Middleware—a computing concept that has been around since the late 1960s, but that especially gained traction in the 1980s—is software that provides common services and capabilities to applications beyond what is offered by an operating system. Middleware serves, in effect, as a mediator between an operating system and software applications, and provides opportunities for greater integration of third-party solutions—both hardware and software.
In a preview to CES 2021, ZF has presented new middleware for vehicle systems. Key functions of the middleware are the abstraction of computing hardware from software applications and the communication between these applications.
The new ZF middleware underpins ZF’s claim to be one of the world’s leading system suppliers for the software-defined car of the future. Our customers benefit from accelerated development processes and significantly reduced complexity when integrating hardware and software. Throughout the vehicle’s lifetime functions can be updated or additionally offered on-demand.—Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology at ZF
As a comprehensive software platform, the ZF middleware will be available in series vehicles from 2024. Its development is closely connected to the development of application software for mobility domains such as automated driving, integrated safety, vehicle motion control and electric mobility.
Vehicles today may have up to 100 different ECUs. Each of them includes its own software. In new and future vehicle platforms, the electric and electronic architecture (E/E architecture) will change dramatically. Software functions move away from decentralized controllers towards a centralized system with only a few dedicated domain control units (DCUs), e.g. for automated driving functions. All these software applications can benefit from a smoothly integrated middleware platform managing system integration.
Being a connector to the software applications and the hardware components of a vehicle, only the middleware needs to be connected to the operating system. This approach minimizes the interfaces, enables fast communication with all parts of the system and can help to reduce significantly the complexity of system integration for the OEM.
The same principle applies for the development of hardware components. The middleware simplifies flexible integration into vehicles providing communication in “one universal language”. It “translates” and standardizes the communication between the vehicles different hard- and software layers.
The open hard- and soft-ware architecture enables an accelerated and improved development process between ZF, vehicle manufacturers and other partners. Depending on the OEM’s software architecture, ZF offers a modular approach with its middleware from a full platform solution to single modules that can be integrated into the OEM’s software platform.
With its own scalable ZF ProAI supercomputing platform for next generation vehicles, ZF is capable of providing traditional and New Automotive Customers with comprehensive systems comprising software, computing and sensor hardware as well as connected actuators.
Global Software Center to be established in 2021. ZF has prepared for these new challenges in the triad of software, functions and smart systems and is proactively pursuing numerous development processes by establishing a Global Software Center at the turn of the year that will be headed by Dr. Nico Hartmann, Vice President, Software Solutions & Global Software Center.
Our approach represents a fresh and different look at software: We do not aim to ‘centralize’ software development. The reason is simple: Where experienced teams have long been developing interlinked hardware and software at component level, we will not reduce competencies. Instead, we provide complementary support and run joint software integration projects to create ideal overall conditions. This allows the expert teams to focus on their work but still have access to the latest resources via the Global Software Center. On the other hand, pure software products—such as our middleware—can be created centrally in the Global Software Center and then made available to everyone for further use.—Dr. Nico Hartmann
In the medium term, this will lead to uniform structures and a uniform development environment throughout the ZF Group. Software will be developed or adapted much faster to meet the needs of future software-defined vehicles through integrated cooperation with customers and partners.