The Car: A Rolling Smart Device

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Quintessence. It has been edited for length and content.

Be it for streaming your favorite music, sending emails or getting real-time information on traffic jams: Cars have long since played host to mobile internet. Barely a single car rolls off the production line today without one wireless technology on board, although more often today it contains several such systems.

In fact, many wireless technologies are used before you even get into the car: keyless systems, such as those which operate with an RFID chip, have enabled cars to be unlocked for several years already without even needing to hold the key in your hand. With the latest systems – where a smartphone completely replaces the car key – it is possible to entirely forego keys at all.

Take, for example, Perfectly Keyless from Bosch. To use it, the driver downloads an app to their smartphone, which they then connect to the vehicle via Bluetooth Low Energy. After doing so, a unique security key is generated on the smartphone that fits the digital lock in the vehicle. Using sensors installed in the vehicle, Perfectly Keyless measures the distance from the smartphone and identifies the security key.

“Once detected, the system unlocks the car without any need to look for the key, starts the car and even locks it again when the journey has ended,” explains Harald Kröger, who heads the Automotive Electronics Division at Bosch. Furthermore, the registered vehicle owner can use the app to enable other users, too. An additional key is then sent to the other smartphones via the cloud; securely and protected against unauthorized access. Doing so also enables sharing providers and vehicle-fleet operators to flexibly manage who has access to their vehicles and when.

Running diagnostics while driving

Networking can also be useful for vehicle maintenance.

Texa, for example, has developed a solution which links the respective vehicle diagnostic system via smartphone to the maintenance and management software used in the workshop or by the fleet manager. The system – named eTruck – is inserted into the OBD diagnostic interface in the vehicle, after which it connects to the corresponding app on the driver’s smartphone via Bluetooth. Via the mobile wireless connection of the smartphone, for example, the workshop can then remotely monitor the vehicle’s status at all times, read out and delete errors or manage functions used to adjust the ideal vehicle conditions, such as the regeneration of the diesel particulate filter.

Turning a car into a hotspot

Aside from handy features such as keyless systems or remote maintenance, entertainment solutions in cars are another important application for wireless technologies – drivers (and passengers) are increasingly expecting the same degree of connectivity in the car that they enjoy in the workplace or at home.

So-called “in-car hotspots” have been gaining ground for a number of years already: in the case of such hotspots, data signals are received by the vehicle’s antenna. A special wireless router and a data-enabled SIM card process the signals and establish a wireless connection to the Internet in the vehicle, even while it is in motion. As multimedia boxes, the hotspots not only receive data, but also radio or even TV signals. For such purposes, smart antennas such as those supplied by Hirschmann Car Communication combine a transceiver, tuner and antenna in one single unit, thus joining a variety of services such as radio, GPS, mobile communications, eCall, TV and Car-to-X together at one central point in the vehicle.

pWLAN/IEEE 802.11P

The standard IEEE 802.11p released in 2010 is an expansion of the IEEE-802.11 standard, i.e. conventional Wi-Fi. This wireless technology is custom tailored to meet the requirements of the automotive industry, thereby presenting a reliable interface for the applications of intelligent transport systems (ITS). The boundary conditions for this standard envisage a driving speed of up to 200 km/h, a range of 1 km and a data transfer rate of between 4 ms and 50 ms, in addition to a latency time of 4 ms. pWLAN makes use of the high data rate of 54 Mbps in the 5 GHz band.

Vehicles communicate with each other

Car-to-X, also known as V2X or Vehicle-to-X, is surely the most important current trend when it comes to wireless technologies for the automotive sector. The term refers to the networking of vehicles with each other and also between vehicles and transport infrastructure. Its aim is to reduce road accidents or at least mitigate the consequences.

Volkswagen, for example, is rolling out its first model series equipped with pWLAN as standard from 2019 onwards with a view to exchanging selected traffic-relevant information between different manufacturers. The technology used by Volkswagen is based on the IEEE 802.11p standard, which the automotive industry has standardized for direct communication by vehicles among themselves and with transport infrastructure, and tested across different manufacturers in international markets.

Using the technology in question, which has been developed and validated especially for automotive requirements, traffic-relevant information, warnings and even sensor data can be exchanged with the immediate environment within a matter of a few milliseconds. Doing so enables the coverage of the vehicle in question to be expanded by several hundred yards allowing it to look around the next bend.

“We want to increase road safety by networking vehicles. The most efficient way of doing this is by quickly distributing a common technology,” says Johannes Neft, Head of Vehicle Body Development at Volkswagen. “What’s important is a consistently implemented technology used by as many manufacturers and partners as possible.”

Intelligent intersections

Automotive supplier Continental is also setting its sights on using adapted Wi-Fi technology for applications such as making road intersections more communicative. By the end of 2018, an intersection in Columbus, Ohio, will be equipped with the appropriate cameras, radar and LiDAR to enable it to detect road users in its immediate surroundings and send data from relevant objects via dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to all vehicles approaching the intersection.

The DSRC technology is essentially a Wi-Fi system based on the latest standard IEEE 802.11p and custom-tailored to the particular requirements of automotive applications such as high speeds. The DSRC control unit in the vehicle receives the information, verifies its relevance and triggers the appropriate reaction as soon as a critical situation is detected.

“This gives the driver or smart on-board system in question an invaluable head-start for initiating countermeasures before the problem in question even becomes visible,” says Bastian Zydek, who led the Intelligent Intersection Project at Continental. “With the technology for intelligent intersections, we are offering a new safety module that is an ideal fi t for the smart cities of the future. The intelligent intersection is a very good example of how various technologies can dovetail with each other to boost safety and is another step along the path towards our ‘Vision Zero’ – the goal of accident-free driving.”

Wireless technology for automated driving

Nonetheless, Continental is also testing a different type of wireless technology for Car-2-X communication: with C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything), road users will not only be able to communicate via LTE in the future, but also via the 5G mobile-communication network.

For this purpose, a corresponding chipset will be integrated into the telematics unit in the vehicle that enables direct communication without necessarily needing to fall back on the network. Doing so will result in advantages such as improved connectivity, a wider range, higher energy efficiency and lower latency.

Although the U.S.-based DSRC/802.11p technology is already mature and ready for use in V2X systems today, Europe’s C-V2X version at least represents a prospect for the future, as emphasized by Joachim Göthel, Senior Manager Project 5G-Alliance at BMW: “C-V2X offers a strong development trajectory to 5G that is absolutely necessary for enabling fully networked and automated driving in the future.”

To read more on wireless connectivity, read the latest The Quintessence magazine.

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