Q&A: Electronic systems in cars will get simpler, says Bosch's Bohr

Stuttgart. Electronic systems in cars are being criticized heavily. Automobilwoche spoke with Bernd Bohr, chairman of the Bosch motor vehicle equipment sector, about the recent series of breakdowns and about future developments.

Bohr, 48, has been a member of the Robert Bosch management board since July 1, 1999. Bohr, who was born in Mannheim, also is chairman of the corporation's motor vehicle equipment sector.

Is it really electronics that cause so many problems rather than the breakdown of electric systems?

It is true that often people talk about problems with electronics even when the faults have mechanical causes. A discharged or faulty battery is by far the most common reason for breakdowns.

Where do you draw the line between electrics and electronics in a car?

"Electrics" includes the generator and the battery, which stores the energy. And then there are the power consumers such as electric bulbs and control motors, plus their wiring and fuse protection -- and, of course, the plugs and sockets. "Electronics" stands for the growing number of control systems, their functions such as engine control but also the sensors that increasingly have electronic signal processing.

What are the causes for the series of breakdowns of electric and electronic systems?

On one hand we have a significant increase in new functions regarding safety and comfort within a car, most of which are powered electrically. The energy necessary for this comes from generator and battery, which both can reach their performance limits in bad conditions. That is why Bosch has developed an energy management that controls the supply of each individual consumer, which improves the availability of electric energy.

And what about electronics?

Of course, electronic systems are not always perfect either. Even if the individual device is faultless there are problems within communication and the interplay between the devices that lead to failure.

The number of control systems has increased significantly in recent years. Top class models have currently up to 90. Will this development continue or is there a reverse trend?

In future new functions will increasingly be using already existing sensors and actuators. That means that they can be realized simply by extending the software. In the slightly more distant future the AUTOSAR approach will allow for a more simplified hardware architecture. Our aim is a network of only around 20 control devices, five of which will be main servers that control chassis and suspension or engine centrally.

Until recently it was fashionable to propagate by-wire technology. Now little is heard on his subject. When will a breakthrough be made here?

Drive-by-wire and shift-by-wire, which are the electronic controls of throttle valve and automatic transmission, are already here. Brake-by-wire is also used in high-volume series by several manufacturers. However, other devices will not make a major breakthrough during this decade.

What is the cause for the hold-up with steer-by-wire? Is it due to technical reasons, registration problems or liability reasons?

Yes, these are all factors. However, with steer-by-wire almost all functions that should have been realized through the by-wire approach can also be achieved by using very specifically improved conventional engineering methods. These provide the same advantage to the customer as the new approaches. The additional costs that would arise from developing a suitable on-board network and by-wire systems, including their necessary security functions, can be avoided that way.

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