What is the AUTOSAR tool about

Eclipse on wheels

With AUTOSAR (AUTomotive Open System ARchitecture), the automotive industry has developed an open standard for control unit software in cars that enables the creation of an architecture for embedded systems. This allows developers to model their programs independently of the underlying hardware, the manufacturer-specific electronic control units (ECUs) or bus systems (see box "Why AUTOSAR?").

Why AUTOSAR?

The number of electronic control units (ECUs) in cars is constantly increasing. Around 70 ECUs currently control the functions under the hood, not just the engine, but also the air conditioning, airbags, ABS and numerous other assistance systems. The embedded software has become so complex that traditional development methods no longer meet the requirements.

With AUTOSAR, the automotive industry has created a standard that defines an open software architecture for ECUs and decouples the hardware from the software. In the embedded world, the system components were mostly intimately connected, that is, the programs used only run on exactly one ECU, one microcontroller or one bus. Their use in various vehicle models, for example, was out of the question for a long time.

Portable software also requires the separation of communication and function. In the AUTOSAR model, this is done by the Virtual Function Bus (VFB) in conjunction with the Runtime Environment (Figure 3 in the article). RTE abstracts from the real control units and, as middleware, regulates the exchange of data between the software components via various bus systems. In this way, the high-tech functions initially used in high-priced models can gradually be incorporated into other vehicle classes without the software having to be recreated each time.

You need tools for this, because specifications alone are not enough. Elektrobit, Vector Informatik and Geensys, for example, have the same on offer. The problem: AUTOSAR defines several steps for system development, for each of which there are different products, for example for configuring basic software or for modeling the program structure. A continuous chain of interoperable tools from different manufacturers, which the user can freely assemble, is still missing.

Eclipse is being discussed as the basis for standard-compliant development tools for the automotive industry. The diverse activities come from two sides: on the one hand there are industrial projects such as Artop and Edona, on the other hand an “Automotive Industry Working Group” is currently being established within the Eclipse Foundation.

In the Artop (AUTOSAR Tool Platform) project, representatives from the automotive and tool industries are working on the use of Eclipse (see iX-Link). Artop is supposed to create the basis for commercial tools to be released promptly with versions of the standard - so far, the providers have not been delivering fast enough. In addition, they want to create a common technical basis that guarantees interoperability and manufacturer independence.

Standards, references, open source

Members of the Artop User Group are Geensys, BMW Car IT, Continental, Peugeot Citroën Automobiles, itemis, OpenSynergy and Tata Elxsi. Together they presented an AUTOSAR reference implementation that implements the metamodel and provides tool providers with basic functions for developing standard-compliant tools. The first Artop release appeared in October 2008, and in July 2009 Release 1.2 was activated. It supports the AUTOSAR specifications from 2.0. Artop uses the Java programming language and the Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF), and further Eclipse components are to be added in the future, for example C / C ++ Development Tooling (CDT) and Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT).

Why Eclipse? “The goal is to have an efficient, open, extensible platform, and Eclipse is the first choice. The only one I can think of, ”says Michael Rudorfer, Team Leader Software Infrastructure at BMW Car IT. An in-house project called Orpheus already existed there in 2004, which uses the free development environment as the basis for a prototypical AUTOSAR tool.

The expandability of Eclipse through plug-ins, the large community and the non-incurring license costs offer advantages for tool suppliers, users and automobile manufacturers. All of them can more easily integrate products with open interfaces into the company's internal software infrastructure, explains Rudorfer. And thanks to the independence from certain providers, maintenance remains possible for many years.

Artop helps tool suppliers concentrate on the essentials, as it is called in the principle of the AUTOSAR standardization initiative: "Cooperate on standards - compete on implementation". Here, as in other industries, it is controversial how far a standard goes and where competition begins. It is questionable, for example, whether a reference implementation belongs to a standard or not.

Open and closed

Andreas Graf, project manager at itemis, mentions another advantage of Eclipse: There are enough developers who are able to make company-specific adjustments. "If requirements are made with a tool from manufacturer A, programming with a tool from manufacturer B and tests with a tool from a third manufacturer, the integration effort is high," says Graf. An easily expandable base such as Eclipse could enable a continuous tool chain that maps all functions from the first request to the test.

