The “Transparent“ Porsche: Laboratory-on-wheels cuts electronics development time
By Mike Hanlon
September 1, 2005
September 2, 2005. The word “Cayenne” designates one of Porsche’s best known automotive achievements but it also, apparently, means “clarity.” Which is the relevant word pertaining to one of the world famous design company’s development vehicle used in assessing new components and design changes. The “transparent” laboratory-on-wheels used by Porsche is quite unique the world over and used by Porsche’s engineers for the ongoing development of safe and reliable electronic systems. It enables Porsche engineers to test future electronic systems on the road under driving conditions a year earlier than is normal in the development process and Porsche believes its leadership in this area will enable it to develop the most sophisticated, reliable and high-performance electronic systems available and reduce the development time for new models to reach market.
Large cut-outs in the doors, lids and wheel arches of the Cayenne are replaced with clear plastic covers enabling the development engineers to observe, check and, where necessary, exchange any electrical and electronic power-consuming items, cables and connections. With the exception of the driver’s seat, this special model intentionally lacks a normal interior, other seats or even a dashboard, thus providing direct and free access to all electronic components fitted within the vehicle.
The “transparent“ Cayenne, benefiting from this open design, offers two significant advantages. First, the development engineers are able to emulate and configure old and new functions including sensors and actuators, as well as the infrastructure of every Porsche vehicle without a major effort, even if the function involved is actually not even included in the Cayenne.
One example of a new development recently tested by Porsche was a rear spoiler that altered its height and attitude dependent on road speed, with the complete component including its control system needed to be fitted and tested. The second point is that this unique laboratory on wheels serves to verify not only the reliability of new components, but also their interaction within the overall system under real-life driving conditions.
Using their “laboratory on wheels“, Porsche’s engineers are able to start testing the complete on-board electronics of new model generations about a year earlier than before. And this is a significant time-saving, considering that the overall period for developing a new vehicle is only a few years.
So far engineers were not able to test new systems under realistic conditions until the first prototypes were available, at the very earliest. Now, using the “transparent” Porsche, they are in a position to check and verify environmental conditions such as heat, cold or air humidity as well as vibrations under practical driving conditions at a much earlier point in time. Starting the test phase so much earlier, the engineers are thus in a position to enhance quality to an even higher level and have more time for the set-up process so important for and typical of Porsche.
The “laboratory on wheels” adds a further level to Porsche’s pyramid-shaped test philosophy in the development of electronic components. This pyramid starts with the assurance of quality by suppliers and is followed by elaborate tests conducted by Porsche’s own engineers – including virtual simulation or tests on dynamometers and test rigs.
Actual verification of the overall system, however, cannot start until real-time signals are generated and reliably processed in a rolling vehicle. Now the new “laboratory on wheels” also supports Porsche’s proven principle of making fewer and fewer changes the closer a vehicle comes to the start of series production.
With Porsche being a premium manufacturer strictly oriented to the customer, safety and reliability receive top priority in the process of digitalisation. Following the Cayenne, the current 911 Carrera was the second Porsche to enter the market with a comprehensive electronic on-board network. Indeed, without this electronic network a lot of the progress featured in the new 911 and based on the ongoing development of mechanical systems would simply not have been possible.
The best example is the Sports Chrono Package which, incorporating no less than 16 control units, allows the driver of the 911 Carrera, Boxster and Cayman S to choose an even more sporting and dynamic style of motoring.
Porsche’s engineers responsible for electronic development are already working on a second generation of networks. Using a new architecture, they are systematically determining which functions are to be allocated to which control units, how many computers are in use and how the various units and systems communicate with one another.
The core of this architecture is a standard platform later to be featured in all new Porsche cars. And it is precisely for this reason that the “electronic laboratory on wheels” is the ideal tool for an even more sophisticated development process.