August 13, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Body of a car, brains of a PC
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"Honestly, we consider it to be the leading tech challenge the industry is facing. The millions of lines of code that go with it are far exceeding the complexity of any industry out there," Ford's Milligan said.
"Different applications require different levels of robustness and quality control. That's an area IBM has some expertise in," ABI's Alexander said. "Especially as the auto industry opens up, and you get more tier 1 suppliers involved in making software for the whole (market)."
Telelogic offers software that lets developers define very complex systems and simulate them. The program can analyze an individual driving system, such as one controlling a car's brakes, or the entire car. Telelogic's tools can also help find where software can be reused instead of written from scratch for every new component or car model.
"This not only costs money, but the more different products you develop for the same purpose, the (higher the) chance of something going wrong," Telelogic's Chandra said. "A lot of them are trying to standardize on a single architecture."
Traffic jam ahead
Of course, Telelogic is not the only player in town, and IBM is not the only behemoth interested.
Ford uses products from The MathWorks, which makes software for modeling and simulating complex dynamic systems and data, to translate its requirements into mathematical models that can be more easily managed. It's also evaluating Teamcenter, a systems engineering tool made by the software company UGS. UGS was acquired by manufacturing tools giant Siemens A&D for $3.5 billion in May.
Other tech giants, namely Microsoft, are becoming more involved in the auto industry. The software giant has so far concentrated on in-car entertainment and navigation systems, but it likely has larger ambitions.
IBM, too, is driving toward larger goals, according to ABI's Alexander.
Several governments and companies have been developing systems to allow cars to communicate with each other and the roadway about traffic and road conditions. A simple form of vehicle telematics is already used for collecting road tolls and tracking commercial trucks.
A comprehensive telematics infrastructure in the U.S. could allow all cars, regardless of manufacturer, to communicate where they are in a lane, and warn others when they've hit a patch of ice and where they've gotten into an accident.
Automotive telematics is currently estimated to be a $9 billion industry and is expected to grow to about $40 billion during the next 10 years," according to a December 2006 report (PDF: Vehicle Technology Trends in Electronics for the North American Market; Opportunities for the Taiwanese Automotive Industry) from the Center for Automotive Research.
Software will provide the means to avoid traffic and accidents, once a Dedicated Short-Range Communications wireless protocol for cars and roadways is implemented, according to Alexander.
"What you need at the back end of all this is the infrastructure that has to be linked together," he said. "That's an area that IBM may have its eyes on. It's a multibillion-dollar project to equip all of the major cities in America with this stuff."
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