Understanding The Growing Trend of ECU Virtualization

  Aug 25, 2021 6:09:29 AM

Consumer needs and competitive forces have always sparked the quest for new innovations, as seen actively in the automotive industry. The demand for safety, comfort & convenience has been met by automotive manufacturers (OEMs) by adding new ECUs with new functionalities. However, this approach is not sustainable due to limited space in a car and not to mention the resulting increase in weight and complexity. Also, today’s connected applications force traditional ECUs to be replaced with multicore ECUs that offer more computing power and simpler connectivity interface. These developments further increase the cost due to the operation of replacing each ECU with multicore ECUs.

New vehicle architectures such as domain controllers and zone controllers have emerged to overcome these problems, focusing on the consolidation of ECUs. For example, a user experience domain controller will perform the tasks of multiple ECUs dedicated to different applications such as instrument clusters, infotainment systems, climate control, etc. A single hardware running such multiple applications is facilitated by Virtualization Technology. Some companies such as QNX, Green Hills, ETAS, OpenSynergy, and Elektrobit develop commercial hypervisor software for the automotive industry to enable virtualization.

A hypervisor is a software layer above the multicore System on a Chip (SoC) that creates multiple virtual machines to run guest operating system and allows applications of mix criticality to run using shared underlying SOC resources.

Today, virtualization has enabled the automotive industry to move towards a future of software-defined vehicles. This ensures easy over-the-air software and firmware updates, helps OEMs reduce warranty costs, increases customer satisfaction by eliminating dealership visits and an overall future-proof design.

Virtualization is also the foundation upon which the world can realize the ambitious goal of making a fully autonomous car. As we advance towards Autonomy Level 5 and above, more sensors will be required, which can be installed easily without adding their corresponding ECUs. This ease in sensor scalability will be possible because of domain controllers.

For all the advantages of the hypervisor, there lie challenges in successfully implementing it as a solution. The hypervisor needs to be configured appropriately according to the specific use cases at hand. Some of the challenges are:

  • Ensuring isolation of and precise resource allocation for safety-critical functions
  • Virtualizing various peripherals/devices across domains that natively do not support virtualization
  • Implementing inter virtual-machine communication
  • Need for a powerful computing platform to host hypervisor and share resources

Sasken has extensive experience in different domains of automotive ECU software development such as Body Electronics, Telematics, ADAS, Infotainment, Instrument Cluster, Automotive Safety systems, etc. Our 15+ years of extensive experience across different hardware and software platforms and partnership with leading hypervisor vendors such as Greenhills, Open Synergy, QNX, and Xen, enables us to help our customers realize their hypervisor-based solutions.

Sasken recently partnered with a semiconductor vendor to bring-up infotainment and cluster domain running on QNX/GHS, respectively. This build leveraged Sasken’s ability to deliver a virtualised hypervisor-based solution supporting multiple display (up to 6 displays), including the centre stack, passenger display, two rear seat entertainment , instrument cluster, and the heads-up display.

Posted by:
Hemanga Dutta
Senior Pre-Sales Executive, Automotive Portfolio

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