Autosar and VSA from Mentor Graphics
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Autosar and VSA from Mentor Graphics


Here again we have a case where the presence or absence of a standard can help or hinder the creation and/or growth of a market. In the world of EDA standards most often define the details of interface or protocols. The existence of a standard lowers the risk that a buyer’s investment in a proprietary technology will be obsolesced by the later emergence of an incompatible standard whether this be de jure or de facto. The existence of a standard lowers the cost of the development and manufacture of products by eliminating the need to support multiple conflicting proprietary interfaces. Further more, standards enable vendors to compete on price, quality, speed and capacity rather than on the merits of proprietary interfaces.

Standards do not necessarily represent the best possible solution. A clear example would be the QWERTY keyboard layout that was original proposed to deliberately slow down typists so that the typewriter keys would not stick. Today this de facto standard defines the primary interface for a computer and certain classes of cell phones even though the typewriter is a relic from the past. A standard can be an arbitrary definition such as the side of the road that one drives a car on or the voltage coming out of a wall socket. A standard developed by consortia or committees often is the result of compromises between competing self-interests or the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless standards can have significant and long term impact of both the consumer and the vendor.

The relevant standard for this editorial is Autosar. The AUTOSAR standard will serve as a platform upon which future vehicle applications will be implemented and will also serve to minimize the current barriers between functional domains. It will, therefore, be possible to map functions and functional networks to different control nodes in the system, almost independently from the associated hardware.

I had an opportunity to talk with Serge Leef, General Manager of the System-Level Engineering Division at Mentor Graphics. He has been at Mentor for 18 years. Today Serge leads three business units focused on markets where system-level design plays a pivotal role. One of these business units concentrates on applying advanced system-level design automation techniques to the challenges associated with functional design of automotive distributed systems. Prior to joining Mentor Graphics in 1990, Leef was responsible for design automation at Silicon Graphics. Prior to 1987, Leef managed a CAE/CAD organization at Microchip Inc. From 1982 to 1987 he worked at Intel Corp. Serge holds a BSEE and MSCS from Arizona State University. Also on the call was James Price, Marketing Manager..

Mentor consciously decided to enter the automotive market. What attracted Mentor to this market at the time?
That’s actually a good question. The management and I had taken a look at the automotive market probably half a dozen times before 2005. In all cases I came back to my management with the conclusion that it was not worth it to get involved in that market. The reason for this conclusion was based on the fact that there were no standards in the market. There were very small design automotive players and they were all subservient to particular OEMs, i.e. car companies. Because of the lack of standards, if you wanted to add value in producing some kind of automated tool technology, you needed to connect yourself to a large car company and understand their needs and then construct an offering around those needs. That essentially prevented an emergence of a vibrant ecosystem of suppliers because these companies were naturally small and they were all slaves to the big OEMs. What changed things for me when I looked at the market in 2004 was the emergence of Autosar. To me, I could see for the first time that there were a set of standards that were being proposed and were gaining traction that would enable a large EDA player to come into this market and develop tools that would add some value and have an appeal to multiple players in this space. To me it was Autosar that was the turning point. Now, we are talking a long term look at this market. We understand that things in the automotive arena move very slowly. What we are doing is constructing a set of solutions for the next generation Autosar-based designs, Autosar Projects. Autosar by the way is a standard which is developing at lightening speed. The whole concept of Autosar was introduced for the first time in 2003. This year the first vehicle with Autosar content hit starting production. There are probably a half dozen cars that are Autosar-based in the pipe line. I think by 2011 or 2012 timeframe at least 1/3 to 1/2 of all new car projects will be Autosar-based. Autosar and the emergence of standards are what tilted me towards becoming a proponent of our entry into this market.

Mentor acquired Volcano in 2005. Why Volcano?
There were many companies in this space that basically had an attitude toward design which is build it, then test it. We though that Volcano was unique in that space. The philosophy they have is top down which starts with architecture and basically by build correctness in through best practices thereby reducing or eliminating the need for testing at the detailed end of the process. We purchased Volcano. There were human assets there that turned out to be quite key in getting a foothold in this market. Volcano was one of the early participants in the Autosar Consortium and a lot of the work that Autosar has done is essentially very similar to a standardized version to Volcano’s proprietary tools. We basically used that footprint to go from in this space.

