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Automotive Observations from the Inaugural All-digital CES 2021

by Asif Anwar | Jan 19, 2021

2021 was the inaugural year for CES as an all-digital show in response to the ongoing challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the show offered a plethora of keynotes with companies using the showcase to promote new concepts, offerings and technologies focused on the automotive industry.

GM Battery Technology Developments

GM’s keynote at CES2021 placed a lot of emphasis on the company’s future electrification strategy, which is going to be based on the Ultium platform that encompasses battery chemistry through to power electronics.

The typical approach used for lithium-ion cell chemistry in the industry includes use of a blend of nickel, cobalt and manganese. GM is working on modifying its Ultium battery chemistry with a focus on reducing cobalt content by as much as 70% by using aluminium instead. As well as reducing the costs associated with cobalt (cobalt is around 17x more expensive than aluminium), reducing the reliance on cobalt helps overcome the associated challenges of sourcing this material. The net result is a reduction in cell cost.

Manufactured in-house in partnership with LG Chem, the single common cell design that will typify the Ultium battery is designed to lay the foundation of a platform that can be used across all GM vehicles with large format cells that are optimised to provide power across multiple vehicle designs.

GM claims that the Ultium cells will produce 60% more energy than current battery cells used by GM. A flat rectangular pouch design is used to reduce space between the cells and allow them to be stacked more efficiently in modules for higher energy density in a smaller space. The cells can be stacked in a number of ways depending on the requirements of the platform. Vertical stacking of cells helps builds trucks, SUVs and large crossover vehicles, while horizontal stacking can enable low slung performance vehicles. Conventional vehicles and compact crossovers will be served by horizontal stacking that doesn’t extend through the full length of the chassis. The modules are placed in a battery pack which is designed to part of a structural enclosure that doubles as part of the vehicle’s chassis and protects the cells from damage in case of impact. Six, eight, ten or double stack configurations to enable up to 24 modules in the battery pack can be offered depending on the power requirements of the vehicle.

An Ultium battery will be thus able to offer up to 450 miles of range on a single charge while reducing costs by 40% and weight by 25% compared to current battery designs. The Ultium modules themselves will use 90% less wiring than current batteries by utilising a wireless battery management systems from ADI that monitors and balances cell chemistry to optimise performance and charging capacity.

The batteries are designed to be combined with GM’s Ultium propulsion systems. Ultium Drive is comprised of five interchangeable drive units that can enable front, rear or all-wheel drive systems depending on the vehicle design.

GM Ultium

Source: GMAuthority

Moving forwards, GM is working on next gen battery chemistry to reduce reliance on Co and Ni even further. The aim is to further reduce costs by 60% compared with current batteries while also delivering twice the energy density of current Ultium battery cell designs. On a practical level, the aim is to be able to provide 500 – 600 miles of range from a single charge.

The underlying E/E architecture and distribution of power is achieved via GM’s Vehicle Intelligence Platform (VIP). A key differentiator of VIP will be a software enabling layer that is designed to provide a digital electrical architecture that can enable faster communications between vehicle systems and external connections. VIP can reportedly process 4.5 terabytes of data per hour which is a fivefold increase over GM’s current vehicle E/E architectures. VIP will not only serve as the foundation of GM’s EV ambitions, but will also be integrated into nearly all GM vehicles by 2023.

As well as enabling all future GM vehicles to be converted to all electric running, VIP is designed to support other-the-air updates which will allow for the provisioning of services and capabilities that will include unlocking features and vehicle performance as well as other offering other means of enhancing the customer experience and thus creating new revenue stream opportunities.

The modularity of the Ultium platform will underpin a range of GM vehicles including the Hummer EV, the Cadillac Lyriq and the Cadillac Celestiq. Also discussed was the company’s partnership with Bose on creating an immersive audio experience, the progress of the self-driving Cruise division and the partnership with FedEx as part of the Brightdrop initiative. For more thoughts on GM’s keynote, check out Roger Lanctot’s post, CES 2021: GM's Zero Vision.

Harman Looks to Dual Nodes for ADAS and Infotainment

Best known for its long history in consumer audio, Harman has also built up a commanding portfolio of connected car solutions for automakers, spanning hardware components, digital cockpit platforms, ADAS, cybersecurity, telematics and more. Leveraging the capabilities offered by parent Samsung, Harman partners with automakers to deliver unique, smart, enhanced and rich in-vehicle experiences and the ecosystems to support them, and the company’s keynote emphasised its vision of the car as the “third living space” showcasing concepts that envisage the consumer using the vehicle as a gaming, productivity and entertainment platform as part of Harman’s “ExP” portfolio .

