The automotive and semiconductor industries face similar challenges. With rapid adoption of electronics, the semiconductor industry is revolutionising the car in present times. National Instruments (NI), producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software, has been focussing on the automotive industry for over two decades, and offers specialised product development platforms. The company has also been providing semiconductor companies with testing capability of chips, along with the ability to perform parallel testing. Auto Tech Review recently caught up with Jeffrey Phillips, Head, Automotive Marketing, National Instruments, with focus on electric vehicles, autonomous driving and future mobility progress.
Electrification has been the big innovation with regards to the powertrain sub-market in the automotive industry, said Phillips; something a lot of companies have been focussing on. National Instruments is focussing on high-voltage measurement capabilities in the EV space. In a battery pack, each individual cell within the module needs to operate anywhere from 4-500 V, and having a measurement platform that can be configured to take measurements across those very large voltage ratings is significant for companies looking to validate that technology. NI’s solutions typically revolve around measuring capabilities, building automation from the software to switches and loads, and then the actual measurement metrics, Phillips explained. National Instruments is keen to offer solutions for the validation side as well as for the production floor.
The company had recently launched configuration-based data-logging software called FlexLogger that is primarily used in the validation laboratory for physical measurements. Phillips said this product is used for durability measurement of the powertrain as well as physical testing of the traction inverter for EVs. This software solution is typically focussed on validation for engineers having little or no background in programming.
Phillips said it is challenging to describe what would be the form of future mobility in a country like India. There is a varying demographic requirement between the high-density population areas and less-sparsely populated areas. Autonomous driving solutions have a high level of dependency on lane marking, proper signage and other infrastructure, and these areas need significant upgrade in India.
He said a country like India is going to end up with a blend of mobility solutions for a much more significant portion of times. The mobility trends may be focussed on transportation of a large number of commuters at the same time, via forms such as metro or rail-based infrastructure. Automated air taxis for long distance travel are an interesting proposition for India, he noted.
SOLUTIONS ON THE GROUND
Phillips observed that EVs and autonomous driving have two main challenges with regards to testing – one, these technologies are gaining complexity in terms of their capabilities and the processing levels being integrated. The second challenge, which leans more towards autonomous driving rather than EVs, is that the test process is currently non-linear. This means, while codes were earlier created manually by engineers, this process is now automated and is evolving based on the system’s learning (artificial intelligence), making the identification of errors tougher.
However, Phillips said the value provided by National Instruments is in the software nature of its solution platform, with the tester being highly reconfigurable. This enables test engineers to cut down on critical development time, besides being able to do more through automation of coding. It is clear that IC engine vehicles will remain in the market for a long time to come, highlighting the necessity to make these engines more efficient and less polluting. National Instruments has a technology that addresses these requirements for IC engines and is the core to measure emissions and validate their output. The company’s solutions are focussed on the test side, and not on the design area. National Instruments provides engineers with a richer solution on the test results, with faster loop rates of simulation, said Phillips.
Phillips said partners and partnerships are critical for National Instruments in the automotive space, as they bring in domain expertise. Some of the company’s integration partners have been working in the automotive industry for over 30 years, he added. These partners have software development capabilities and create architectures that control automation across the validation and production flow. Last-mile integration is the process carried out by these partners, he noted. Therefore, while National Instruments brings in an array of measurement solutions for testing and validation needs of customers, it is the integration partners that take the relevant and necessary solutions to end-customers.
On raw materials needed for pure EVs, Phillips said despite the never-ending conversations on IC engines and their drain on the world’s oil supply, not much work has been carried out with regards to lithium-ion, magnesium carbide or any other raw materials required for batteries. There is a need to look into the impacts of mass production of batteries, with more focus required for renewable development of EV solutions, with processes like battery recycling and others, he concluded.
TEXT: Naveen Arul