October 9, 2006 The vice-like grip of increasingly competitive pressure is forcing every aspect of business to become as efficient as possible and one area where there is plenty of fat to be pared away with new technologies is in the operation of automotive and trucking fleets. To help fleet operators increase efficiency, Siemens VDO recently unveiled its new Vehicle Control Center (VCC) at the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2006 show in Hanover, Germany. This forward-looking hardware and software platform bundles numerous functions inside the truck and networks them externally, opening up many possibilities. With new services such as truck-specific navigation, innovative remote vehicle diagnostics and intelligent fleet management solutions, fleets can optimize operation of their vehicles. On the other side, commercial vehicle manufacturers can meet their customers’ needs easier and therefore gain a competitive advantage. In addition, they can integrate new functions into future generations of vehicles more quickly, more simply and more economically. Siemens VDO’s VCC will be ready for series production by the end of the decade.
Increasing competitive pressure forces fleet operators to integrate their vehicles as efficiently as possible into existing logistics and processes — that means intelligently calculated routes, maximum vehicle availability, a functional logistics chain in which every link is fully networked with the others, and a high level of transportation safety that must be ensured by means of intelligent assistance and safety systems. Vehicle manufacturers must support these efforts with technical solutions, strengthen their own positions amid the competition by offering attractive prices and innovative products, and meet the requirements of society and legislation.
Siemens VDO is developing the Vehicle Control Center in response to such challenges. The VCC is an open and scalable hardware and software platform that bundles complex functions within the commercial vehicle and provides an external interface. It brings numerous current and future electronics systems together and networks the vehicle, the driver and the outside world with respect to a series of functions, such as navigation, communications and telematics. The software is being developed in such a way that the applications and the human-machine interface (HMI) can be designed flexibly by the vehicle manufacturer.
The basis of the VCC is a computer with a high-performance processor unit and additional central modules: a component that uses global positioning system (GPS) receivers and other vehicle sensors to determine the vehicle’s location; an interface module that, for example, organizes data exchange with other vehicle systems via the controller area network (CAN) bus; and a communications module that controls the connection to the outside world — for example, by GSM, wireless local area network (WLAN) or Bluetooth.
There are several advantages to the VCC concept. Many components such as the GSM module and the GPS component do not, as has been the case, have to be installed several times in the vehicle, because the VCC, acting as an intelligent switching center, bundles many functions together. This reduces piece costs, the effort and expense of cabling, and time spent on installation. Because the hardware and software have been designed to be scalable, equipment variants can be installed in different vehicle types through a single platform. This optimizes research and development expenditures and reduces parts complexity. Thanks to the open approach, additional functions specific to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) also can be realized on this platform. For the driver, the integration of numerous vehicle functions with one display and operation concept means increased convenience and safety.
With the VCC, Siemens VDO is enabling fleet operators to carry out a number of improved or new functions, such as navigation. In the truck navigation system, the operating software was adapted in such a way that when routes are calculated, the system not only takes vehicle-specific attributes such as height and weight into account, but also the driving characteristics of large trucks. In addition, the system uses an expanded commercial vehicle map database and the truck driver’s particular destinations.
Because the VCC is the truck’s nerve center, it can read out a great deal of data from the CAN bus and transmit it to the fleet operator’s central office or workshop. This way, service intervals can be organized better, and the risk of downtime can be reduced. An additional strength of the Vehicle Control Center is its fleet management functions, which are already offered by Siemens VDO in its onboard computers and accompanying office software. A new feature is that mobile terminals, from cell phones to transport companies’ goods scanners, can be integrated into the system.
In addition, the VCC covers all the functions performed by a conventional information and entertainment system: It is an onboard computer, plays music, provides the necessary interfaces and the HMI for air-conditioning systems and rearview cameras, and can display electronic operating instructions. Integration of the automatic emergency calling function (e-Call/b-Call) that is currently under discussion is also possible.
Through the Vehicle Control Center, other vehicle systems will be able to access the navigation computer’s route data. This results in additional possibilities for cost reduction. With the route information, for example, it is conceivable that the automatic transmission switches into the optimum gear before beginning to climb, or the cruise control system no longer accelerates to the set maximum speed following a braking maneuver shortly before a highway exit.
Long-term cost reduction will come by so-called predictive remote diagnosis because unplanned downtime can be reduced. With the Vehicle Control Center, all the important key data from the engine, cooling system, transmission and brakes can be accessed and analyzed at regular intervals. Technical problems can be detected before they cause damage or downtime. This process applies know-how that Siemens already successfully implemented in medical technology and in power plants. These tried-and-true systems can be adapted to the requirements set by manufacturers of commercial vehicles.