Amid the current covid-clampdown that’s taking place around the world, automotive brands like Audi are looking for new and innovative ways to share news about their new models and technologies.
In Audi’s instance those product communications are taking place via Audi Tech Talks, where engineers and executives talk up the brand’s latest and greatest developments. In the most recent, suspension development came under the spotlight.
Rather than laying out its cards for the media and rivals to see, Audi played a close hand when talking about suspension, but offers a few scant details of what might be around the corner.
Specifically, attention was turned to the Electronic Chassis Platform, or ECP. A system that debuted in the 2016 Q7 SUV but has since spread across Audi’s range.
At present, the ECP network is charged with looking after 15 to 20 of the vehicle systems and looks after a range of dynamics systems, things like adaptive damping, differential control, variable and four-wheel steering systems where fitted, taking info from steering angle, suspension travel, and brake pressure sensors – among others.
Audi’s future goal is to expand that network of sensors and actuators to almost 90 systems, bring dynamic and powertrain controls together in the aim of improved systems efficiency.
According to Carsten Jablonowski, the dynamics leader of Audi’s large and mid-sized vehicles, the key to expanding ECP’s capabilities is in controlling and supervising all chassis control systems, not individually, but as a whole.
“We need to be able to have the communication at lightning speeds between the components,” Mr Jablonowski said. “All chassis systems must simultaneously be able to conduct their tasks with the smallest possible latency.”
The kind of control he’s referencing could take milliseconds in a hypothetical multi ECU system, with groups of systems shared across multiple control units. Those reaction times could drop down to microseconds for an integrated ECP.
Audi remained tight-lipped about a number of aspects of the ECP expansion. There was no word on how efficiency gains will be achieved by combining powertrain and suspension controls, and no mention of which additional functions would make up the 90 ECP-controlled functions.
Audi’s head of communications for product and technology, Ekkehard Kleindienst, promised only that the evolving system was “a key component for the efficiency of the e-tron.”
To bring Audi’s goal to reality, computing power will be increased by a factor of 10, according to Audi’s tech experts.
Kleindienst was also quick to defend the advancements: “No one asked for more electronics, so why add them? If the ECP is like the brain for the chassis, we’ll now have a central nervous system for the entire drivetrain,” he said to highlight the potential of the evolving technologies.
“The basis for all chassis components is that it needs to be good without the electronics, but you can add extra features with more advanced systems,” he reasoned. “Importantly the driver shouldn’t be able to detect any system overriding the others.”
All promising thinking, but Audi had little to say about predicted outcomes for its upcoming tech, or implementations.
Precision is key, it seems. In a pre-prepared statement from the brand Klaus Diepold, who leads Audi’s networked systems development painted yet another broad picture of how Audi’s upcoming models might improve.
According to Diepold “even more precise control of the chassis and powertrain, as well as the integration of function-on-demand elements,” becomes possible. “In other words, additionally bookable on-board features.”
“Moreover, car-to-x communication, the communication of a vehicle with other vehicles, is conceivable: the exchange of cloud-based information about road conditions in certain areas. For customers, this means more enjoyable driving, more comfort and safety, and for us as developers, more flexibility.”
In the simplest terms, Audi aims to take the interlinked areas of dynamics and powertrain and control the impact each has on the other via a central processor. The take-out is that vehicle control, comfort, and dynamic prowess should become more natural, and more intuitive for drivers.
That's another worthwhile point. Audi isn't touting this system for its suitability to autonomous applications, though it could clearly be adapted to suit. Human drivers still have an important part to play in Audi's future, despite no shortage of autonomous concepts over the last couple of years.
Even its introduction timing remains a guarded secret for the moment, with the only official line about the integral ECP being that it’s “coming to the market in the near future.”