Where was Volcano located?
Volcano was actually located in Switzerland when we bought them. The original site was in Gottenberg, Sweden. Their primary R&D site was and continues to be in Budapest, Hungary.

Editor: According to Mentor Graphics’ 10K they acquired Volcano Communications Technologies AB (Volcano), a provider of network design tools, in-vehicle software and test and validation products for the automotive industry, in May 2005. The acquisition was an investment aimed at expanding the Company’s product offering within this specialized industry and driving revenue growth. The total purchase price including acquisition costs was around $23 million.

How large a group is the automotive group today?
There are several automotive entities inside Mentor. There is the Cable and Harness operation which is not in my division. I would estimate that this group is in the sub 100 person area. The size of our group is in the same neighborhood. Our operations span across multiple locations including Gottenberg, Munich, Budapest, Cairo and Wilsonville, Oregon.

Editor: When asked about revenue numbers in the automotive arena, Serge sent me a recent report (Hansen Report) available on Mentor’s website.

From that report we have: The Mentor Graphics serves the automotive market by providing design tools for electrical systems for cable harnesses and for printed circuit boards as well as tools for networks, mechatronics and embedded software development.

Mentor Graphics’ annual revenue ($K) in the automotive arena is shown in the table below

Mentor Graphics changed its fiscal year. As a result FY08 was 13 months long. The two largest areas by revenue are integrated electrical systems at around 40% and pc board design as 33%. By geography the revenue is split about 30% America, 30% Europe and 40% Asia (mostly Japan).

What is the percentage of electronic content in cars these days? The number has been gong up over time.
The number that is cited by BMW with respect to their Series 7 that just came out this year is between 40% and 45%.

That covers which types of systems?
It basically covers the electronic systems both analog and digital as well as software.

Those systems would be entertainment, comfort, ..
All of the domains. The BMW Series 7 has something like 80 engineering control units, essentially 80 relatively autonomous computer and control systems. They are divided into different functions: climate control, comfort, entertainment, safety. It is a really sophisticated computer system.

Serge turned the conversation over to James Price, Marketer for the VSA.

What are the various types of networking technology involved in automotive electronic systems?
There are four different ones. Three of them are related in terms of networking protocol, CAN , LIN and Flexray. CAN has been around a long time and has wide acceptance in European and American cars. It is a two wire system. There has been a lot of effort in how to make it as efficient as possible. However, it does have some issues, bandwidth and sometimes reliability issues. Those can impact car production. There is a kind of a Catch-22 in that Flexray really was the answer to these issues. It had better reliability and bandwidth but the problem was it had a high cost of adoption. While CAN was lower cost and had some problems, the problem was that nobody wanted to go out and put the money into Flexray adoption because it was complex and cost more. CAN probably had a longer life than you might think it should have had. Flexray has had a slow adoption rate. There are a couple of versions of CAN. One version was as simple as a one wire system with chassis return. That had all kinds of problems. The twisted wire version was much better.

The other standard that is emerging and which is really a commodity is Ethernet. That has to be considered especially for entertainment because there are lots of systems that understand Ethernet as well as available chips and hardware.

Editor: CAN (Computer Area Network) is a vehicle bus standard designed to allow microconcotrollers and devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle without a host computer. The CAN protocol was released by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1987. The LIN (Local Interconnect Network) bus is a small and slow network system that is used as a cheap sub-network of a CAN bus to integrate intelligent sensor devices or actuators in today’s cars. CAN, LIN and Flexray all have supporting consortiums.

