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Ethernet evolves for the connected car era

Posted: 25 Feb 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:computer networking? automotive bus? Ethernet?

After a successful career in computer networking for more than three decades, Ethernet's being groomed for an encore role as the automotive bus which will power the era of the so-called Connected Vehicle.

Regardless of whether Ethernet or some other technology gets the nod, the industry is overdue for something to replace the buses used in today's cars. CAN bus, FlexRay, MOST, J1850/1939 and the other semi-proprietary protocols used in today's cars are coming dangerously close to the limits of their capabilities while the electronic systems they support continue to grow in complexity (figure 1).

Figure 1: Ethernet is being groomed for service in the under- hood networks of tomorrow's Connected Vehicles, with initial deployment in selected applications expected as early as 2016. (Source: BMW, Daimler)

Ethernet is ideal as the bus technology connecting tomorrow's Connected Vehicles because it can deliver the capacity, performance and versatility the industry needs. This article will explore the requirements of tomorrow's automotive networks and how the new 2-wire Ethernet PHYs currently under development will meet them.

Vehicle network evolution
The era of the Connected Vehicle is upon us, largely thanks to the simple CAN bus and the increasingly capable automotive data buses which followed it.

Several of today's automotive systems, having matured well beyond the sub-1Mbps capacity of the original CAN bus, currently depend on technologies like FlexRay which can accommodate data rates around 10Mbps.

Thanks to this evolutionary step, cars and trucks have enjoyed over a decade's worth of steady improvements in the performance, efficiency, and safety.

These robust, flexible, and highly-reliable buses also serve as the "nervous system" for driver-assist technologies such as auto-braking and lane departure detection.

The "infotainment" systems bringing high-fidelity audio, video and mobile data to the driving experience also rely on automotive data buses to transport their multimedia streams throughout the vehicle.

But each of these advanced features adds to the growing number of electronic sub-systems in even modestly-equipped vehicles which are quickly eclipsing the capabilities of current automotive buses (figure 2).

Figure 2: As the graph "Automotive Electronic/Electric System Architecture Cycles" indicates, automotive control systems have undergone several distinct phases of development. While bus systems have been in use for nearly two decades, they've only recently become sophisticated enough to give rise to the age of the Connected Vehicle. (Source: "eCar-IKT-Systemarchitektur fr Elektromobilit?t," courtesy of Bundesminsterium fr Wirtschaft und Technik)

Even now, legacy systems threaten to stunt future designs with their restricted number of addressable nodes. However, the sub-10Mbps data rates supported in most of today's automotive buses impact products even now.

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