McMaster University to study future car processors

Engineering faculty and students from McMaster University have kicked off a new research program to study the feasibility of integrating a multi-core processor into the automobiles of the future.


The research program, which is a result of a collaboration with IBM Canada Ltd., has its sights set on finding ways to replace or connect the several dozen microprocessor chips found in today’s vehicles.


Alan Wassyng, an associate professor of the school’s computing and software department and the acting director of the McMaster Centre for Software Certification, said these multiple processors could either be replaced by a powerful IBM multi-core processor or they could be connected together via a multi-core to work more cohesively.


“We need to do a better job of looking at the total picture,” he said. Both the centralized and distributed models are viable options, he added.


Part of this research will entail focusing on integrating data from sensors and microprocessors in the vehicle and on the road to cut down on car accidents. Software systems that dish out real-time traffic data and predict engine and brake failures before they happen will also be on the agenda.


Wassyng said that the school hopes to have some tangible results within the next 18 months.


Don Aldridge, general manager for research and life sciences at IBM Canada, said the average automobile has more 20 microprocessors connected on a variety of different communications systems.


In today’s higher-end cars, he said, radar systems automatically override cruise control when a driver approaches another vehicle too quickly. This type of system — one that adapts to the characteristics of the driver — will become crucial in the quest toward the “cognitive car.”


“The idea is to make the whole system smarter,” he said


This also includes being able to integrate other technologies, such as an iPhone, that can interact with the vehicle. “The device might be able to talk to the car, know where it is, and where the other vehicles are relative to me,” Aldridge said.


In addition to the multi-core project, Wassyng said the research program will also be focused on software certification.


“We’re interested in making sure we can actually prove that the software does what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “We want to make sure the software works correctly and produces safer cars.”


For Aldridge, this would mean being able to completely design aircraft and automobiles via a computer without ever having to put it through production.


The McMaster-IBM partnership isn’t the only automobile-related tech story to pop up recently.


Earlier this month, speculation from some media pundits revealed Google Inc. might be in talks to connect its Android-based mobile OS with General Motors’ OnStar system. The partnership could allow GM to add OnStar features that Google smart phone users could control via their phone, according to reports.

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