What is Autosar?
What brings all of this stuff together is Autosar. Autosar has its first production vehicle coming out in the BMW Series 7. Autosar has several portions. One portion is methodology, one is conceptual and one is the hardware/software design aspects of doing electronic systems in cars. Autosar is the “AUTomotive Open System Architecture”. It is intended for designing automotive software and electronic architecture. It is a huge standardization effort. It will require retooling. It is a good opportunity for a company like Mentor Graphics because we can offer tools now that we have a standard in place. From the vendor’s point of view we can provide some automation to help bring along the design process much like years ago when people were designing schematics by hand, laying out chips by hand. Of course that is now automated. Autosar adoption is proceeding in spite of the economic downturn. It is interesting because there is this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of in terms of different cost savings. Cost savings was the motivation for Autosar in the first place.

Imagine you had a car with 80 ECUs. That’s the high end. Maybe the low end of the spectrum might be 5 ECUs. Somewhere in the middle (20 – 30) might be the typical domestic car here in America. The ECUs are the boxes that the electronic systems are hosted on. Each of these ECUs is unique. What often happens is that the Tier 1 suppliers that make these boxes for the car companies, whether it be Delphi or Bosch, would maybe bid those initial contracts for electronics pretty low but then they would make up the revenue in terms of charging for lots of fixes and updates to the boxes because it was a proprietary thing. The whole idea of Autosar is that it is not proprietary anymore. In fact a big portion of the embedded software that binds the application layer into the hardware is a commodity now. This is the whole motivation. In the case of 80 ECUs, you might have 5 to 10 different types now. You can reprogram them for the 80 specific different functions. This is where the cost savings comes from. There is a catch phrase they always talk about in terms of Autosar. The phrase is “collaborate on process and compete on implementation”. You have the application layer of the embedded software as the unique value you add for your company.

There is the notion that we have a bunch of software components and a bunch of ECUs on the bus and we are going to map this software component (this piece of application software) on a given ECU, on a given piece of electronics for a variety of reasons and tradeoffs including here’s other functions that will run similarly and can run faster. Some of these might not be intuitive at first glance but now that you have tools that can track this whole system as you build it, it can automatically allocate application functions to the hardware ECUs.

There is a colorful picture showing the software stack. If you start at the top there is an application layer. The red bar is the interface. You can imagine an application for a given breaking system. That application would live above that line. The red line would bind in those applications into all these standard different pieces of software as drivers. They call all of these the basic software. There are four services (software services, communications services, memory services and I/O services). Basically, it says if you have an application, it might have to talk to memory, to the operating system, to a CAN or a LIN bus, or directly to an actuator. All of these interface layers or driver layers are all commodities now, all standard. That is the message of Autosar. The black bar is the final application layer, meaning the microcontroller application layer. That binds together the commodity software, the basic software modules into the specific pieces of hardware. Once you make that interface once for a given processor, a specific piece of hardware, you can use that over and over. The task is minimized. You can really interface your application to this layer. The green vertical bar is the backdoor to the Autosar standard. It says that if all those other standards and interface layers defined in the Autosar community fail, we can still have a direct connection from the application layer right into the hardware. They call that the complex drivers. In a nutshell that is what Autosar is.

Another way to look at the problem we are trying to attack, is that we want to maintain or increase the performance of a car and we want to have all these systems scalable and to be as or more reliable than they are today. We want to maintain or decrease cost. We have a given weight. Packaging is just a given, a bounded condition. The car is only so big. With the balance of all those issues in the car, now we put the likes of the topology, the wires, the different electronic systems, the functionalities of all the actuators as we try to duplicate our living room experience in a car. How do we do that? If we were to do this with ECUs without standards, the integration of all these different tasks would be open ended, a runaway condition. What we are trying to do is linearize the design task as you add more and more of these different functions and issues inside the architecture and keep this controllable.

Let us isolate this down to what is the electronic and electrical engineering design flow. We start with some requirements. Then we look at the architecture of the system as a whole so we can start doing some reasonable tradeoffs. We break this down into the specifics of the network, the specifics of the embedded software, the specifics of the cable harness and the specifics of the hardware in terms of PCBs and ICs. Under each of different areas, we encourage validation.

Let’s overlay what Mentor Graphics has.

The first thing we map onto this is the cable harness tools. These are state of the art tools. We also have tools that allow user to do tradeoffs as he does design, to maximize or minimize the wiring in the electrical system. Of course, Mentor is number one in the PCB area right now in the world. We also have very strong tools in the IC flow. The Cable Harness System has an architecture piece that again allows the designer and the developer to do tradeoffs.

