Automotive Design: Accelerating Innovation

From cars to mobility: innovations in automotive connectivity

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We are currently experiencing a phase of rapid change in the automotive industry that may profoundly alter the way we travel. Consultancy McKinsey has called it ‘the Second Great Inflection’, to draw a parallel with that period in the early 1900s when the introduction of the Model T finally made it possible for individuals to travel at will over relatively long distances. The ‘horses to cars’ transition of the First Great Inflection will be matched by a ‘cars to mobility’ transition in the Second, McKinsey argues, in which we rethink what freedom to travel means to us, and how we achieve it. One of the key enablers of this change will be a vast increase in the amount of data flowing through cars, and between cars and their environments, made possible by new forms of connectivity.

Tracking trends

There are a number of key trends in the automotive industry that are helping to pave the way to the Second Great Inflection. As usual with such trends, some of them are more advanced than public perception would have it, while others lag behind the hype.

One of the most obvious trends is vehicle electrification. While the public profile of electric vehicles has been strongly driven by Tesla, established players such as BMW, Jaguar, Toyota and Volkswagen, among others, have been steadily introducing hybrid and fully electric vehicles to their ranges. Even internal combustion engine cars are seeing greater electrification, as manufacturers choose to reduce the load on the engine by driving subsystems such as power steering and air conditioning electrically. These innovations have been driven in part by improving battery technology, a shift from 12V to 48V power buses, and regulation that has pressured car makers to reduce emissions, both per vehicle and per fleet. Tesla has also been instrumental in addressing the chicken-and-egg problem of vehicle range by investing heavily in its charging network while also improving its battery technology.
 

"As usual with such trends, some of them are more advanced than public perception would have it, while others lag behind the hype."

The second high-profile trend in the automotive industry is the shift to greater vehicle autonomy. Again, Tesla has led the hype, at one point promising that its vehicles could drive from coast to coast in the US without their owners having to touch the steering wheel. The reality has turned out differently, with autonomy being limited to what appears to be a combination of lane-keeping and advanced cruisecontrol strategies on well-lit, well-marked highways. Nonetheless, car makers are paving the way for greater vehicle autonomy by installing various Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in their vehicles.

This has demanded the introduction of multiple cameras, sonar, radar and even LIDAR sensors, connected over deterministic networks to sophisticated sensor fusion, analysis and interpretation systems, as well as engine, body and drivetrain controllers.
 

A third major trend goes to the heart of the automotive industry’s purpose: does it sell cars, or help people get from A to B in the way that is most convenient to them? Daimler is already exploring this question by developing facilities such as Moovel, an app combining multiple types of mobility service; car2go, an app-enabled car sharing service; mytaxi, for ride hailing; and other services such as CleverShuttle and FlixBus. More strikingly, BMW and Daimler are pooling their efforts to create a global player in urban mobility services such as multimodal travel, vehicle charging, taxi ride-hailing, parking and car-sharing. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that, much as the taxi version of a Mercedes has very different
features to the consumer variant of the same body shape, the shift to these sort of mobility services will profoundly influence the design of future vehicles. BMW and Daimler are jointly investing in integrated mobility services. Perhaps the most important enabling trend for all this change is the move to much richer connectivity, within vehicles, between vehicles, and between vehicles and their environments. Some of this is purely consumer driven – people expect their car dashboards now to provide a mix of information and entertainment that is closely equivalent to what they experience on their mobiles and tablets. Some of the shift to richer connectivity is driven by the challenge of managing the flow of vast amounts of safety-critical real-time sensor data to ADAS, and later autonomous driving controllers.

Connectivity is also going to be vital between the car and its environment. Consumers will need reliable internet connectivity to access their preferred online services, as well as to support access to concierge services such as GM’s OnStar network. Regulation is increasingly demanding that vehicles can sense when they have been in an accident and use cellular connectivity to report their positions to emergency service centres.

And then there is V2X, a whole new layer of emerging connectivity;

  • between vehicles and pedestrians (V2P) to alert drivers
  • between vehicles and other vehicles (V2V) to exchange information about their speed and location to avoid collisions
  • between vehicles and infrastructure (V2I) to exchange information with traffic-management and other forms of infrastructure, to ensure safety at busy intersections and in places with poor visibility.

