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Austrian firm mulls taking FlexRay beyond cars

Posted: 05 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Austrian firm? FlexRay? time-triggered communications?

Austrian firm TTTech Computertechnik AG plans to widen the scope of time-triggered communications technology beyond its strongholds in automotive, aerospace and off-highway industries. Industry automation could be another interesting field of activity, believes TTech CEO Stefan Poledna.

With the FlexRay bus the most prominent example of time-triggered communication schemes, and TTTech being a member of the FlexRay consortium, the automotive industry is something like a natural stronghold for the company. The company supplies components for one of the first FlexRay production programs.

Poledna now hopes to anchor time-triggered communications also in other markets, including the off-highway vehicle market. Excavators and other construction vehicles are good instances where FlexRay could be favorably used, said Poledna. However, according to industry sources, an obstacle could be the FlexRay license terms, which presently affranchise the system only for automotive use. The IP rights are with the consortium. However, the approval for applications beyond automotive is presently under discussion.

Another project the company works on is a highly reliable Ethernet protocol for a wide variety of aerospace and industrial applications, Poledna explained. The company hopes to leverage its background in the aerospace industry for this project.

But isn't the market crowded with different flavors of industrial Ethernet? Does anybody need yet another Ethernet variant? "Yes, the market is crowded," admitted Poledna. "But our experience with [high-reliability applications] enables us to offer a different approachsafety, high availability and resilience is a combination that no Ethernet system on the market can offer." And, of course, real-time capabilities. "But real-time capabilities is nothing you can differentiate yourself with; this is standard," Poledna said. "Resilience and high availability, in contrast, [are things] no other Ethernet flavor presently offers. Resilience and redundancy will be highly sought-after features in future automated assembly lines, where in the case of a failure no one can afford to shut down the line completely."

Also in the automotive industry, Poledna sees room to improve performance. For instance, the Autosar standard already embraces a FlexRay communication stack. "We are very active in both consortia and strongly invested to deliver a highly optimized FlexRay stack based on the Autosar specification," Poledna said.

In January, two new investors came on board the company: The German financial investor firstVentury took more than 20 percent of the capital, and automotive OEM Audi took another 24.9 percent. Did this affect the company strategy? No, Poledna emphasized. While firstVentury has purely financial interests, Audi pursues strategic goals: "We are one of Audi's technology suppliers," Poledna said.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times Europe

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