Then we go to the part of the electrical architecture design in terms of Vehicle System Architect (VSA), the product we are talking about today. With VSA you can think of doing the topology tradeoffs, doing all of the mapping and seeing here is all the software function I have. What is the optimal way to map them onto the different pieces of hardware, onto the different control units? Furthermore, because we have the CHS Architect and VSA, we are setting up communication between these tools to be able to make tradeoffs on a bigger scale. For instance, if I move this electronic function to this ECU and I then move that ECU to the front of the car, what impact will that have on the buses in terms of the actual wiring implementation? We can build these kinds of tradeoffs now. In addition to the VSA, we also have the networking tools. We can do Flexray, CAN, and LIN plus cluster synthesis. What that means in every day language, is that you get the three major protocols (and if Ethernet comes on, it will just be another one of these protocols). We are going to look at the bus and the specifics of a given bus architecture. You will be able to load up the bus and be sure you have an appropriate amount of packets and communication between each of these ECUs, so that you do not overload the bus at any given time just for safety and functional reasons. That is called the communication clusters and how to build this cluster via synthesis. There is this whole huge amount of commodity software, basic software.

One of the tools we have at test customers (teacher customers) is Autosar compliance testing. It is nice that we have all of these common software modules but the idea is that are they compliant with the Autosar specification. If they are not, you can build them cheap but they won’t be any good for anything. We are building tools both for our own basic software and for basic software from other vendors to be sure that they are compliant. On top of this we have the full notion which is in the conceptual portion of the Autosar standard. The application layer is actually broken down into multiple software components. We have hooked those together with the notion of the operating system and the runtime environment. We would like to bind all of this together and compile that without actually running it on the real ECUs. We would like to see if they would functionally run together. We would like to find any inconsistencies in the operating system in just the application layer so that we can debug the software. So we have a virtual integration. We also have a tool we are doing that is capable of doing that. And then we have tools that will be doing the ECU configuration.

We talked about the Autosar basic software that goes hand and hand with the Autosar compliance testing. Finally, in terms of software, most of the software today is generated by hand. The industry is moving much more toward synthesized software just as today if you were thinking of building a huge microprocessor, you would not be laying out in gate nor would you be writing it by hand in RTL. The same migration is going on for embedded software. We have a tool called BridgePoint, where you can write the functions at a high level and then you can generate the source code. We are weaving all those together so as you generate the code, it is aware of all the interfaces that it needs into the run time environment layer. Finally, we have a tool called SystemVision which is a parametric tools that looks deeply into each of the different areas of hydraulics, electronics, and mechanics; any of the basic physics. You can simulate these mechatronics environments. A lot of these systems have challenging integration task. The idea is for us to do as much of that integration virtually as possible.

Consider the picture below.

When you look at this picture, you might think that this must be an FPGA that has been autorouted. But this is really a software diagram. Each of the white boxes has 67 functions within this climate control system. Those 67 functions are hosted in software components. That’s how Autosar breaks them down. 67 functions, 1400 tasks and between those tasks 1300 signals communicating between them. All this stuff is clustered inside three ECUs. And this is a simple system that just turns on the heating system rather than a specialized breaking system or transmission systems. Just imagine how big those are.

This climate control system was one of our benchmarks for a customer. There were some 300 competitors in this area. The nice thing was that we had designed these tools from the ground up around the Autosar meta model. So we could do designs very quickly and very efficiently. We won this benchmark very readily.

VSA manages the logical architecture where you can define software components, where you can group them in different combinations and where you can do the software component mapping onto the ECUs. The overall idea, the methodology, of Autosar is that you take the whole system and you design it holistically. Then you distribute it out to different ECUs. This tool is designed to do that. You can also look at different ECU properties like CPU loading and memory requirements. Of course, it has specific communication mangers and protocol managers for CAN, LIN and Flexray. It looks like we will also be doing Ethernet. It depends upon demand. The VSA goal for architecture and design is to bridge this gap of logical function design and implementation in the architecture. The whole goal is to bridge the gap at a higher level. One is at the functional level and one is at the system level.

