Virtual software platform for the car

September 15, 2021 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
 Virtual software platform for the car
Virtualization technology is gaining acceptance in the automotive industry. It makes the development process of software systems more efficient, reduces development and BOM costs, and shortens time-to-market.

Especially in the cockpit, manufacturers and their direct suppliers have now been using hypervisor-based systems for several years. This first step towards a new conception of solutions is now experiencing another paradigm shift: the use of open standards. It further enhances the advantages of virtualization. The fully virtualized guest operating systems can be flexibly deployed and reused across all hardware. Only then can the full potential of virtualization technology be fully exploited.

New driver assistance systems, digital cockpits, and passenger and rear seat displays are in vogue. They require very powerful hardware, but at the same time the growing number of hardware components conflicts with the automotive industry's declared goal of producing lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Virtualization opens up a way to consolidate functions and drastically reduce the number of ECUs. This reduces costs, network complexity and the weight of the vehicle.

Image 1: The future cockpit will have more and more functions based on software.

A key component of virtualization architectures is the hypervisor. It runs directly on the system-on-chip (SoC) processor and allows multiple virtual machines (VM) with different operating systems to run in parallel. Each VM is isolated from the others. This separation (ISO 26262 calls it "freedom from interference") allows multiple different functionalities to run on a single SoC, even if the systems are assigned different criticality (ASIL levels such as QM, A, B, C and D). Thus, the hypervisor enables the operation of guest operating systems such as Linux, Android, AUTOSAR or other real-time operating systems in separate virtual machines.

The consolidation of functions made possible in this way requires very powerful processors, to which many silicon manufacturers have responded and today offer system-on-chips (SoCs) that provide such high computing power. On these SoCs are co-processors such as graphics processing units (GPUs), on which a large number of pixels can be driven for multiple displays. Because the hypervisor allows different applications to share the

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