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Automotive Game Changer? ECU Changes on the Horizon


Automobile of the future

EE Times recently published an article, VW All-In For a Change: Will Bring HW + SW Design In-House, discussing Volkswagen’s ambitious direction for electronic control units (ECUs). In the article, Volkswagen indicated it plans to reduce the number of ECUs in an automobile from approximately 70 to three and that it plans to develop almost all of the needed software internally.

Within the Tektronix automotive team, the article sparked an interesting conversation on how this direction potentially impacts testing for automotive manufacturers and suppliers. In this blog, we’ll share some of our thoughts.

  • In-vehicle network bandwidth: Software’s role in the vehicle and the data generated by an increased number of sensors will continue to grow exponentially with each advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), autonomous driving systems (ADS) and other automotive applications technology advancement. For these systems to function properly and predictably, in-vehicle networks will require greater bandwidth with extremely low latency and high reliability. To meet in-vehicle communication needs, we believe Automotive Ethernet will be one of the key technologies of choice to create high-speed networks connecting the discrete functions to the domain controllers. We also believe the need for more bandwidth will increase automotive manufacturers consideration of technologies, such as MIPI, HDBaseT and others.      
  • Power: Reducing the number of ECUs will require greater integration of functions into a single ECU. This will result in a need for higher processing speed. Since power increases proportionally with frequency, doubling the clock speed requires approximately double the power. This will likely impact thermals, power management, and power consumption. For ECU developers and automotive designers, greater attention will need to be paid to tolerances and power integrity related to power quality. This will also create more complex power profiles, making characterization more challenging.
  • Automobile integration: With more sensors connecting to fewer ECUs and longer cable runs to connect automotive subsystems to a central domain controller, the potential for electromagnetic interference (EMI) within the automobile will increase. These factors may contribute to signal integrity issues. To insure operational functionality, more rigorous testing of individual components and the entire system will be required. Testing will also need to be conducted across the entire life cycle comprehending the needs of each phase from development to maintenance.

As engineers, following the automotive industry’s EV/HEV and ADAS advancements has been fascinating to watch. We’re excited to see the changes that companies like VW and others are driving to deliver new capabilities that challenge traditional automotive architecture. As a result, we expect to see architectural and technology advancements that will result in new testing challenges.

At Tektronix, we are working to bring system-focused, innovative test solutions to the automotive industry. These include Tektronix’ unique Signal Separation for Automotive Ethernet and advanced automotive power testing solutions for switching power electronics and power integrity analysis. To learn more about Tektronix’ automotive testing solutions, visit or at the Automotive Testing Expo, in Novi, Michigan, October 22-24, 2019.