Creating Space for the Future of Mobility

Author : Stephan Menze, Head of Global Innovation Management, Rutronik

22 February 2024

Figure 1: The RDK4 automotive-grade development board from Rutronik
Figure 1: The RDK4 automotive-grade development board from Rutronik

The entire mobility sector is undergoing a massive upheaval. Politicians, OEMs and consumers are still divided on where the journey is actually heading.

In addition to cross-market challenges, such as skilled labour shortages, supply chain problems and cost increases, the automotive industry has a completely new issue to solve - namely ensuring that those behind the wheel get the best possible user experience (UX). 

The UX in the vehicles of the future will be characterised by a new ecosystem based upon multilateral connectivity and compatibility. In order to achieve this, it is important to use time resources efficiently, as they are often associated with extremely high costs. This is where having an effective distribution partner comes in - providing automotive OEMs and their tier 1 partners with the cutting-edge technology they need.  

Traditional versus innovation
Brand loyalty in the automotive market was almost on its way to becoming habitual - with people buying Audi, VW, Ford and suchlike simply because they (and their family members or friends) had always done so. Over time, they became comfortable with the look and feel of respective brands. However, even this market is now not immune to generational shift and the resulting changes in requirements. Younger prospective buyers are more flexible in their choice of automotive brand. They can easily adapt to new features and are more likely to pay attention to other purchasing parameters - such as overall costs, efficiency levels, sustainability and most importantly UX. This opens up opportunities for emerging providers and challenges the established market leaders. In the e-mobility sector in particular, new market entrants, especially from Asia, are creating a highly dynamic environment that places increasing pressure on European automotive OEMs to innovate. 

In order to create capacities for the development and implementation of connected cars, it is prudent that vehicle manufacturers utilise synergies in the form of base boards. The newly-launched RDK4 development platform is an example of such technology. Produced by Rutronik, and the 1st to be based on Infineon’s PSoC 4100S Max microcontroller, it can support the realisation of more compact engine control units - resulting in streamlined, energy-efficient solutions that can be brought to market quickly.
Optimised for space-limited deployments, this hardware not only has an automotive-certified microcontroller (with an Arm Cortex-M0+ processing core), but also features a system base chip (SBC) plus CAN-FD and LIN interfacing. The upshot is that a large number of relevant components for the development of engine control units are all installed on a single board. The decisive factor here is that developers from OEMs/tier 1s can skip almost the entire pre-development phase, including the ordering and assembly of component parts. This results in a considerable time advantage that enables development departments to break new ground. 

Optimising personnel costs
The development time of board level systems depends on a number of factors, making a generalised cost-benefit analysis difficult. Using a comparative case of a board level system equivalent to the RDK4, Rutronik summarises the time as follows: 
  •  Development of the hardware design, which would require approximately 2 months. 
  •  The final test phase with regard to the functionality of all integrated components, normally taking just under 1 month. 
  •  Then to this the delivery times for the individual components will need to be added, which can drag on if the supply chain situation is problematic. 

This means that the project would take around 3 months, plus delivery times for the components, to finalise the system design. In an exemplary calculation, the labour costs of around Euro 20,000 alone will far outweigh the Euro 100 purchase price of the RDK4.

As a broadline distributor, Rutronik can also leverage long-standing business relationships with leading component manufacturers and the experience of interdisciplinary teams. These strengths are beneficial to vehicle manufacturers/tiers 1s, who do not have to invest time into the complex design of their own boards or searching for suitable components. It reduces personnel and material costs, as well as freeing up resources for other projects.

Energy consumption considerations 
Reductions in resource allocation and shortening of the time-to-market are just a couple of the advantages associated with the RDK4. Enabling more energy efficient operation is another. With new features and functionality being added to vehicle designs to enhance the UX, the challenge is that every additional function adds to the power budget and draws upon the vehicle’s battery reserves. For a development department, whether or not to use a component based on its energy usage can be made significantly easier to decide via the RDK4. Thanks to the selective current measurement option, it is possible to measure the power consumption of the system, subsystem or microcontroller. This makes it possible to recognise exactly which component consumes how much energy in which operating mode - in order to reliably comply with the limit values.

Without optimally functioning software, however, the most elaborate efforts of hardware developers will not be enough. To achieve the best possible results, the RDK4 should be used with the ModusToolBox Eclipse-based integrated development environment (IDE). This comprises an extensive array of development tools, libraries and embedded runtime assets. 

In addition to the development service, Rutronik supplies a comprehensive board support package with the hardware. This contains complete documentation (including PCB design files and BoM). It eliminates the need to read and compare datasheets or analyse schematics in order to find the right interfaces.

An automotive jack of all trades 
Rutronik supports firmware and hardware developers in the pre-development phase with its own base and adapter boards. The aim is to accelerate innovation and the market launch of new applications. With the RDK4, the company is focusing on the automotive industry and the obstacles that it faces on the way to sustainable mobility. Optimisation also means that OEMs/tier 1s have a partner that has all the necessary expertise and can share its knowledge, as well as providing access to state-of-the-art, automotive-certified components. 

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