MOTOR Magazine

A MOTOR Magazine Newsletter
September 15, 2016

Contributed by Bob Chabot
Ethernet: A Force for Good

Ethernet platforms will transform the auto industry

"Since its introduction into other industries more than 30 years ago, Ethernet is now being viewed by automotive manufacturers and their Tier 1 suppliers as the future backbone and key enabler for enhanced connectivity, communications and automotive applications and services," says Alex Tan, Director for Marvell Semiconductor Inc.'s Automotive Solutions Group.

The Vision
"We've already seen integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in cars and applications integrated into the user console. We've also seen Google's fleet of prototype autonomous or 'self-driving' cars. But how about a vehicle that can fix itself? That's just one of the many new transformations on the horizon when the Internet of Things meets the Connected Car."

"Wiring currently is the third heaviest and third most costly component in an automobile," Tan noted. As electronics continues to permeate vehicle content, automotive Ethernet addresses both of these concerns because it reduces the wiring required." He then shared several other price/performance benefits compared to other architectures. Ethernet:

  • Meets both the lightweight and low electromagnetic compatibility needs.
  • Features high bandwidth to communicate much quicker and more complete data.
  • Leverages advanced upper level protocols that work on top of the existing vehicle internet protocols (IPs) to allow real-time operation.
  • Is backwards compatible with existing onboard communication networks (CAN, MOST, LIN, etc.)
  • Is based on open standards, not OEM proprietary ones, which allows more rapid deployment of connected applications and services.

"The idea of a connected car is all about making data available, both within the car and with the external world," Tan explained. "Automakers are actively exploring improving automobile quality when problems are identified by getting real-time data from individual vehicles and then providing connected corrective updates to improve functionality and safety. Soon, consumers will no longer experience automotive obsolescence the second they leave the lot. And just imagine having the latest automotive features available overnight any time after purchase. For example, Tesla is already doing this, having recently introduced a firmware update that added new adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and other new features. Other OEMs will soon be doing likewise."

Automotive Ethernet is on the verge of rapid growth, according to market research firms, such as Strategy Analytics. Measured in terms of vehicle onboard Ethernet ports, the above image shows how quickly the automakers will ramp up using Ethernet, driven by infotainment, advanced driver assist systems, diagnostics, telematics, vehicle connectivity, automated driving and other forces. By 2018, expect 75 million Ethernet ports to be integrated in vehicles in operation. By 2021, that will climb to more than 250 million Ethernet ports. (Image — Strategy Analytics)

The Past: Adopting What Worked in Other Industries
Ethernet has a long and successful history in other industries such as industrial, consumer and enterprise spaces. From an auto industry perspective, what drove interest in Ethernet was the need for increased bandwidth. For example, a 2007 BMW AG study concluded: "In the mid-2010s we're going to have so many processors running so many lines of code that if we use the existing proprietary communications technology, if there's any reason to flash reprogram the software, a BMW owner is going to have to bring in their car for two days to be able to flash everything." That's when BMW and other OEMs began looking at Ethernet in depth.

Initially from a protocol standpoint, Ethernet was attractive, but the unique and robust physical layer of existing vehicle networks didn't match the requirements for Ethernet. Problems included electromagnetic interference and ruggedness concerns. The development of first generation single-pair 100 Megabit Ethernet (IEEE 100BASE-T1) followed by next generation Gigabit Ethernet (IEEE 1000BASE-T1) resolved those concerns. Automakers soon found that as they integrated Ethernet into vehicles, its higher bandwidth offered many advantages and opened the door to new capabilities.

"Even primitive 100 Mb Ethernet — which was bi-directional, configurable, and IP-based — provided OEMs more capability that was very different from anything that had been in the vehicle before," Tan noted. "CAN, LIN, MOST and other architectures each had a unique design for specific application in the car: CAN was for control signals, LIN for safety, MOST was for infotainment. The advent of Ethernet allowed OEMs to encapsulate each of these different communications in internet protocol (IP) packages that could be easily and quickly distributed through vehicle networks. Gigabit Ethernet provided an even larger pipeline that can handle more diverse data in real-time operating conditions. It's an ideal fit for the future of transportation."

