High-speed network solutions for the next generation of connected cars
Increasing numbers of on-board sensors and a multitude of new, data-intensive multimedia technologies are set to raise enormous challenges for vehicular network hardware. Aside from the sheer bandwidth required, this will also affect the weight, complexity and cost of cars.
In the 1980s, the average car contained just a handful of electronic control units (ECU). Modern cars can easily be equipped with more than a hundred. The development of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and in-vehicle infotainment systems (IVI) has already inflated data-related vehicle costs considerably. Initially, such solutions were only present in luxury models, but today, more and more mid-range and economy cars have them as standard features. Figure 1 represents the functions expected from a modern car.
Technological progress in the field of semi-autonomous driving has added a far larger range of features to the basic ADAS functions that were originally available. And this is only the beginning. Before long, a wide range of new functions will be necessary. Many of them will relate to the increasing use of cameras (with increasingly high resolutions) and other types of visual technology (e.g. LiDAR) and mechanisms for detecting traffic signs. Add to that a wealth of wireless protocols for V2V and V2I (vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-infrastructure) connectivity. All these developments will raise the data requirements for the supporting communication network enormously.
Vehicles contain a range of critical systems. Bad timing can cause potentially lethal situations. Vehicle stability control and collision prevention are classic examples of systems that depend entirely on the timely transmission of information to ensure the safety of the driver and other road users.
It is important also to remember that cable harnesses are both the second-heaviest components of modern vehicles (after the chassis itself) and one of the most expensive. Reducing weight and cost can have a positive impact on a vehicle’s price and fuel efficiency, which in turn makes it more attractive to customers. At the same time, it makes compliance with increasingly strict environmental legislation considerably easier. Increasingly, automotive engineers understand that an optimized data communication infrastructure can have enormous operational benefits. Ideally, such infrastructures are based on a single, all-encompassing protocol – but this is yet to be developed. Due to its fast data transmission speeds and deterministic mode of operation, Ethernet is becoming the most widespread protocol for future vehicular network activity.
The spread of Ethernet in the automotive sector
Ethernet is a communication technology that has been the backbone of the IT world for more than 30 years. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly popular in designs for the global car industry as well thanks to its aforementioned benefits: it supports speeds of up to 10 Gbit/s, and there is still scope to increase this further. Using individual, unshielded, twisted pair cables, Ethernet constitutes a lightweight, cost-efficient and scalable solution – properties that make it extremely attractive to the automotive sector.
Ethernet is a mature, stable technology that can be used at high speeds and does not exceed the cost, space and weight limitations involved in on-board systems. Over the years, technological progress in corporate data communications and factory automation has brought about steady advances in Ethernet. Thanks to its extensive use in computer centers and industrial environments, it has gained many security functions and authentication algorithms. Modern engineers benefit from these features when it comes to meeting the strict requirements of vehicle networks.
In some respects, the type of Ethernet used in the automotive sector is distinct from conventional Ethernet solutions. It is used in more demanding environments than traditional Ethernet implementations, having to withstand e.g. high temperature and electromagnetic interference (EMI). It also has to endure vibration, shock and high humidity.
Each Ethernet-based network system within a vehicle requires car-compatible gateways with access to cloud connectivity platforms to integrate various hardware and software elements with older vehicle protocols (e.g. LIN, CAN, FlexRay, LVDS etc.). The multi-gigabit technologies offered by Molex ensure the secure and seamless flow of data within vehicles and to the cloud, effectively eliminating network bottlenecks. On this basis, Ethernet network systems with a capacity of 10 Gbit/s can ensure the necessary V2V/V2I connectivity to process the enormous volumes of data captured by the sensors and simultaneously stream 4K video content to the rear-seat displays of a vehicle. These systems comprise Molex Ethernet gateways (with integrated support for older protocols, such as CAN, LIN, LVDS etc.) and media modules, combined with IP 67-/IP 69K-classified, EMI-protected plugs and cables.
The comprehensive network connection of vehicles also gives rise to potential points of attack. A Blackberry QNX suite manages the security algorithms of the system. It contains a microkernel architecture with Certicom crypto-systems based on elliptic curves (elliptic curve cryptography, ECC) to facilitate communication between on-board systems and connected cloud services. Advanced public-key encryption guarantees secure, authenticated communication between all ECUs and peripheral elements within the network to prevent DoS (denial of service) attacks and other security breaches.
Current network architectures used in the automotive sector simply cannot meet the enormous requirements involved. Traditional protocols cannot cope with the bandwidth requirements of the countless sensors and sub-systems required for ADAS and IVI. The closer we come to developing truly autonomous cars, the more glaringly obvious their deficits become. Because camera, radar and LiDAR functions create larger and larger volumes of data, many of which necessitate real-time responses, Ethernet is the most popular solution at present.
The development of autonomous driving requires a new architecture that can support rising bandwidth requirements, increasingly high sensor resolutions and greater vehicle connectedness. All critical components and sub-systems must be redundant to reliably keep passengers safe. The Molex network platforms with a capacity of 10 Gbit/s are the foundation of a comprehensive product portfolio designed specifically for the new generation of connected vehicles.
This article was first published in German by next-mobility.news.