Software development in a virtual environment

As a provider of advanced semiconductor solutions, Renesas Electronics Corporation has announced the launch of a virtual development environment which it claims enables the development and evaluation of automotive application software.

The launch of this environment includes a turnkey virtual platform that allows engineers to develop application software before evaluation boards or devices are available. At the same time, the environment provides users with a multi-core debugging and tracing tool, allowing users to analyze and evaluate software operation as if it were running on a chip.

We spoke to Darren Buttle, Head of RTA Solutions, ETAS Germany, to learn more about this new technology.

Just Auto (JA): Could you tell me a bit about your role and what it entails?

Darren Buttle (DB): I am responsible for our platform solutions business for ETAS Germany. We supply classic car batteries and adaptive car batteries for the global automotive industry and I handle the German side of the operation.

We have a German side of the operation, other European operations, as well as operations in the United States, China and Japan. In any kind of major automotive field where there’s development and production work going on, we’ll usually have a site there and there’s someone like me running that.

We are primarily responsible for helping customers design our software technology for their vehicle programs. One day you study code and debug stuff, then you do some kind of marketing, then you do some kind of bid proposal and design work; it’s never a boring day.

How was the new turnkey virtual software born?

About seven or eight years ago, we started looking at the problem of the increasing number of electronic boxes in a car. Ideally, you want to reduce the number of boxes to reduce vehicle weight. Looking at today’s automobiles, this is especially important for electric vehicles.

We first considered taking some of the company’s original idea of ​​having virtual machines, which involves many virtual machines running on one physical machine – so something like how a large Amazon server farm might work.

We know the technology works on these larger-scale embedded devices, but we wanted to see how it might work on smaller devices. At the time, all the silicon that existed didn’t really have the hardware support to be able to do that. So we had to write a lot of software to compensate for the missing hardware support.

We built a thing called the lightweight hypervisor. The reason it was lightweight was that it ran as a software layer on top of a normal deeply integrated 32-bit automotive microcontroller. It worked quite well – today it is mass-produced in a number of vehicle programs.

It works quite well with applications like the electronic side of the vehicle body – things where you don’t have to do a lot of digital input and output.

As soon as we got to something that was a bit more involved in terms of computing needs, the hardware broke down. Now, if you fast forward seven years to current generations of silicon, vendors are producing hardware that supports building these types of systems.

Can you explain the new turnkey virtual platform and how it works?

We’ve worked with a number of silicon vendors, including Renesas, to essentially deliver a software-supported, hardware-supported virtualization solution. This solution allows you to take existing electrical control units (ECUs), with four or five boxes of existing electronics, and put them on a slightly more powerful computer, but keep them separated in time and space.

The software allows you to create the application software, and in terms of putting on an autosar stack, you can do a lot on a desktop PC. It’s a lot of that basic plumbing and integration work on a host PC before you have to move on to hardware.

When we talk about virtualization, we are talking about virtualization when running a virtual machine in the physical machine. What we see is that you can build an ECU essentially as usual, but rather than running it directly on hardware, you’re running on a piece of virtual hardware that runs on physical hardware.

This virtualization layer that we provide with the hypervisor basically allows you to take a chip and say rather than just having this chip on which I can just drop a binary, a piece of software onto – I can basically make whether this chip looks like 10 different tokens, or five different tokens or whatever the number is. Then for each of those 10 or one of those five, I can then just solve my normal software integration problem for that subset of the existing computer hardware.

What are the main advantages of this new software?

I think the main benefits that come to mind are the ability to reduce the number of ECUs in the vehicle in a sensible and practical way. This solution allows you to replace several physical electronic boxes with a slightly more powerful electronic box, while consolidating all these functions on the same ECU.

You also reduce the amount of copper in the vehicle, which is good for the environment, and you reduce vehicle weight because you have a box of five boxes.

One of the big challenges in the automotive industry today is if you think that on average you have between 60 and 150 electronic boxes in your car. A big challenge for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is where to put them, which is why cars over time have gradually gotten bigger because you have to hide the electronics somewhere in the vehicle.. If you can reduce the number of boxes, this problem becomes more manageable.

If you think about the electric vehicle market now, where basically the range of the vehicle is directly proportional to the weight of the vehicle, anything that allows you to make the vehicle a bit lighter has a direct correlation to the distance it can travel on a single charge. It’s this optimization of the E architecture to reduce the number of ECUs as well as maintaining some of your existing supply chain relationships so you can consolidate software on the ECU.

What is the current stage of the software?

We worked extensively with Renesas to create this software. This is called a zone pop demonstrator. We have the latest family of R-Car devices from Renesas, it’s silicon that incorporates support for hardware virtualization.

On top of that, we’ve delivered our hypervisor prototype, so I’d say it’s in beta stage. It is scheduled to be released in the third quarter of this year as a serious production-ready product.

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