Jugal K. Vijayvargiya knows more than a little something about automotive electronics. Consider: he has degrees in electrical engineering from Ohio State. He joined Delphi (delphi.com) in 1986, in the company’s Electronics & Safety (E&S) organization. Since then, he had several positions in the company’s Troy, Michigan, HQ facility, including product line manager for audio systems in 2002. Delphi acquired Grundig Car Audio, so in 2003, Vijayvargiya moved to Germany, to lead the integration of that company into Delphi. He’s lived in Germany since. He’s had a number of positions since—in Body Security & Mechatronics, in Controls & Security, in Infotainment & Driver interface—and in February 2012 was named president of Delphi E&S and senior vice president of Delphi. At E&S he heads up operations in 14 countries (“I have my team distributed all over the world because the business is global”), where men and women, engineers and manufacturing personnel, who develop (“We have some 2,000 scientists and engineers focused on electronics”) and produce a variety of systems, from infotainment to active safety systems.
This mention of people should not be overlooked, nor should their importance be underestimated. Realize that electronics, like other product categories, are affected by economies of scale. The greater number you produce, the greater likelihood that prices for consumers will fall. As prices for consumers fall, the greater the likelihood that they will buy those products.
While there is a proliferation of electronics systems—from smart phone-driven, Bluetooth enabled infotainment units to adaptive cruise control—that can be found in vehicles at various price points, by and large, higher-priced vehicles tend to have the greatest proliferation of electronics-based systems. (E.g., “We were the first company in the world to introduce radar, with Jaguar, in 1999. Now we’re on our 8th generation of radar technology.” Jags aren’t cheap.) “What we have to focus on,” Vijayvargiya says, “is on how to deliver high levels of technology into the mid-segment of vehicles, into the mass market.”
Economies of scale, perhaps?
“Certainly,” he answers, “volume is a factor. If you have a camera and you can buy a million instead of 10, that’s a factor. But the real difference comes from the innovative solutions that our people are developing. Those people make the difference. They are always thinking about how to make things smaller, cheaper, and lighter.”
But what about the companies in places like Silicon Valley and Bangalore that have even more engineers who are constantly thinking about how to develop new hardware and software for consumers? Aren’t they even better positioned than Delphi to undertake development tasks?
Vijayvargiya doesn’t underestimate the value of these developers in places where technology rules (they’re opening a facility in Silicon Valley and they have a team of over 700 people in Bangalore). But he makes a point about the difference between thinking in the contexts of common consumer use and automotive requirements. He says to consider a tablet, like an iPad. Generally, whether you’re at home or in your office, you are using an iPad when it is 72°. In your car, chances are it is not 72°. So if Apple engineers were developing an iPad for automotive conditions, they would have to rethink the design specifications and the parts, the testing and the validation. “That is a different way of thinking,” he says. “And it should be different. If the consumer side started thinking the way our people think, an iPad would be $5,000. If our people started thinking like the consumer people, no one would be happy with the technology they’re getting in their cars. The two sides have, and should have, their own strong positions.”
And it isn’t just the hardware. There needs to be a difference in thinking as regards software, as well. “The hardware,” he says, “is absolutely important. But what is becoming more and more a differentiating factor is the software—the algorithms and the processing of information. “It is one thing to collect information into a car—you put a camera there, collect the information. But what do you do with it? How do you process the information in the fastest way possible so you are giving the information in real-time? Take traffic sign recognition, which is a popular feature, particularly in Europe. If you are giving traffic sign information five seconds after the sign, it doesn’t help a lot—especially if it is a speed warning.”
This is not to say that people writing code for tablets aren’t concerned with speed and reliability. But, Vijayvargiya notes, it is one thing to do a reboot on a computer or a tablet while sitting in the comfort of your office, and entirely something else when it comes to a code failure in a car or truck. “It is one thing to write code. It is another thing to know what to write.”
A big challenge being faced by Delphi and other companies in the electronics space, he says, is the fact that there needs to be greater networking of systems within vehicles. He says to consider something comparatively simple like an audio system. There is a signal coming to the car that is captured by the antenna system, which then must transmit the information into the infotainment system. The infotainment system has to process the information and transfer it into the speakers. The user must be able to use controls on the steering wheel to adjust the volume or the source of the infotainment head unit. “When we go to an OEM, we don’t walk in and say, ‘I’d like to sell you an antenna.’” (Though they do have them.) “We say that we want to talk about an entire infotainment system and how we can make it work.”
Of course, Vijayvargiya understands that when it comes to things like active safety systems—where there is a combination of sensors and steering and brakes and controllers—there is a likelihood that it will not be a homogeneous system, that the OEM will be sourcing from a number of suppliers. “What makes our job challenging yet rewarding is being able to provide system knowledge to an OEM, so that we’re not just walking in with a RACam”—a integrated radar and camera system that enables a variety of functions, from adaptive cruise control to headlamp control, from pedestrian detection to autonomous braking—“but understand systems integration.”