Systems in Transportation
High-Octane Distributed Computing Fuels Intelligent Highways
In the effort to modernize the nation’s transportation infrastructure, the idea of the intelligent highway is gaining ground. This will entail high-speed communication among vehicles, between vehicles and the highway system, and high-speed data capture. Units will have to be powerful, rugged and small.
KELLY GILLILAN, AMD
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The intelligent highway expands and gains speed each year. To fuel the expansion, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) research program focused on intelligent vehicles, intelligent infrastructure and the creation of the intelligent transportation system. The USDOT’s five-year plan is designed to achieve a vision of a national, multi-modal surface transportation system that features a connected and distributed transportation environment among vehicles, the infrastructure and passengers’ portable devices. This environment leverages computing technology to maximize safety, mobility and environmental performance. Traditional desktop and server computing platforms do not meet these needs, thus opening the door for processors, boards and systems developed for embedded applications. For a list of some of the research topics under investigation, see “A Partial List of Intelligent Transportation System Research Projects,” p. 45.
Countless needs that require vehicles to communicate and interact with each other and with their surroundings exist in the intelligent highway. Real-time, distributed computing through computer networks is widely used in vehicle location, cargo tracking and highway monitoring. The key applications currently under study by the USDOT require distributed computing systems, creating very interesting opportunities for embedded computing platforms.
Distributed computing systems intended for use in transportation systems have many challenges to overcome. Computing platform size, weight and power (SWaP), the operating environment where the computing platform must operate, easy to use man-machine interfaces, interoperability between systems, and the computing platforms life cycle cause the biggest headaches.
Transportation applications tend to be mobile, making the computing platform’s size, weight and power (SWaP) very critical in the decision process. Space is limited, especially in vehicles, so systems must be compact. Power is often from batteries, solar panels and alternate energy sources, so low power is critical.
Computing platforms in transportation systems frequently get deployed in harsh outdoor environments exposed to the elements or in moving vehicles. Here they must tolerate extended temperatures from -30° to 60°C and humidity up to 100 percent. In essential computing systems cooling fans may not be allowed. For devices on the move, shock and vibration become an integral part in the equation. Reliability is a must in all cases.
Perhaps the single biggest challenge is the interface between the computing elements and humans. Transferring data between the distributed elements in the computing network is relatively easy work compared to getting the data to the humans that interface with the computers. Many devices need to visually present data to humans, easing their use and information sharing. Making the man-machine interface easy and intuitive to use is very difficult, especially when safety is a major concern. Driver distraction is a major issue when it comes to highway safety.
Component qualification can take a very long time when changes occur to a platform. The cost to re-qualify can be very high, causing resistance to many changes. This requires designers to use parts committed to long product life cycles where ten years is not uncommon. Many parts in a distributed transportation system live on different refresh cycles making changes even more challenging.
Mobile applications have common problems; limited space and little power available for computing elements, high demands on the processing elements, and challenging human interface requirements. The stationary elements may not be as limited in space and power, but restrictions exist, and the performance and interface issues remain the same. Combined, both the mobile and stationary elements need to communicate effectively in a distributed computing environment.
Paving the Road
Computing platforms suitable for vehicles or nodes on the intelligent highway exist from processors to computer boards. Finding the right processor family with the right balance between processing performance, power consumption, user I/O and supplier life cycle support means doing some serious homework. It is not hard to find processors with the necessary computing power, but it usually means increased electrical power consumption. Or the processor may require one or more bridge or I/O chip to solve the I/O challenges, making the design more complicated or more expensive. Sometimes the right processor does not have the proper supplier support for long product life cycles, causing future product support to be very difficult to manage. Most processors require additional chipsets to provide the needed I/O and graphics capability leading to increased costs, design complexity and power consumption.
The AMD Embedded G-Series APU is a suitable choice for applications that depend on graphics output for the man-machine interface. This processor combines a low-power CPU and a discrete-class graphics processor unit (GPU) into a single embedded accelerated processing unit (APU). The APU integration reduces the footprint from a traditional three-chip platform to two chips, the APU and its companion controller hubs, the A55E or A50M. This simplifies the design, requiring fewer board layers and a smaller power supply, further driving down system costs, making it possible to utilize the Embedded G-Series APU on very small board form factors (Figure 1).
The AMD Embedded G-Series platform has multiple display interface options and a full complement of I/O, making it a solid solution for embedded platforms.
