Although it is only about 2 years old, the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collabor-ation (AMI-C) is going through some significant changes.
The group, formed by 12 automakers from the United States, Europe and Asia to define common standards so electronic devices from different manufacturers work in harmony in vehicles, is:
Finishing new headquarters in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Now a nonprofit corporation, a structure that allows decisions to be made faster.
Searching for a new leader.
In January the group issued its long-awaited Release One, the initial specifications that define the interface between multiple in-vehicle electronic devices.
AMI-C Program Manager Michael Noblett and Vice President Donald Ingersoll discussed the organization's goals, challenges and future with Staff Reporter Gail Kachadourian.
Now that Release 1 has been issued, what is AMI-C's next move?
Michael Noblett: Within weeks you'll see us go public with an intelligent data bus device driver, which will become the gold standard. The driver is a set of software instructions by which you could take any device, connect it to the vehicle's network, and have it plug and play in the proper manner. One of our corporate members has developed this work at their own expense internally and is donating it to AMI-C. We expect to see a lot more of that.
We will also publish a specification for the gateway between the vehicle and electronic devices that use the IEEE 1394 standard. This will allow members who wish to set up a network on their vehicle to allow 1394 devices to use information on the OEM side of the network. We also hope to announce the publication of a gateway for MOST networks (a different electronics network standard).
How does the reorganized AMI-C work?
Noblett: The board of directors consists of a single executive member from each of the member companies. This board meets a few times a year to set budget and policy and get a report out.
A steering committee meets a minimum of four times a year, sometimes more often. Reporting to the board of directors and the steering committee is the president of AMI-C. Also reporting to this steering committee and board of directors is the program manager. Underneath the president is all of the organizational and administrative staff. These are hired staff.
There are employees of member companies whose assignments are in AMI-C, and personnel from suppliers who have been contributed to AMI-C.
Part of the program manager's responsibility is to chair the program management committee. Inside the program management committee are six members, two each from the United States, Europe and Asia, including the program manager. These people represent the day-to-day operating folks in the technical side. Underneath the committee are a number of teams, staffed with engineers from automakers and suppliers, who work on technical initiatives.
What do the technical teams do?
Noblett: They work on individual packages such as the 1394 gateway or the Bluetooth interface. We have somewhere around 30 initiatives that have been identified and prioritized by the members.
How is AMI-C funded?
Noblett: Each of the board members contribute funds and people based on their global annual light-vehicle production.
Why did AMI-C need to become incorporated?
Noblett: If you look at the lessons that we learned from the last year of trying to get Release 1 done every decision - literally every dollar decision, people decision and technical decision - had to be approved by all 12 members (of the original group). Even the simplest things, such as renting a facility or signing a supplier contract, required 12 legal opinions from 12 of the world's largest corporations to make the decision. We realized quickly that this was no way to run a standards-development group. We had to set up membership rules and incorporation rules that would allow for a smaller body of people to make the day-to-day decisions, sign contracts and engage the supplier community to get a specification done in some reasonable amount of time.
How do the suppliers participate?
Noblett: We solicited proposals from three groups of suppliers: traditional Tier 1s, consumer electronics folks and the software people. The minimum requirement was for them to agree to assign at least one full-time person to the AMI-C headquarters. We selected the ones that we wanted to work with. We asked them to sign interim work agreements so we could get started sharing information and get the process going. Our goal is to have all of the suppliers that are willing signed up with legal agreements by the end of March and to have their full-time person or people working at the AMI-C facility by the end of March.
In addition to these full-time contributed people, many suppliers and members have offered up part-time experts to contribute their knowledge and work.
Donald Ingersoll: We are planning additionally to have a European office and an office in probably Tokyo for some of these work initiatives. They wouldn't have to come over here to do it.
How do suppliers benefit from participating in AMI-C?
Noblett: Early and complete access to the specification. We're not going to give people free and open access to the specification until sections are complete. Working on the team, you get to influence the specification. So if you're in there early, you can make sure that it meets your product demands. Also, during the specification-verification process we will use product development cycles in the supplier community to validate specification. If you're helping develop the specification and we use your product in the validation process, by definition, at the end of the release, you've got a fully validated, AMI-C compliant product.
Will AMI-C charge fees?
Noblett: AMI-C is a nonprofit corporation. We don't intend to profit from the standards. We are funded solely by our members on the board. We have no desire to turn this into a money-making scheme because the entire effort is centered at saving money for our members so they have an incentive to fund this.
When will products using Release 1 specifications hit the market?
Noblett: I anticipate in the 2003-2004 time frame you will begin to see AMI-C compliant products on the market, and compliant networks and gateways in vehicles.
When will Release 2 come out?
Noblett: Release 1 contains many of the foundation elements that will have to be cycled through to become the build-to specification that we expect at the end of Release 2. My goal is 18 to 24 months.
Once Release 2 is completed, what's left for AMI-C to do?
Noblett: I don't see us exhausting the possibilities for AMI-C. We are fully funded for the next three years.
What is AMI-C's relationship with the Society of Automotive Engineers?
Noblett: The AMI-C members haven't defined their relationship with all of the outside standards bodies as of yet. But we have an outreach manager whose job is to negotiate our working relationships between all the groups. To the degree that we can work with SAE to identify standards that are adoptable or adaptable, I would like to do that. To the degree that it would slow us down and keep us from reaching our objective, we would hope that SAE would look at adopting or adapting the standards that we create.
Why do you think the German automakers aren't joining AMI-C?
Noblett: The Germans have committed themselves to being among the first car companies to be to market with MOST as their high-speed bus. Because MOST is essentially a new technology, there are a limited number of engineering resources around the world who understand it, know how to use it and can implement it in a production environment. They need those resources internally to execute these product programs they have, and they can't afford to be slowed down by taking these expert resources and donating them to AMI-C. That's the sense that I get.
Why would they all stick together?
Noblett: They need MOST suppliers to create MOST product, and collectively they represent enough of the European market there that if they stayed together in this approach they can be successful getting that out there. While I wish them to join AMI-C soon, I understand that philosophy.
Is finding a president AMI-C's most important short-term task?
Ingersoll: We're focused on getting all the suppliers on board, getting the agreements signed. We've got a plan for making all that happen without a president. The president is an enabler that in the long run we need and want. But in the short run we have many other things that are critical to getting that quick jump on technology and getting our result out.