The return of the central server ECU idea
One approach to a solution is to develop standardised, high-performance hardware on which a variety of controllers can run entirely as software – in other words, to use virtualised ECUs. This has two main advantages. First, it enables a more cost-effective architecture as whole devices – and their wiring – can be eliminated. Second, this type of system is much easier to extend with new functions. This is already starting to be implemented today with centralised body controllers that integrate various functions in one ECU, including optional ones.
Taking this approach to its logical conclusion, a single ECU could have software from different suppliers running on it and handle a variety of tasks. A prominent example of this type of convergence is the infotainment system that includes a traditional instrument cluster. The input and output units can still be arranged separately, like screens, but are only powered by a single ECU (Fig. 1).
This integration generates several new questions. For example: will traditional suppliers be able to change their business model to encompass a purely software-based solution? Who will be responsible for the integrated product? And how can these virtual devices be isolated from each other to comply with safety and security requirements?