Artop is not a classic Eclipse project, but uses the platform as a technical framework and is based on the Eclipse Public License. However, only AUTOSAR members are allowed to use the reference implementation. The background to this restriction are AUTOSAR regulations, which exclude publication for the general public. The Artop sources are therefore only freely accessible to a certain group of users. All non-public code parts are located within the AUTOSAR Layer (AAL) (see Figure 2 above). However, not everything will stay under the roof, the underlying complementary layer will be published as an Eclipse project. Behind the competitive layer are the commercial tools that the manufacturers are supposed to design as Eclipse plug-ins.

One product already exists: With the AUTOSAR Builder, Geensys claims that it is the first Artop-compliant environment for system and ECU design. Continental is currently migrating its configuration tool CESSAR CT (Continental Engineering Services Solution for AUTOSAR Configuration Tool) to Artop. The process should be completed in early 2010.

Measured against AUTOSAR with around 170 members, the number of companies participating in Artop is manageable, and it is not yet possible to estimate whether their work will be crowned with success. “It's crackling and nothing has been decided yet,” says Stephan Eberle, Product Development Manager at Geensys. “Currently over 500 users from 100 companies have downloaded Artop. The community still has to grow, ”said Rudorfer. The greatest challenge is to get the potential candidates to actively participate. In any case, the interest is greater than the number of members suggests, emphasized all those questioned for this article.

However, many tool providers cannot switch to a new technology as easily as Artop, because their products have historically been based on a different foundation and have to be subsequently adapted to AUTOSAR. Vector Informatik and Electrobit have already done this, but on the basis of their proprietary technology. Vector Informatik is currently checking the basic suitability of the reference implementation. Since customers are obviously interested in the topic, there is now a requirement to use Eclipse when designing new products, says Matthias Wernicke, Product Manager AUTOSAR Tools at the company. However, he finds the basic idea of ​​the standard more important than Eclipse: a unified description model and the XML-based exchange formats.

Elektrobit relies on Eclipse with its tool EB tresos Studio, but not on Artop. The software house is planning a plug-in version of the software. In order to improve the overall application possibilities, Thomas Seydel, Product Manager at Elektrobit, sees the manufacturers' agreement on an Eclipse version as a prerequisite for a few years at a time. With Rational Rhapsody, IBM also offers an Eclipse plug-in that supports AUTOSAR.

As already mentioned, the Eclipse Foundation itself wants to go on the automotive journey. According to Ralph Müller, the foundation's European representative, a distribution is planned that will standardize projects such as Artop or the Edona research project based in France. It should map the entire software development cycle of the automotive industry across companies. As a first step, the Eclipse Automotive Industry Working Group, which is currently being formed, wants to integrate results from other Eclipse projects and components into tool development for the automotive sector. As with Artop, the target group is tool manufacturers. In contrast to Artop, the announced distribution is also intended to open up prospects for companies that are not members of AUTOSAR.

According to Hans-Jürgen Kugler, head of the IWG, there has to be an “automotive core”, something that “smells of gasoline and sheet metal”, an “Eclipse version with wheels”. This includes, for example, the "Artop Eclipse Complementary Layer" which contains the non-AUTOSAR-proprietary part. Kugler relies on the experience of the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which has clearly spoken out in favor of open source software. The 25-year life cycle and the equally long maintenance of an aircraft speak against being tied to proprietary tools. Airbus operates the Topcased project, a tool chain based on Eclipse.

Nothing has been decided yet

It has not yet been decided whether Eclipse will establish itself as a platform for the AUTOSAR-compliant development of ECU software in vehicles. A lot speaks for the open platform: A large group of users, manufacturer independence and a plug-in concept that harmonizes the numerous products on one platform. There are also clear indications that tool providers in projects such as Artop create basic components and disclose them within the AUTOSAR community. Many experts believe that this will increase both the speed of development and the quality of software in the automotive sector.

Barbara Lange

is an IT journalist and owner of the editorial office short & simple in Lengede.

iX-Link

iX-Tract

  • AUTOSAR has established itself as the standard in the automotive industry. The Artop User Group has created an Eclipse-based platform on which software houses can develop tools.
  • A working group of the automotive industry that is currently being set up within the Eclipse Foundation is planning to publish its own Eclipse distribution for the industry.
  • With standards, reference implementations and open source tools, automobile manufacturers want to ensure that the increasing amount of software in the car remains manageable.