Automotive Ethernet provides vehicles with a higher data transmission rate, lightweight cabling, and distributed networking capabilities that comply with interoperable IEEE open standards, rather than proprietary OEM design. Marvell's automotive Ethernet reference platform with integrated MATEnet connectors for Automotive Ethernet from TE Connectivity includes two 1000BASE-T1 PHY, two 100BASE-T1 PHYs, two standard Ethernet PHYs, and a built in switch supporting Audio/Video Bridging and Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) protocols. (Image — Marvell Semiconductor Inc.)

The Present: Build a Relevant Infrastructure
"Today everybody's talking about how, by the mid-2020s, there will be various levels of autonomous cars," Tan reflected. He noted foundation technology is already here today, citing Google, Audi and Delphi self-driving vehicles. He acknowledged that taking that foundation to everyday production vehicles has inherent challenges OEMs are actively working to overcome, such as developing reliable technology that works on a large scale and meets automaker cost and other requirements.

For instance, ensuring that critical data isn't delayed, blocked or damaged is a serious challenge all communications topologies and protocols face. With Ethernet, the volume of data is vastly larger, and its composition much more diverse (e.g. video vs. bits and bytes). In addition, Ethernet by nature is "bursty," meaning that when an event happens, all the data available is sent in real-time using the full available bandwidth. Should multiple events occur, even higher bandwidth data highways can have traffic congestion issues.

"Substantial change is in store for the internal vehicle data networks," Tan explained. "Current systems use a combination of proprietary low-speed or single-purpose communication busses. Next-generation architectures are now converting to an IDML-based network using Ethernet hardware. This allows massive amounts of data to be easily sent between the various domains inside the vehicle and with external devices."

Examples of this type of data include information from the body electronics components, commands on the control systems, multimedia information from the infotainment system and camera/sensor data for Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS). For instance, video and application data from smart phones and the Internet can now be distributed within the vehicle, while vehicle information and video data can be sent outside of the vehicle and used in a variety of ways. An entirely new infrastructure is being built today to achieve that."

To prevent bandwidth maximum volume limits being reached, Presenter protocols enable Gigabyte Ethernet to simultaneously and dynamically reserve bandwidth for critical or emergency data communications, while also accommodating CAN, LIN, MOST and other networks operating at 100 Mb speeds. This ensures high-level data being aggregated doesn't get lost in transfer.

For example, should an engineer or technician want to do a one-time flash inside a shop to update all processors, adequate bandwidth could be made available. Alternately, if certain data needed to be protected (erg. video or data related to a critical failure or accident), the protocols could allocate bandwidth appropriate for that purpose, but make the rest available, whether the vehicle was static or in motion.

Tan emphasized that the Gigabyte Ethernet platforms being developed today are focused on connecting the inside of the vehicle. "They will ultimately be the backbone for infrastructure that will connect the different domains – infotainment, advanced driver assistance systems, body electronics, powertrain control and others. Platforms will use domain information to connect with the other sensors, actuators and imagery that act in concert to deliver performance, autonomy and other end goals."

Internet protocol (IP) open standards are now in place to better manage and prioritize data flow. They allocate bandwidth on Ethernet platforms dynamically, so that critical, time-dependent streaming data flows have prioritized bandwidth necessary to safeguard in-time, real-time delivery of data. (Images — IEEE)

These protocols include the:

  • Precision Time Protocol (left) — Synchronizes elements of an Ethernet-based embedded systems for real-time operation.]
  • Audio Video Bridging Protocol (center) — Ensures the delivery of time-dependent data streaming flows to relevant network nodes by shaping data traffic into efficient packets.
  • Time-Sensitive Networking Protocol (right) — Dedicates Ethernet resources to ensure critical messages are prioritized and delivered to relevant nodes/applications, without compromises other data communications.

