One hardware, multiple domains: virtualising is the answer

February 25, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Automotive head units increasingly are becoming the place where multiple application worlds and functional domains meet - from safety-relevant assistant systems to infotainment and internet access. Virtualisation, a software technique common in commercial IT and avionics, keeps these different data and software worlds securely separated.

Head units are the place where many data streams in cars meet. Here is the place where multimedia meets cloud computing, safety-relevant functions meet connectivity. An obvious solution to keep such a diversity of safety levels and functions separated would be to dedicate a hardware platform to each of them - but beyond prohibitive costs, also the space requirements in the anyhow cramped car cockpit prevent such a solution. At Embedded World, automotive supplier Continental shows how such a problem can be resolved: The company designed a single common hardware platform that can run all these different applications with their unique set of requirements each, safely separated in their own virtual machine. The task of keeping these worlds apart is allocated to a hypervisor proven in aircraft systems, developed by software vendor Sysgo.

"The hypervisor technique allows us to run very different software worlds on a single hardware", says Ralf Lenninger, head of Strategy and System Development at Continental. "This makes sense since through the increasing on-board and off-board connectivity the boundaries between the diverse cockpit applications are increasingly blurring".

The platform runs Autosar software applications which need to meet high demand in terms of real-time capability, integrity and failsafe performance, such as an immobiliser or warning messages, along with Genivi-compliant infotainment applications which demand high computing power and memory space. Other applications on the same platform run in an Android environment, reflecting the needs of a digital lifestyle.

The Sysgo hypervisor partitions the hardware resources such as the computing power, memory space of a multicore processor into several virtual computers. Continental hides the complex software environment which also includes several displays under a common Human-Machine interface (HMI). The content of these applications are no longer associated to a dedicated display.

Instead, content assignment is flexible and follows situational requirements. "Depending on the driving situation, this information can be displayed in the instrument cluster, the head-up display, in the centre