Studio63 gets vehicle designs to the finish line
Stephen LawAutomation / Robotics Electronics Engineering automotive cars design Editor Pick engineering transportation trucks
Niche Ottawa engineer team drives leading-edge automotive tech
From software to hardware, if you are looking to get to the finish line with an automotive electronics design, Studio63 seems to have the inside track with a trunk-full of leading-edge technology to steer you in the right direction.
The multi-faceted Ottawa-based design house has found its niche in the automotive market whether its integrating new technologies or conducting an internal/external design of a vehicle. Studio63 manages everything from building out demo dashboards in test vehicles – often including lidar radars, cameras, screens and computers so automotive OEM clients can showcase it.
“A typical scenario is when a client wants to test their latest infotainment design against a competitor’s. You don’t want to showcase the entire new vehicle, as it won’t be ready at this stage,” said Miles Hammond, president, Studio63. “By using a test (or dummy) vehicle, users are able to get in the vehicle, and touch the buttons and screens, and provide feedback, while directly comparing it to their competitors.”
While having worked with such major global brands as Subaru, BlackBerry QNX and Amazon, Studio63 puts its primary focus on smaller, start-up players. One of the notable projects has involved working with a company called Gatik, an OEM of autonomous box trucks targeting middleman delivery – from store to store or from warehouse to store on a fixed route. Gatik’s driverless commercial delivery vehicles are presently deployed across Ontario, Texas and Arkansas.
“We designed and built over 14 trucks for them, including all the technology integration. All the cameras, lidars computers, everything to make that truck get on the road, came through our studio, we did all the design work, we did all the fabrication work, we did all the electrical, we did all the install,” Hammond enthused.
Given the nature of the automotive/transportation market, each client’s needs can vary, according to Hammond.
“We are a service-based company. We’re not bringing our own technology into it, although we’re starting to with our infotainment solution. We are facilitating and joining some of our clients together. So, if we’ve worked with a company that is developing a camera, we may recommend them to a different company who requires cameras in their end-designs.
On the topic of cameras, Hammond suggests the digital photographic devices are having the greatest impact on car interior tech designs these days, while predicting that in three years consumers will not be able to buy a vehicle that does not leverage camera technology for some sort of driver or passenger monitoring system.
“We can’t do our jobs without electronic design”
“You’re instantly replacing an old technology with a new technology that is as reliable and it works seamlessly. We can’t do our jobs without electronic design, whether that involves custom pcbs, or housings – especially in the domain controller, which is the really the ‘brains’ of the vehicle,” Hammond noted. “When you have, let’s say, a new vehicle, and you’ve got a battery monitoring system, and an accelerator, you need those elements to talk together and to be able to display that information on the screen. We cannot do that without access to electronic engineers, designing and developing this type of custom hardware.”
Hammond notes that every one of his clients has slightly different requirements. As a result, Studio63 leans heavily on its electronic engineers, and designers to create multiple different solutions.
“It doesn’t happen by magic. We have the electronic team, and then we’ve got the software team to create – and then I’ll do all the integration work and the design work to make it happen. So, between those three disciplines, we can come up with an amazing solution,” Hammond adds. “Designing with a team is an ongoing process.”
Hammond and his collage of engineering disciplines do gather frequently on site while collaborating on a specific project, typically using a garage space on-site.
“There is a lot of back and forth, even though we’re in separate locations, just in terms of the interface between the electronics and the hardware. We’re constantly jumping on calls to discuss how we’re going to achieve the wiring, or a heat-related challenge. So, it’s not a hub so much – we just work together nonstop. It’s a seamless integration,” Hammond explained.
“You can’t design in a silo by yourself”
Referring to electronics as ‘the hub’ for most designs, Hammond underscores the importance of implementing a level of project management into the mix, so that communication is flowing to all the different moving parts within a project.
“You can’t design in a silo by yourself – you can’t just go to a basement, sit down and do this. You’ve got to talk to every single other discipline – including all the suppliers, and all the other electronic guys who are dealing with different systems. It really is a collaborative initiative today. As opposed to back in the day, when you could have one guy working on a motor and one guy working on a transmission, and one guy working on the tailights. That all goes through a single hub now – to understand how to integrate them,” he said.
Hammond says the automotive designer community in Canada continues to a drive towards forced cost reduction.
Get out and see what other people doing
“I don’t know how it’s gonna shake out, but we’re being pressured to find very low cost solutions. But, to still move the needle on technology,” noted Hammond.
Hustling to prepare six demos to be presented at this January’s CES show in Las Vegas, Hammond champions the prospects of attending live, in-person events, especially for exposing the younger members of his team, which may have shown reluctance to these types of events in the past.
“We have a lot of post-graduate university students that end-up working here and I find their attitudes towards trade shows changes really quickly once immersed in them,” Hammond explained. “I always say to people, ‘Look, if we’re expected to be designing, cutting edge technology to be on the world stage, if you don’t know what the world stage is, how you’re going to do that, right’. You’ve got to get out and see what other people doing, what technologies are out there, and what materials or finishes are out there.”
Alternate design perspectives
Speaking of alternate design perspectives, Hammond noted a trend emerging in car design, which includes consumer push-back on the level of technology found in most vehicles today –often dubbed iPhone on wheels by consumer media. In the past decade, the industry has seen the needle swing hard to the digital side of human machine interface (HMI). Hammond has observed a purposeful shift back to more tactile engagement within a car’s interior design. Working in conjunction with modern touchscreen displays and voice activated options, mechanical buttons are coming back into the design cycle, he says.
“I really feel that there’s going to be the shuffle out of technology, where you’re using digital screens that offer amazing advantages, but drivers also have an option to use tactile buttons that they can find without looking – you can just reach out, grab it, push it, twist it, turn it. We’ve already started doing that,” Hammond said. “We’re listening to our clients during the demos – where we’re trying to see and evaluate what works best?. You have the best of both worlds moving forward.