In-vehicle networking looms as major challenge -

In-vehicle networking looms as major challenge


MADISON, Wis. — When they consider the cost of ADAS/AV (autonomous vehicles), many observers assume that the computing power required for AI processing is going to be the costliest element.

“Not so,” according to Alexander E. Tan, vice president and general manager of Automotive Ethernet Solutions at NXP. He predicts that in 2025 in-vehicle networking will cost more than computing, considering the huge volume of data generated by an AV loaded with sensors and how quickly that data must be distributed.

The automotive industry already uses a variety of in-vehicle connectivity technologies. They range from CAN, FlexRay and LIN to MOST and LVDS. 

Many are custom-built interfaces, some tailored for specific automotive applications. They have proven robust and reliable. But once a new generation of auto tech, with AVs and ADAS, starts sending and routing megabits or gigabits of onboard data, no current automotive connectivity interface suffices.

That’s where Ethernet comes in.

System architects at car OEMs have already identified Ethernet as the key in-vehicle backbone network, NXP’s Tan explained. They do not look at the Ethernet as the high-speed, high-quality connectivity exclusive to high-end cars. Rather they look at it as a framework that scales down for high-volume vehicles, he added. “The car industry is absorbing Ethernet like a sponge.” 

Click here for larger image  Ethernet as a backbone in-vehicle network (Source: Marvell)

Ethernet as a backbone in-vehicle network (Source: Marvell)

NXP Semiconductors announced Monday the acquisition of a high-speed automotive Ethernet IP company called OmniPHY based in San Jose. OmniPHY, with 100 employees, has a sizable development team in India.

The move will accelerate the rollout of NXP’s own PHY chips and switches based on1000BASE-T1. More important, the OmniPHY deal sets up NXP as the imminent driving force behind a plethora of new, very high-speed connectivity solutions currently brewing.  They include Multi-Gig Automotive Ethernet standard, automotive MIPI and HDBase-T — many pitched by players eager to move into automotive turf.

NXP’s Tan was careful not to favor one high-speed connectivity initiative over others during the interview. But he said he strongly believes in the emerging IEEE Multi-Gig Automotive Ethernet PHY standard and MIPI. The MIPI Alliance, started by developing interface specifications for the mobile industry, is addressing point-to-point high-speed data interface specs in the automotive industry. Tan also confirmed that NXP is a member of HDBase-T.

Asked for a prognosis of these different activities, Tan said, as a leading automotive chip supplier, “Our responsibility is to offer a tool box of really good solutions” to the automotive industry. 

From the frontline of the connectivity market, Tan has witnessed the automotive industry’s shift from a very conservative outlook, slow to adopt new technology, to an eagerness to change and accelerate cycle time.

We asked Tan what prompted system architects at car OEMs to take this 180-degree turn, how automotive Ethernet is different from those advanced high-speed Ethernet whose use is already proliferating in data centers, and what he sees lie ahead for the automotive industry.

Here’s an excerpt of that conversation.

Absorbing Ethernet like a sponge

EE Times:  You say the automotive industry is “absorbing Ethernet like a sponge.” Please explain, including when the turnaround started.

Alexander Tan:  As a precursor to the rollout of BroadR-Reach (2011), the auto industry was already beginning to get interested in Ethernet in 2008 to 2010. As with any new technology, though, carmakers were initially tentative. They picked a few models, built testers, sourced key parts and first built a telecom gateway system based on Ethernet.

The original idea was to use Ethernet to upload software onto on-board diagnostic systems. Carmakers realized if they did it via CAN bus it would have taken them two days.

A lot has changed since then. The emergence of new players such as Tesla and Uber in the auto industry prompted carmakers to think differently, learn to identify new technologies.

Until then, car OEMs depended on the purpose-built connectivity solutions to do tasks inside a vehicle. But car OEM architects quickly realized the need for a backbone network for a vehicle.

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