North America and Europe already have plans to implement V2X communications strategies, using the IEEE 802.11p variant of the familiar WiFi standard starting in 2019. Companies such as Murata are taking advantage of this opportunity by developing V2X wireless communication modules, software and support that use the standard.

"Connectivity is also going to be vital between the car and its environment. Consumers will need reliable internet connectivity to access their preferred online services, as well as to support access to concierge services such as GM’s OnStar network."

Updating wired automotive interfaces

Vehicles have been managing a lot of decentralised sensors, actuators and control units for decades now, and there has been a steady evolution in the enabling bus infrastructures.

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One of the best-known is LINbus (for Local Interconnected Network), which has a data rate of 20Kbit/s, can be implemented on a single wire with a single master, and is used to create small subnets of sensors and actuators in vehicle networks.

CANbus, otherwise known as the Controller Area Network or ISO 1189, was introduced to enable large numbers of engine control units to be networked. The standard supports data rates of up to 1Mbit/s, is implemented on two wires with support for multiple masters and is deemed suitable for ‘soft real-time’ applications, where timing is important but not safety-critical.

FlexRay was introduced to support hard real-time (in other words, safety-critical) applications, at data rates of 10Mbit/s. It supports multiple masters, can be implemented on two wires or optical fibre, enables deterministic responses and is designed to be redundant.

MOST, the Media Oriented System Transport, was introduced to make it easier to integrate infotainment services into cars. It supports data rates of up to 24Mbit/s, multiple masters, and is optimised for streaming multimedia data.

The ubiquitous Ethernet is now also making an appearance in vehicle bus architectures, to support much higher data rates and the levels of management and control that are necessary to handle the flow of large amounts of safety-critical data. Interestingly, current work on improving the determinism of the bus architecture builds on work to improve its ability to handle streaming media. The Audio Video Bridging extensions to the standard are now being used as a basis for work on time-sensitive networking, which will add facilities to ensure that time-critical data can pre-empt other data flows on the bus to ensure it arrives within the specified latency.

"Vehicles have been managing a lot of decentralised sensors, actuators and control units for decades now, and there has been a steady evolution in the enabling bus infrastructures."

Although Ethernet is very widely adopted, frequently using the familiar RJ45 connector, as yet there isn’t a standardised connector for automotive Ethernet implementations. Industry bodies are, however, pushing to define and standardise upon an interoperable connector and cabling system. Prior experience with Ethernet suggests that this approach will cut production and installation costs, increase reliability, and reduce testing and compliance issues.

Updating wireless automotive interfaces

Although many vehicles now have 3G and 4G connectivity, to enable access to concierge and emergency services and to support in-vehicle WiFi, V2X strategies will demand a lower latency, more deterministic form of wireless connectivity in the shape of the emerging 5G networking standard. As with previous generations, it will take many years for the new standard to be deployed with enough density to fulfil its promise of delivering 100 times more bandwidth than 4G, at 50 times lower latency, and with 100 times more density.

Its these last two figures that matter for V2X communications, especially latency, given that when two vehicles approach each other at a closing speed of 200km/h, they’re getting half a metre closer to each other every ten milliseconds. If V2V systems are to be effective for traffic management they’ll need the lower latency that 5G offers. Given that 5G will run over microwave frequencies with short path lengths, successful V2V and V2I strategies for traffic management will demand the installation of many more basestations in cities to provide the necessary reach, capacity and redundancy.

Vehicle makers will have to integrate complex 5G antenna systems into their vehicles, to provide the connectivity necessary to participate fully in V2X strategies. This will mean managing complex RF interactions between the vehicle and the antenna, as well as making robust connections between the antennas and the signal processing that will shape and interpret the transmitted and received signals. These RF subsystems will, in turn, be injecting substantial amounts of data onto the onboard buses to enable analysis and decision making in centralised controllers.

Connectivity is king

McKinsey’s prediction of a Second Great Inflection in the way in which we travel may or may not come to pass. What we can be sure of, though, is that future vehicles will rely on much greater levels of communication, both among their internal systems and with elements of their environment. Well-proven protocols, reliable cabling systems and robust connectors will be vital to ensuring that this communication continues uninterrupted.

To find out more about how Avnet Abacus can support your automotive designs visit: avnet-abacus.eu/automotive

Written by

Martin Keenan

Technical Director, Avnet Abacus

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