The next wave of cars may use Ethernet

Ethernet's bandwidth would let every passenger in a car could get real-time streaming video, its backers say

The most ubiquitous local area networking technology used by big business may be packing its bags for a road trip.

As in-vehicle electronics become more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, cameras, and infotainment systems, Ethernet has become a top contender for connecting them.

For example, the BMW X5 automobile, released last year, used single-pair twisted wire, 100Mbps Ethernet to connect its driver-assistance cameras.

Paris-based Parrot, which supplies mobile accessories to automakers BMW, Hyundai and others, has developed in-car Ethernet. Its first Ethernet-connected systems could hit the market as soon as 2015, says Eric Riyahi, executive vice president of global operations.

Parrot's new Ethernet-based Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology uses Broadcom's BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet controller chips.

The AVB technology's network management capabilities allows automakers to control the timing of data streams between specific network nodes in a vehicle and controls the bandwidth in order to manage competing data traffic.

The Connected Car
Connecting all the electronics in your car through Ethernet (Source: Broadcom)

Ethernet's greater bandwidth could provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each back-seat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.

"In-car Ethernet is seen as a very promising way to provide the needed bandwidth for coming new applications within the fields of connectivity, infotainment and safety," said Hans Alminger, senior manager for Diagnostics & ECU Platform at Volvo, in a statement.

Automotive Ethernet

Ethernet was initially used by automakers only for on-board diagnostics. But as automotive electronics advanced, the technology has found a place in advanced driver assistance systems and infotainment platforms.

Many manufacturers also use Ethernet to connect rear vision cameras to a car's infotainment or safety system, said Patrick Popp, chief technology officer of Automotive at TE Connectivity, a maker of car antennas and other automobile communications parts.

Currently, however, there are as many as nine proprietary auto networking specifications, including LIN, CAN/CAN-FD, MOST and FlexRay. FlexRay, for example, has a 10Mbps transmission rate. Ethernet could increase that 10 fold or more.

The effort to create a single vehicle Ethernet standard is being lead by Open Alliance and the IEEE 802.3 working group. The groups are working to establish 100Mbps and 1Gbps Ethernet as de facto standards.

The first automotive Ethernet standard draft is expected this year.

The Open Alliance claims more than 200 members, including General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault, Volvo, Bosch, Freescale and Harman.

Broadcom, which makes electronic control unit chips for automobiles, is a member of the Open Alliance and is working on the effort to standardize automotive Ethernet.

Ethernet
100Mbps over unshielded twisted pair Ethernet (Source: Broadcom).

Currently, the groups are working on interoperability requirements for devices inside of a vehicle.

Once the requirements are established, Ethernet will play a big part in the integration of different data streaming sensors, including two and three dimensional and infrared cameras, and radar sensors for sophisticated driver assistant systems.

Ethernet can also be used to connect a display head unit and telematic transceiver systems for GPS and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

There are currently reference scenarios with as many as 35 Ethernet nodes per car, according to TE Connectivity.

"By around 2020 or so, we estimate there will be about 100 million Ethernet ports worldwide in automobiles," Popp said. "Ethernet is here to stay."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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