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Ethernet is coming to cars

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 23, 2014
Ethernet will internally connect electronics in the vehicle and externally, the car to the Internet of Things.

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Freescale's new Ethernet board will allow up to four separate video streams, along with a networking topology to connect all electronic devices together.Credit: Freescale

One of the top microchip suppliers for the auto industry has announced its first automotive-grade Ethernet chipset and software, paving the way for car makers to install 100Mbps networks in vehicles.

The new processors from Freescale will connect in-car electronics and Wi-Fi routers over standard two-wire twisted pair cable, not CAT 5, making it robust enough to serve as a ring topology for vehicles.

A move toward Ethernet reflects the fact that in-vehicle electronics are becoming more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, exterior and interior cameras, embedded displays and infotainment systems.

By 2020, many cars will have 50 to 60 Ethernet ports and even entry-level vehicles will have 10, according to a study by research firm Frost & Sullivan. (Premium vehicles will likely have more than 100 Ethernet nodes by then.)

Other trends driving the need for Ethernet include connected cars -- vehicles that communicate with each other and outside infrastructure -- growing use of mobile devices and new driver-assistance technologies.

The growth in audio and video devices, such as federally mandated backup cameras, lane-departure warning systems, traffic light recognition and collision avoidance sensors, also all require more robust in-car networks. Ethernet's greater bandwidth could, for instance, provide a driver with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each backseat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.

Freescale's new AVB software stack
Along with the new hardware, Freescale has introduced an automotive-grade AVB (Audio Video Bridging) Ethernet software stack. The hardware/software combination supports a broad range of onboard multimedia nodes.

The Ethernet modules will also be embedded in telematics systems with 4G modems to connect the vehicle to the Internet, according to Dan Loop, Freescale's automotive business development manager. "What [automobile owners] can expect is a wider variety of multi-media systems in vehicles being deployed, allowing [car makers] to scale up easily," Loop said.

For example, Freescale's first module supports up to four synchronized video/audio streams for either embedded displays or mobile devices.

By using a ubiquitous standard like Ethernet, carmakers expect to save considerable money on hardware systems and cabling weight, according to Loop.

Need for standardization
Thilo Koslowski, Gartner's vice president of Industry Advisory Services for Automotive manufacturing, said Ethernet would bring standardization to an industry filled with proprietary data transport modes.

Even the most widely adopted high-speed transport specifications -- Media Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) -- contains a number of disparate protocols, depending on which automaker has deployed it.


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