The Future: We're All Going to be in the Software Business
Shops and technicians cannot avoid dealing with software. Modern vehicles already are laden with software; many have close to 100 million lines of code (LoC) embedded to operate — substantially more than both the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane (6.5 million LoC) or the military's new F-35 jet fighter (8.5 million LoC). But when vehicles are fully connected to the IoT, and equipped with telematics, advanced safety systems and autonomous driving technology, they will contain close nearly 500 million lines of code.

"The next step is connecting the vehicle to the cloud," Tan advised. "Sooner than many realize, vehicles will become extensions of the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling new conveniences and data to be managed from smart devices — phones, tablets and watches — used by vehicles owners, service providers and others connected to the IoT, with type and degree of data access ideally, but not necessarily, controlled by vehicle owners."

It's important to understand that automotive guys didn't have to do anything other than adopt the technology that had already been designed and proven for other industries. This presents a dilemma: As the auto industry continues to integrate software protocols for the management and control of the vehicle-wide landscape of parts, modules, sensors, actuators and other hardware — the nuts and bolts of a vehicle — IT specialists will need to have a more complete understanding of automotive operating environments. Simply ruggedizing hardware developed for other more forgiving industries will no longer suffice.

In addition, automotive engineers traditionally design five to seven years in advance of a product's release, but that paradigm will need to become shorter and more open to accommodating shifting shorter-cycle consumer demands. Average vehicle age may well continue to be in the 10 to 12 year range for many years, but consumers want their vehicle functionality to be continually "refreshed." Consumers will no longer experience automotive obsolescence the second they leave the lot, as they will be able to receive, install and apply the latest automotive features available well after the vehicle was purchased.

Marvell demonstrated its automotive solutions at Computex 2015. Marvell's solutions include high quality AECQ100 qualified products and platforms that include built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Audio Codec, storage, bridges, and Ethernet domains that provide automotive infotainment, wired/ wireless connectivity and co-application processor platforms for today's smart cars. (Video — Marvell Semiconductor Inc.)

So look for vehicles to become more like smartphones, with vehicle system and infotainment updates being delivered over the air, whether via firmware (e.g. Tesla), software-driven apps (e.g. Pandora, Spotify or Netflix replacing radios, CD or video players), or some other means not yet imagined and developed. Software, substantially higher bandwidth and administrating protocols will allow more data for many applications to be communicated faster, without latency between onboard network, the surrounding driving environment and the cloud.

Finally, expect new vehicle interfaces currently under consideration by SAE and ISO to replace J1962 underdash ports or otherwise augment the secured wireless delivery of vehicle software fixes, service information, access by authorized tools and more. Tan suggested OEMs would be able to improve automobile quality by getting real-time data from individual vehicles and providing corrective updates when problems are identified. Though many are not yet aware, let alone preparing, the vehicle service and repair landscape is on the verge of dramatic change.

"Recently, I was in Munich, Germany for the Automotive Ethernet Congress," Tan shared. "During the keynote speech, an intriguing question was asked: Are we done here with 1GB? It was very clear from the ensuing discussion that there's a lot of interest in even higher speed Ethernet platforms, specifically for compelling applications that need higher speed solutions."

"I see developing and implementing 10 Gigabyte Ethernet as easily doable within the next decade, if we can get enough sophisticated IT professionals in the world to work at major automotive OEMs. They'll be doing the most amazing things with real-time, TSN and future technologies yet to be developed. The rest of us are going to have to adapt to keep pace, but an expanded Ethernet will help us to focus more on managing and applying, rather than struggling to assimilate fire-hosed knowledge, like so many of us have been doing."

For shops and technicians, Ethernet could help make your job easier. Imagine that.

[Editor's note: Read MOTOR Magazine's August 2016 issue for the latest diagnostic and automotive service insights.]

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