The company sees continuing convergence between the digital cockpit and ADAS-focused capabilities, augmented by the moves towards greater automation. Harman believes that this will ultimately lead to the driver information and safety domains effectively being brought together under a single domain controller unit. The company cited Tesla as an example of this move towards centralized E/E architectures with all relevant compute functionality boxed in one housing to leverage the low latency and fast data rates that can be realized using internal interfaces between domain-specific SoCs.

Harman’s ADAS related offerings have until now largely focused on Level 0 capabilities that make use of surround view camera sensors to stitch together driver information which is then hosted in the digital cockpit and augmented with AR and 3D visualizations. Harman sees functional safety as a challenge that can be achieved while leveraging the company’s consumer orientated focus and has taken steps to make hires focused on this area. Moving forwards, Harman is also working on Level 1 and Level 2 capable systems with an emphasis on being a systems integrator rather than looking to develop its own suite of camera, radar and lidar sensors. Areas that will be looked at include low speed manoeuvring functions such as parking assist as well as adaptive cruise control with sensors and associated data processing capabilities provided by partner companies.

Harman_ADAS

Source: Harman

A key differentiator in this respect will be the work that Harman is doing on a “dual node”, which envisages the dedicated infotainment and ADAS SoCs being run from the same board and housed in one unit. The company acknowledges that it will be necessary to be hardware agnostic and while the company can leverage Samsung Exynos processor capabilities, Harman envisages working with a broad range of hardware suppliers including NXP, Qualcomm and TI who already have the necessary product qualification in place and the focus for Harman will be on the features and middleware for this dual node concept. Harman envisages the Level 1 and 2 dual node concept being introduced into vehicles from 2024/2025 onwards.

Looking broadly at the move towards domain controller architectures, Harman sees the push towards centralization as a common global OEM trend driven by cost saving opportunities associated with replacing dedicated ECUs integrating mandatory features into the digital cockpit. The associated requirements for cyber security such as those dictated by ISO 21434 (cyber security development, manufacturing, etc. processes) is recognized by Harman as the TCU and the driver information domain become preferred attack targets. Harman believes it has the tools in place via the Redbend subsidiary to support these requirements and implement capabilities into its products.

Harman Connecting with 5G

The delivery of user experiences  and ability to offer new capabilities, content and services in the vehicle will be predicated on cellular connectivity. To this end Harman has been at the forefront in bringing 5G to the TCU having introduced an initial product in 2018. This product is slated to be launched commercially in July 2021 when it will be used by a German OEM (expected to be BMW). Harman expects to follow this with a series of other launches over 2022 and 2023 and expects 5G TCUs to start becoming mainstream from 2024 onwards.

While the move to car connectivity is near universal, Harman recognizes that OEMs will implement different rates of adoption for 5G, especially in the mainstream segment. To accommodate this, Harman has also created a 5G-ready TCU that provides 4G connectivity as a baseline which can then be updated via over-the-air updates to 5G when the OEM is ready.

On a technical level, the first generation 5G TCU will be focused on sub 6GHz 4G/5G frequencies. The TCUs feature the full RF/analog, mixed signal and digital processing components needed and Harman has worked with the leading component suppliers to accommodate the different sub-6GHz 5G band regional variations. For RF front-end requirements for example, the company has worked with leading companies including Skyworks, Qorvo and Broadcom to implement a flexible RF front-end that can be adapted to specific regional bands and bandwidth requirements without needing components to be swapped out.

The challenges of incorporating millimetre-wave frequency bands and related technological requirements for beamforming are presently being explored by Harman. The company expects 5G TCUs supporting millimetre-wave bands will be available from 2024/2025 onwards as part of its third generation of 5G TCUs.

Harman Conformal Antenna

Source: Harman

To support 5G connectivity, Harman has developed a conformal antenna that can be used in conjunction with the 5G TCU. The conformal antennal, TCU and associated cabling can all be housed as one unit, effectively displacing the need for as many as 12 distinct antenna points that may typically be found spread around a vehicle. Furthermore, the unit can be fitted into the roof displacing the need for a shark fin and improving vehicle aesthetics and Harman has worked to resolve polarization issues associated with integrating the TCU unit into the car body. Furthermore, by placing everything into a single box, the amount of cabling can be reduced which in turn helps to reduce RF losses.