What we are striving to do is to provide useful feedback to the developers so that they can make tradeoffs during the design, so they can make logical and physical tradeoffs. Things like, if I move these functions, will it run fast enough, can I get enough bandwidth on the bus, am I minimizing the weight and wiring in the car?

VSA covers a lot of different roles or areas of the design community: software engineers, software architects, system architects, network designers and ECU engineers. We believe that as these tools come on line, people have a common pallet to talk and to work with. These roles may change. They may collapse into one role. The good news is that people can do more in depth studies to make cars safer, more reliable and have more functions. Once all of the different roles or people bring together the different electrical systems then it can be all stored in some kind of configuration management system. Then that configuration management system is stored holistically and sent to the Tier One suppliers like Delphi and Bosh. They can go and see the high level system and can see how to implement the exact hardware for the ECU that you need. In the mean time, there is going to be these third party software suppliers (us included) to provide the basic software layer, the ecosystem.

What are the benefits of VSA? Why should someone buy this tool?
VSA enables concurrent and iterative engineering according to the Autosar process.
We developed our tools on an Eclipse-based infrastructure which has been good for us. It has a big payback in terms of allowing us to integrate different tools that we’ve had at Mentor together into a common environment very quickly. Historically it has taken months, even years, to integrate some of our tools together. So this has been a good tool for us. Actually, this is one of the infrastructures that Autosar promotes and encourages developers to use. We cover the full Autosar system design for the software, the system and the ECU resources. Mentor had been around 28 years. We are probably the oldest EDA company and one of the oldest software companies; so software lessons learned and applied.

Mentor Graphics’ products and roadmap cover architecture design, network design and ECU configuration design, Autosar conformance testing, and virtual integration and simulation; holistic. The VSA tool set will have all of these different aspects of Autosar. Our goals overlap completely with Autosar: enable optimization of different electronic architectures, early virtual verification; move as much verification into the front end of the development process as possible. This ensures correctness by design. We want to have a continuous flow from requirements to realization. That is it in a nutshell.

Is the degree of support and participation in Autosar the same across the three major geographies?
Europe supports and drives Autosar. Japan is more cautious and has created its own Autosar overlays (Jaspar). But I think Japan sees it as imperative. They view it as very complicated. America – all the major players participate but in their case Autosar competes with their mature in-house practices. In China they are trying to catch up to the current technology, so they are not really thinking about Autosar yet. Korea is teetering between the two worlds right now. They are doing a lot of deign on current technology but they are starting up some pilots on Autosar now.

Editor: Autosar has a three tiered membership structure, namely core, premium and associate members. Core Autosar Partners are BMW Group, Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Ford, Opel, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Toyota and Volkswagen. Premium Partners include ARM, Delphi, Fiat, Freescale, Fujitsu, Honda, Hyundai, IBM, Infineon, Mazda, Mentor Graphics, NEC, Porsche, and Volvo.

In Japan there is JasPar (Japan Automotive Software Platform and Architecture), whose goal is to reduce technology development costs and promote technology development by encouraging Japanese companies to collaboratively develop pre-competitive technologies such as automotive LAN enabling technology, middleware and software platform.

The US firms have a lot of internally developed alternatives.
The US companies like Ford and GM have historically been so huge that the problems now being addressed by Autosar had to be solved by somebody and somewhere at GM. So GM has created proprietary, GM specific solutions that do similar things to Autosar although by the nature of being GM proprietary they miss a number of Autosar objectives. I think that the current near death of American car companies has caused them to take a hard look at different practices. We are certainly seeing that being the case. For one of them, a particular company - I can not name - approaching bankruptcy, their conversions with us did not diminish, in fact it intensified.

Are the customers for Mentor’s products the car manufacturers themselves or the tier one and two suppliers?
Historically, companies like Mentor have served only the Tier 2 suppliers or the semiconductor players in this space. We are targeting both the car companies and Tier 1 suppliers. The general process we follow is that we are trying to score a design win in a car company and once we have succeeded, their supply chain comes along.

