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Audi to use Gen 2 zFAS controller in production e-tron quattro; piloted driving; moving to domain-controlled architecture

The production version of Audi’s e-tron quattro battery-electric SUV (earlier post) will be equipped with the second-generation of Audi’s central driver assistance controller the zFAS (earlier post), according to Ricky Hudi, Executive Vice President Electronic Development, Audi AG. The vehicle will be capable of driving fully autonomously, he said at CES 2016.

zFAS is the domain controller for Audi piloted driving systems. The information supplied by all sensors—including the signals from the 3D cameras, the laser scanner and the radar and ultrasonic sensors—is permanently fed into and processed by this module. With its tremendous computing power, the zFAS will be capable of continuously comparing the data from the vehicle sensor systems with the model of the road space and its surroundings.

zFAS is based on a complex multicore network, hosting sophisticated sensor fusion and a variety of innovative functions with multiple safety criticality levels for its target applications such as piloted parking or driving.

Audi developed zFAS in collaboration with TTTech, Mobileye, nVidia and Delphi; Delphi has been awarded the series production contract. The second-generation zFAS is much smaller than its predecessor, as well as more powerful.


Top: Two views of the second-generation zFAS board—smaller than a tablet computer—shown at CES 2016. Bottom: First-generation zFAS shown at CES 2014. Click to enlarge.


Every single year we are extending our expertise in piloted driving and push the limits towards serial production. In 2013, the technology was still filling the entire trunk. In 2014, we were already using the central driver assistance controller zFAS, and took piloted driving closer to serial production. Now the zFAS controller is ready for mass production. The brain for piloted driving has become smaller than a tablet computer. This is possible because we are currently experiencing a breakthrough based on two pillars: a dramatic increase in computing power and advancements in machine learning and AI.

The zFAS will be capable of continuously comparing the data from our sensro systems to the model of the road space. Imagine that every single mile driven by our cars will add value to our cloud and make using our vehicles more attractive. The self-driving vehicles of the future will benefit from the accuracy delivered by our map data. Every vehicle will have access to real time data from the cloud, and can plan and react to changing conditions in a smart way.

—Ricky Hudi

(Hudi was referencing Audi’s recent acquisition, along with partners BMW and Daimler, of Nokia’s mapping and location services business HERE. The acquisition is intended to secure the long term availability of HERE’s products and services as an open, independent and value-creating platform for cloud-based maps and other mobility services accessible to all customers from the automotive industry and other sectors. Extremely precise digital maps will be used in combination with real-time vehicle data in order to increase road safety and to facilitate innovative new products and services. Earlier post.)

Hudi also noted that work was underway on the third-generation zFAS, which would be even more powerful.

Moving to domain-controlled architecture. At an Audi Tech Talk at CES 2016, Thomas Müller, Head of Development Brake/Steering/Driver Assistance Systems at Audi AG, observed that the company has become very creative in bringing out new chassis actuators and sensors that help “decouple the street from the body. We need these for comfort, but also for piloted driving.”

The increasing movement toward piloted systems has an effect on how automakers design the vehicles electronic architecture, he noted. For one, the architecture needs to be redundant. Second, there is the issue of what “central brains” will control all the actuators and sensors. zFAS is one; there will be more, he added.

Hudi expanded upon that, and was more definitive.

The car industry is moving to system architectures in the car which we call a domain architecture. We are going to have domain controllers that are more or less supercomputers. These domain controllers will be networked by gigabit Ethernet [earlier post].

You will have the domain powertrain, you will have the domain chassis, you will have the domain safety, you will have the domain driver assistance, and you will have the domain … listen… cockpit computer. No longer “navigation”. No longer “infotainment”. No longer a “fully programmable cluster”. The technology of our partners in mobile computing is so quick that a cockpit computer is possible.

—Ricky Hudi


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