Domain Control Units, a critical step for safer and autonomous driving

Instrumentation Technologies offers a reliable Building Block system as modular backbone for Domain Control Units in the automotive industry.

Needless to say, the speed at which technology around us is developing is mind-blowing. Everything around us is getting smarter and making life experiences increasingly more comfortable, more efficient and – equally importantly – safer. When it comes to driving, these aspects are often critical factors when it comes to deciding which vehicle will be the subject of our next purchase. We don’t even have to go back to blurry black-and-white pictures to see cars where everything was monitored, processed and performed directly by the person, sitting behind the wheel. No, color television was already invented when man would still use his body sensors to collect information about his car and its surroundings: eyes, ears, limbs and, if we can believe Niki Lauda’s quote in the 2013 movie Rush to be authentic, his rear end. Processing this information, making decisions in split seconds and acting upon them were all defined by the human factor, including its flaws.

After a first evolution step, where first power steering and power braking made our life physically more comfortable, we also saw a drastic increase of automatically collected input using electronic sensors – here, we think about proximity sensors, rearview cameras, engine data, etc. – and actuators. Who can still remember the time he had to wind down his car window or lock the doors using a key? At present, around 80 Electronic Control Units (or ECUs) are continuously monitoring specific aspects of our car´s behavior, collecting and processing data on a one-on-one basis, or on a limited sector of sensor and actuator units in a decentralized system.

Domain Control Units – or DCUs – are a breakthrough on the path towards integrated systems, assisting the driver in his search for a smooth and safe ride. These systems could be considered as hubs, allowing various ECUs to communicate, share information and, in some cases, already act autonomously according to a previously set configuration. Think, for example, of emergency braking systems, actuating the car’s brakes when its radar of lidar sensors detect static objects on the vehicle’s trajectory, or assisted parking. It goes without saying that, for this type of data acquisition and processing with subsequent triggering of direct actions, a fast and reliable DAQ system with a flexible software layer to guarantee simple, straightforward and full-proof configuration is key, especially when already looking one step ahead: the fully autonomous car, with vehicle-centralized control systems replacing the domain-centralized layout.

Instrumentation Technologies’ Building Block system precisely offers this type of equipment: robust, standardized modular DAQ units that can be assembled according to customers’ needs. The system allows reliable sampling at impressive speeds up to 1GS/s @ 12 or 16 bits in rugged environments, thanks to its IP54 protection class and full EMC certification. All units are designed to collect data from a wide range of different types of analog electric signals, coming from the various sensors, installed on your car. The architecture of the Building Block is fully tailor-made and mainly depends on the number of in- and outputs, required for each DCU. Flexibility to configure the outputs is offered via robust standard software, using either API-level software support or a graphical control user interface, based on LabVIEW.

The Building Block system has amply demonstrated its reliability in various industrial applications with demanding requirements, such as power inverter monitoring systems for a Fortune 500 railway infrastructure manufacturer, or a ruggedized DAQ device to surveil atmosphere parameters in space modules for a prominent space agency. Its flexibility makes the system ideal for implementation in automotive applications, also – looking into a not so distant future – when it comes to upgrading the autonomy of vehicles, and a software update would allow the already installed hardware to interact at a higher level and take the next step towards fully autonomous vehicles. Since, traditionally, the tier-1 suppliers for the automobile industry do not always have the necessary experience in-house for this type of systems, a dynamic, creative and pro-active company such as Instrumentation Technologies can prove itself to be an ideal partner in a close collaboration to take this hurdle.

We can safely say that every new generation of cars has proven itself to be more comfortable and safer than the previous ones. Besides the improvements in the car’s mechanical behavior, increased automation of systems has certainly made an important contribution to this as well. For future car generations, this aspect will become even more critical.
Instrumentation Technologies already offers customized solutions, waiting to be implemented: Building Blocks that never take their eyes off the road…