Instead of the automotive industry offering a simple solution relevant to modern motoring needs, even cars that are supposedly state-of-the-art have a complexity of electronic and electrical systems performing myriad tasks with countless components, assemblies and microprocessors. Many are independently functioning sub-systems.
The vastly complicated nature of having so many interrelated parts poses numerous problems ranging from wasted computing power to excessively heavy wiring looms and unnecessary switchgear. There are also cost, reliability, warranty and vehicle end-of-life issues. The industry’s common vision, set out 10 years ago, of a simplified electronic architecture has simply failed to materialise.
IFR Automotive has applied its ingenuity to prove this vision can in fact be realised with Unidrive, which totally integrates an almost infinite number of electronic and electrical possibilities within a common system, as revealed in the company’s Aspid technology demonstrator.
The most noticeable change for the driver and passenger, when experiencing Unidrive, is the complete elimination of the traditional instrument panels along with all the accompanying knobs and switches. Apart from the engine start button, just two screens replace all the normal instrumentation.
One screen is mounted in the steering wheel and the other is located in the centre console. In keeping with the latest digital technology trends, both displays are interactive touch screens.
The primary screen provides information normally displayed by the main instrument panel, such as the speed of the vehcile, as well as providing the means, for example, to activate the headlights and turn signals.
The secondary screen has endless telematics, on-board diagnostics and multimedia capabilities and not only integrates all the common communications systems currently available, but also provides the means to embrace any new developments including for example traffic management and collision avoidance systems. Any innovative sensor-based system introduced to the market or new application essentially becomes a plug-and-play item.
Either screen provides a means for the driver to communicate with the vehicle and indeed for the vehicle to communicate with the driver. And each screen can act as a back-up for the other. The replacement of conventional instrumentation with touch screens opens up much cabin space creating new possibilities for vehicle interior design.
Major benefits of Unidrive include a significant reduction in the amount of electrical harnessing required to around one-third that of current layouts, with a corresponding weight reduction. Similarly, there is a comparable reduction in the number of microprocessors to about one for every four that would typically be specified in a modern vehicle. So instead of having as many as 50 microprocessors, the Aspid demonstrator can manage with as few as seven and with no more than 10 needed for a maximum installation incorporating every single option available for the car.
Unidrive employs Microsoft Windows Mobile code and being a software-based system is able to embrace different languages and a wide range of vehicle, market and legal requirements. Motorists can personalise their displays by downloading a new graphical user interface (GUI) from the Internet.
In fact, the driver can change almost whatever parameter he chooses such as the rev limit, valve timing, power output, steering assistance, ABS, noise valve, brake balance, traction control, stability control, pitch, roll, yaw and ride height as well as damping characteristics. And, with a touch of the screen, it’s simplicity itself to restore the factory settings.
For motorsport enthusiasts the system offers an extensive and extendable data logging capability as standard, readily configured for all OBD and CAN sensors with 24 analogue channels available and upwards.
Unidrive can reconfigure the car to suit different drivers and different driving conditions. It can ensure the car suspension is set-up correctly for town, countryside or race track and whether it’s wet or dry; all at the touch of the screen.
The system can even direct the driver to run through a series of speed tests and other operations that will enable it to calculate engine torque and power.
Data logging possibilities extend to a ‘black box’ capability to continually record the most recent minute or so of vehicle operation. To complement this feature, e-Call - the new automated system for alerting emergency services should the car be involved in an accident - can be easily incorporated.
And with its self-diagnosis capability, if the car decides it needs a service it communicates automatically with the dealer and provides the driver with a choice of servicing dates – on screen. But even before the car needs physically to go to the garage much can be accomplished via remote diagnosis, while the owner is at work and the car is in the office car park.
Perhaps the only criticism of Unidrive is that it can’t yet drive the car by itself to the garage – but we’re working on that!