Today’s high-definition displays can benefit from the advanced graphics and hardware acceleration that delivers over 3X the performance per watt over previous generation AMD processors. DirectX 11 support delivers the graphics performance; 3D visual effects and dynamic interactivity can make information stand out on the display. The advanced discrete-level GPU with OpenGL 4.0 and OpenCL 1.1 support ensures that the platforms using this processor support future designs. OpenGL with its 2D and 3D graphics application programming interface (API), provides a broad set of rendering, texture mapping, special effects and other powerful visualization functions that ease the man-machine graphics development.
Innovative designers can leverage the GPU computing power of the APU to do things such as accelerate data calculations, manipulate GPS coordinates, encrypt data to improve security, and even use them for facial recognition to improve access security. The graphics capability makes the Embedded G-Series a natural for applications with digital maps. Interconnecting to a display is easy to accomplish with multiple display options for DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and VGA, and it still includes support for system integrated LVDS displays or eDP support for the latest generation of integrated LCD displays.
Several board level platforms based on the Embedded G-Series APU can speed time-to-market, reduce design risk and allow the system developer to focus on core competences and value add that directly benefit the final application. Board level products can also integrate additional functionality that may be needed in the application. Many board level products have additional I/O interfaces such as CAN bus, widely used in vehicles. Specialized packaging for fanless operation and rugged environments can be obtained from many suppliers. Board form factors such as COM Express, Nano or PicoITX, EBX, EPIC and many others should be considered. The extensive board and system options available using the AMD Embedded G-Series platform make it easy to find a form factor appropriate for vehicle or stationary applications.
Some applications run better under a real-time operating system instead of Windows. A real-time operating system is generally more stable in demanding conditions, more responsive and more secure. The AMD Embedded G-Series has choices beyond Windows with Linux, Express Logic’s ThreadX and Green Hills’ Integrity available to the software development team. For applications that simply require a reduced version of Windows, a Windows Embedded Compact 7 board support package is available.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Distributed computing systems can be found in many applications in transportation. Delivery systems have a wealth of data that must be collected and processed to improve the collection and goods delivery. Truck fleets travel from farm to farm collecting perishable milk before returning to the dairy. Freight haulers move from major ports to distribution centers and on to retail stores delivering merchandise. Delivery systems benefit from knowing key information about the items being collected or delivered; the quantities, conditions, location and special handling instructions for material make the system more effective. Having this information available in real time can reduce costs associated with the process.
Frequently, embedded computing systems using modified laptops that cannot handle the operating environments, get placed in the vehicles or the intelligent highway in order to put a quick solution in place. Equipment cost leads the reasons for using laptops, but hidden costs from failures and inadequate interfaces can make the true cost much higher than expected. Using laptops also leads to frustration with reliability and equipment durability. Embedded computers packaged to operate in the mobile environment but with the robust graphics capability found in the latest PC technology, can operate where laptops dare not be used.
The graphics capability in the Embedded G-Series APU makes it efficient and cost-effective to implement man-machine interfaces that can be used in either the vehicles or dispatch centers, enabling a unified platform across the network. The low-power multicore processor options, extensive I/O connectivity, PCI Express expansion and 7-year planned availability make the AMD Embedded G-Series an ideal catalyst for the intelligent highway.
A Partial List of Intelligent Transportation System Research Projects
The research into connected vehicle technologies and applications addresses key transportation issues with safety, mobility and the environment. The connected vehicle research includes several activities that depend on distributed computing technology.
• Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) Communications: Are vehicle-based safety applications using V2V communications effective and do they have benefits? Is regulatory action by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration warranted to speed the adoption of these safety capabilities?
• Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) Communications: How can the relaying of traffic signal phase and timing information to vehicles through widespread adoption of V2I communications be accelerated?
• Real-Time Data Capture and Management: The goal is to accelerate the adoption of transportation management systems that can be operated in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally friendly way possible.
• Dynamic Mobility Applications: What technologies can help people and goods effortlessly transfer from one mode of travel (car, bus, truck, train, etc.) or route to another for the fastest and most environmentally friendly trip?
• Road Weather Management: How can vehicle-based data on current weather conditions be used by travelers and transportation agencies to enable decision-making that takes current weather conditions and future weather forecasts into account?
• Real-Time Information Synthesis (AERIS): How can anonymous data from tailpipe emissions be combined with other environmental data to manage the transportation network while accounting for environmental impact?
Advanced Micro Devices