Harman is also looking to expand its experience with the 5G TCU into RSUs (roadside units) that can sit on various endpoints such as traffic lights, signage etc. to provide end to end 5G connectivity via V2X. The solution can also be implemented in small cell infrastructure as a software application that provides edge connectivity.

To optimise 5G TCU connectivity, the Harman TBOT software based solution uses a baseline of the known RF spectrum environment to provide best available connectivity to the TCU. The initial tranche of data is collected by a third party partner and this baseline is then optimised dynamically depending on the location, conditions and bandwidth requirements by switching frequencies and bands. Moving forwards, Harman intends to bring future innovations such as network slicing that optimise connectivity based on different application data and bandwidth requirements to offer guaranteed SLAs (service level agreements).

Mercedes-Benz goes Hyper

The next evolution of MBUX - the Hyperscreen - was the focus of the Mercedes-Benz press conference. MBUX Hyperscreen will be introduced in the as yet to be released all-electric EQS luxury sedan and will be the biggest screen to be mounted in a series-built Mercedes. The company described the screen as a merging of analog and digital design and spans the full width of the car front. Hyperscreen is actually comprised of three separate screens mounted below a curved glass surface. This provides distinct information and functionality for the driver in the screen behind the steering wheel while a center screen provides the driver and front passenger all the functionality needed related to apps, navigation, vehicle functions, climate control and entertainment.

MBUX Hyperscreen

Source: Mercedes-Benz

The front passenger has direct access to a third screen – the “co-driver display”. The co-driver screen screen provides all the relevant vehicle information available in the center screen as well as access to entertainment and content that can be shared with other passengers in the vehicle.

Described as a customer-centric user interface with a focus on eliminating unnecessary distraction and complexity based on a “zero-layer” principle. All the functionality can be activated from one screen while the navigation map is designed to be always visible in the center console with climate controls, phone and entertainment functionality accessible beneath the map. The system uses AI to learn the specific functions used by the occupants most frequently so that access to these functions is always at the top while other functions are placed in the background. Other data sets such as position, temperature and time are also processed by the AI, and used to provide information such as route planning and charging to optimise the driver experience.

Market specific features such as video and TV content will also be available to the front passenger. In such scenarios, a camera based monitoring system will prevent the driver from looking across to the passenger display.

As part of the new interface, Mercedes also highlighted a forthcoming voice assistant feature, provisionally called “Mercedes Travel Knowledge” that is designed to provide contextually relevant information around POIs (points-of-interest) when prompted by either the driver or the front passenger. Information is also displayed on the relevant display.

Mercedes-Benz sees the Hyperscreen as the natural progression of MBUX with the zero layer concept designed to provide seamless interaction as an embodiment of customer-centricity.

Panasonic

Panasonic emphasized its position as a leading supplier and manufacturer of lithium ion batteries factory, having shipped 3 billion cells as of August 2020. The company highlighted that the Gigafactory operations in Nevada continue to grow to meet EV battery demand for Tesla vehicles with the company adding a 14th cell assembly line increasing capacity by 10%.

The company is leveraging over four decades of battery leadership to maintain growth and this is being supplemented by strategic partnerships to support regional markets. The partnership with energy company Equinor and industrial group Hydro for example is designed to explore the potential for a European battery business.

On the development front, Panasonic highlighted new batteries such as the 4680 for Tesla as well as a new cell model that will reportedly be the world’s highest density automotive battery when introduced.

In addition, the company is working to ensure battery sustainability of the lithium-ion supply chain via the partnership with Redwood Materials. This partnership aims to secure future raw materials for battery production via recycling of the material from spent battery cells. In conjunction with this, Panasonic is working to reduce the Co content in the cell chemistry. Presently less than 5%, Panasonic aims to have Cobalt free batteries in the near future.

Beyond batteries, Panasonic was another company emphasizing the growing importance of the vehicle as a work/play/social environment from which occupants engage in activities beyond just travelling from A to B. Panasonic is working on making the cabin of the vehicle a “second home” and emphasised the company’s SPYDR cockpit domain controller platform. Powered by Android 11 and integrating an OpenSynergy hypervisor to allow both infotainment and safety applications to be run on the same platform, SYPDR can drive up to 11 displays with distinct or shared content as well enabling audio playback seat-by-seat or broadcast through the vehicle. Audio companies partnering with Panasonic on SPYDR include Fender, ELS Studio and Klipsch with a plaftorm from Klipsch also incorporating Dolby Atmos for an immersive solution.

