Significant Raise in Research and Development in Automotive Industry
Foto: Dražen Tomić - Tomich Productions
Today's cars have more software than airplanes, everything is now based on hardware and software, said Borivoj Đermanović, Section Manager at dSPACE Engineering in an interview with ICT Business. According to him, dSPACE makes simulators of various mechatronic car systems which allow testing before implementation in vehicles.
Đermanović says that dSPACE's tools allow driving scenarios which can test autonomous driving algorithms faster and more intense than it would be possible on the road.
1. When we hear “automotive R&D” what exactly would that mean and what is the role of dSPACE in that process?
Borivoje Đermanović: The increasing functionality of modern vehicles requires increasingly complex software. In addition to the widely published effort, it is possible to drive safely and comfortably autonomously, there are also a number of accompanying functions in the car that are already controlled by software today. Really, we can say that every key or command in a modern car, every function has some software associated with it. Today's cars have more software in them than the most modern airplanes! (https://www.wired.com/2010/11/chevy-volt-king-of-software-cars/). The challenge of developing new cars today is to test the functionality of all software functions in a system that must first and foremost be secure. It is a huge effort that requires a lot of time and resources of the car manufacturer. This is exactly the area where dSPACE uses your tools to accelerate the development of new cars.
dSPACE products that are later used to develop and test software installed in cars. In short, dSPACE produces simulators of various mechatronic systems in a car on which new software can be tested before being installed in an actual car. Imagine, for example, the brake and traction control system (ABS / ESP) ... The control unit for connecting the system on the dSPACE simulator in the same way you would connect in a car and simulate driving. This allows you to check all control functions without the risk of property damage or injury.
2. You explained to us that dSPACE is development and research in Zagreb. What technologies do you use in your development work?
Borivoje Đermanović: dSPACE products consist of hardware and software that are optimized for top system performance. That's why dSPACE has to develop all levels of software - from the drivers for its HW described in C to the user interface that it mainly develops using C # / .NET technology. In our work, it is also important to use some other advanced tools, such as MATLAB / Simulink or specific APIs for computer graphics or, for example, Python for creating test scripts. We have recently started dealing with both web and cloud technologies. Most of our development engineers use two to three programming languages or specific tools in their daily work.
3. There is a lot of talk about autonomous driving. What is your experience of working in this field and how much are you present in this part of smart car development?
Borivoje Đermanović: The development of autonomous driving requires a lot of resources. Before a system of autonomous driving is declared safe for the road, many thousands of hours must be spent in test drives in all possible imaginable scenarios. dSPACE tools provide a realistic simulation of the behavior of the car, the environment, other road users and the readings of various sensors in the car. Also, dSPACE tools allow the creation of driving scenarios that can be used to test the autonomous driving algorithm faster and more intensively than would be possible on public roads. Just as airplane pilots are trained on flight simulators, so the artificial intelligence that drives autonomous vehicles is trained on dSPACE driving simulators.
It is this need to create an increasing number of test scenarios, more detailed and more complex, that is the impetus for our further development. How to use an actual driving image to create a computer simulation? How to enter variations in such a simulation? How to generate situations in the simulation that are too dangerous for the actual ride? These are all questions that the automotive industry poses to us. This is also the field of our active research here in Zagreb.
4. If an average person familiar with new technologies in cars asked you what is the aspect of smart vehicle development, how would you explain it to him / her?
Borivoje Đermanović: One aspect of the development of smart vehicles that may not immediately come to mind is the handling of large amounts of data produced by different sensors in the car. The autonomous vehicles of the future will be equipped with several cameras, radars and LIDAR that produce a data stream at all times that must be brought to the processor unit in real time. It takes faster and faster buses to transfer these enormous amounts of data and increasing processing power to process them. What is being worked on intensively today is the implementation of Ethernet bus in vehicles, ensuring not only high data rates but also the reliability in transmission required for control functions, synchronization of flows from various sensors and security against malicious attacks from the outside.
5. Do you work on a daily basis with teams at your headquarters in Germany, or are you completely independent working in Zagreb?
Borivoje Đermanović: The development of dSPACE products is often divided between the headquarters in Germany and our development center in Zagreb. The daily cooperation of engineers in Zagreb and at the company's headquarters in Paderborn is the rule. It is already a well-established process, and the tools for remote work and collaboration that became the norm during the pandemic have only accelerated this integration between Croatian and German teams.
In addition, dSPACE has its project offices in all locations in the world where there is an intensive development of the automotive industry. There are dSPACE engineers who are in direct contact with the customer and implement dSPACE products and solutions of the development laboratory of well-known car manufacturers. The complexity of such projects requires the support of project teams from development in Zagreb. Zagreb engineers often work on a specific project for a known customer in which the functionalities of our product need to be adapted to the specific needs of each customer. On such projects, our engineers are in contact with the development engineers of the world's most famous car manufacturers and often have insight into their work on the development of new technologies.
6. Do you make products for customers individually or are they a production upgrade of existing ones?
Borivoje Đermanović: When developing our products, we always keep in mind the needs of our customers. Product Management is in constant contact with our customers, new functionalities that are added with each new version are coordinated with our most important customers. But in some situations, even that is not enough. The world's leading manufacturers are implementing new technologies even before they are standardized and the needs of different manufacturers may diverge at that moment. If necessary, dSPACE adapts its tools to the specific requirements of our most important customers. These are then variants that are not available for the general market but are developed for a known customer. dSPACE is proud not only of its innovative products but also of the support we provide to our customers.
7. dSPACE is continuously expanding its team in Zagreb, and what positions are you currently hiring for?
Borivoje Đermanović: We are always looking for experienced C # / .NET developers and experienced software testers. We are currently looking for web frontend developers to develop our new services as well as Python developers for our AI projects.
What dSPACE offers to its employees is not only a job but also a career. We want our future employees to recognize dSPACE as an organization in which they will be able to develop their professional potential, in which each new year will bring both personal and business growth. We want to achieve a long-term relationship with all our employees, to be a team that has been together for years and is getting better with age.
8. How did 2020 affect you - the year of the corona crisis and the global economic crisis. How did you organize your work from home?
Borivoje Đermanović: From the technical point of view, we were ready to work from home even before the pandemic. All our employees have laptops, a VPN connection to the corporate network has existed before. Within a few days, everyone who wanted to moved to work from home, and the necessary infrastructure in the office is maintained by several employees who occasionally come to the office. For those who still want, the office is open and can normally come to the company's premises, of course with full adherence to epidemiological measures.
But until the pandemic, working from home was the exception rather than the rule. As we grew rapidly in 2019, we had a large number of new employees who were still in training and needed constant mentoring. The challenge was to transfer all this intense interaction and communication between people from physical contact to digital channels. By the time everyone moved to work from home we realized how much information is actually conveyed in an informal conversation, over coffee, in the hallway ... It took extra effort to identify the necessary information for each employee and their timely dissemination. On the other hand, this need for frequent and targeted information has accelerated the introduction of agile methodologies into our development process. We realized that collaboration tools and agile methodologies help a lot in keeping distributed teams involved and productive.
Today, about a third of employees come to the office permanently or occasionally, and all the rest work mostly from home. Most of our colleagues experience working from home as a positive experience. But still, we miss the socializing we practiced before. I hope that the epidemiological situation will soon improve enough that we can come together and celebrate everything we have achieved in the past year.