In a car there are multiple electronic systems for entertainment, comfort, safety etc. Are the users of VSA operating in separate groups or as a single group with a more holistic view?
Typically, now it is around domains. We are engaged with an OEM on a new car project around a domain say comfort and safety. So that will be the scope. Someone else may be dong the powertrain. Car companies are organized very flatly internally. They are organized around functions. There is a climate control group that does climate control for every model in a particular car company. Then there are vertical orientated projects like the BMW Series 7 project that would have representatives setting in on project meeting in the areas of climate control and powertrain. Basically, it is all about functions. Functions you might consider to be simple actually turn out to be quite complex. Even figuring out how to correctly architect something modest in scope as climate control requires advanced tools. But what we are not seeing right now is car companies having some kind of master architecture development that oversees all the functions in a car. There are some companies trying to do that but it is contrary to the way they are organized.

Take the climate control group as an example. How many users of VSA would there be in that group?
For a project of this scope, I would anticipate maybe a dozen at a particular OEM and maybe twice as many at the supplier.

All of those people would have a seat of VSA?
Yes. This is what they would need. If they are trying to manage their expense, they could probably share the software as they do with other things.

How is the product packaged?
If you buy VSA, it has all the pieces; things that do the mapping, the architecture, .. The only things broken out are the different communication design tools. So there is a plug for CAN, one for LIN and one for Flexray because they are pretty algorithmically intensive pieces. You can get VSA node locked or on a server. This just follows the Mentor standard. There is nothing special here.

As we role out other tools, there will be three main tools in the system; the Architect tool, integration tools and testing for compliance of the basic software. I do not know how they are going to be licensed. We have sold them in the past but it depends on where the market is. Some of these modules are moving to commodity

Other than internally developed tools at some of the larger car manufactures, who is the principal competition?
The gorilla in the market is Vector, a German company. They are a competitor in the sense that they are trying to solve the same problem. But they are trying to solve the problem in a rather traditional way. The bulk of their business is in test tracks and services. That’s the traditional way of doing this. As design tools are concerned there are very small companies offering partial solutions. As far as embedded software is concerned there again there are several players around the world. But basically, the process has been to find a bunch of pieces, hire consultants to glue them together and do that again for every model. It is the historical approach to this and people who have operated successfully in this market until recently adapted to that style of work that is they constructed their organization based on services. We are trying to change that. Our interest is delivering services is rather minimal. We are trying to teach people to fish rather than sell them fish.

Editor: Vector Infromatik GmbH had revenues of 127 million euros in 2007

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ANADIGICS' Broad Portfolio of 3G PAs Power LG Electronics' New ARENA Handsets
Tilera Announces Production Availability of the TILEPro Family of Processors
Rambus Demonstrates Superior Power Efficiency of World’s Fastest Memory
Wi-Fi Experts Devicescape and Intel Discuss Consumer Demands Around Next Generation Wi-Fi-Enabled …
ZeroG Wireless Announces Greg Winner as New CEO
Rambus Updates Second Quarter Guidance
Perfectus Announces Industry’s First SystemVerilog-based OVM Tested ONFi Verification IP for ONFi …
STMicroelectronics Delivers STM32 Connectivity Line Microcontrollers with Ethernet, USB OTG, …
Atmel Introduces AVR32 Microcontroller Which Lowers Industry's Best Power Consumption by 63%
TI introduces industry's first 18-bit system-on-chip up to 1 MSPS for high-speed data acquisition
SEMATECH Announces Speaker Lineup for SEMICON West 2009
ARM Provides Technology for LG Electronics Digital TVs
Freescale Introduces ‘ultimate Ethernet Connectivity Solution’ for Industrial Applications
National Semiconductor Launches SolarMagic Power Optimizers in Japan
Renowned Memory Expert Joins Innovative Silicon
IEEE Broadband Over Power Lines Working Group Approves Provisions for MAC/PHY and Inter-System …
Broadcom Extends Tender Offer for Emulex to July 1, 2009
Texas Instruments introduces industry's smallest integrated load switch