On the ADAS front, the introduction of AR HUDs are designed to provide pertinent safety information and alerts without distraction, providing intuitive information that does not require the driver to take their eyes of the road. The AR HUD has been developed using Panasonic’s proprietary PRIZM process to consider all aspects of a drivers journey with AI used to detect and prioritise the most important and relevant information. The company has partnered with Envisics that brings that company’s laser holographic technology to market as well as with Phiar for its spatial AR and AI capabilities.

Panasonic AR HUD

Source: Panasonic

Panasonic also highlighted a wireless (Wi-Fi), ruggedized, IP68 water resistant automotive grade camera designed to integrate with the company’s IVI platforms and is designed to provide rear view capability when towing trailers and eliminating blindspots.

Panasonic’s CIRRUS by Panasonic V2X platform for traffic management and safety is designed to be a scalable standardized solution that can applied across transport departments. Key benefits touted include being able to reduce the time between incident notifications and emergency response from ten to fifteen minutes to seconds.

Finally, the company also introduced moving coil and static coil variants of its in-vehicle wireless charging technology based on the Qi 1.3 charging standard.

Other Announcements

Other announcements at and around CES last week included:

  • Texas Instruments unveiled its wireless BMS concept with ASIL-D compliance.
  • Ambarella introduced the CV5 high performance AI vision processor for single 8K and multi-imager AI cameras capable of supporting front ADAS, driver monitoring, cabin monitoring, and sideview camera applications
  • OmniVision introduced the OX03F10 ASIL-C automotive 3MP image sensor to support ADAS  and autonomy functionality with 140dB HDR and LFM in a wide vertical array resolution of 1920x1536p at 60fps.
  • Qorvo’s AECQ Grade antenna routing switches - the QPC1251Q for eCall and QPC1252Q - for Dual Sim Dual Active (DSDA) eCall are designed to deliver up to 50% board area savings as well as offering hot switching capabilities up to +29dBm for Telematic Control Units.
  • Eyeris Technologies and Texas Instruments are collaborating on an automotive in-cabin sensing AI solution, using Jacinto™ TDA4 processors and 2D RGB-IR image sensors.
  • The Nio all-electric ET7 features an electric motor on each axle and choice of battery sizes - 70, 100 and 150kWh - to give a suggested range of over 600 miles.
  • Blickfield introduced the Vison Mini and Vision Plus mid-range and long-range LiDAR sensors as well as a MEMS scanning module.
  • Mando highlighted its "X-by-Wire" technologies including steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire systems as part of its "Space Freedom" concept.
  • Thundercomm’s E-cockpit Solution 4.5 leverages the third generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive Digital Cockpit Platform and features the QNX Hypervisor 2.1, running both QNX 7.0 and the Android P OS.
  • Maxim introduced the parasitically-powered AEC-Q100 Grade 1 DS28E40 DeepCover automotive secure authenticator solution that uses a 1-Wire interface to ensure only genuine components are used.
  • Qualcomm’s acquisition of NUVIA will support compute offerings across broad range of markets and applications including automotive digital cockpit and ADAS systems.
  • Seoul Semiconductor and Seoul Viosys demonstrated VCSEL laser diodes for automotive driver monitoring and gesture recognition applications.
  • Revealed last year, Sony is now reportedly road testing a Vision S battery electric prototype that will feature Level 2 autonomy and be driven by two electric motors providing 400kW and underpinned by a centralized vehicle architecture.
  • Alibaba launched a new electric car brand with SAIC -IM "intelligence-in-motion" - joining the growing swell of Chinese technology companies targeting the electrification opportunity.
  • Samsung is working on antenna beamforming to enable 5G millimetre-wave TCUs.
  • Lotus and Alpine (Groupe Renault) signed a MoU across a number of areas including the joint development of an EV sportscar.
  • Stradvision and D3 Engineering are working on an automotive front camera solution that integrates the D3 DesignCore platform with STradvision’s 'SVNet' deep learning software to support a full range of detection functionality.
  • Cenntro introduced a battery electric Class 4 vehicle to serve the last mile delivery market in the US and Europe with a dedicated manufacturing and support network.
  • OmniVision and Nextchip introduced an automotive camera solution targeting rear view cameras (RVCs), surround-view systems (SVS) and e-mirrors based on theOX03C10 image sensor and the NVP2650D image signal processor.

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, CES 2021 continued on from CES 2020 with the automotive supply pivoting towards electrification, ADAS/automation and centralized architectures while offsetting the move towards full autonomy as part of broader long-term mobility strategies.

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