are interested in investing in technologies to help with this, such as the Ethernet standard, Time Sensitive Networking. This standard is working to allow for an embedded network that will have high throughput and communicate deterministically.

An interesting parallel to how this data collection can impact an industry is with the ‘power by the hour’ concept that is used in the aerospace industry for jet engine use. This is essentially a process where the typical purchaser of jet engines can now pay a specified sum to the engine manufacturer in exchange for use of the engine along with the necessary services for a certain amount of time. This means the engine purchaser does not need to buy a lot of spare engines or accessories to maintain the engine and creates incentives for the engine manufacturer to analyze engine data more closely and take into account the above trends for their use. It is not to say that this is currently in use in the heavy-equipment industry, but it is an interesting idea that could alter the cost burden while also changing who looks at the data closely and how they use it in the industry.