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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.

MOST, as Ethernet will be, is a specification for transmitting data over a vehicle's controller area network (CAN). A CAN is a message-based protocol that allows microprocessors located throughout the vehicle to share data.

Currently, the CAN specification supports 500Kbps transport speeds, according to Nick Colella, Infotainment Manager for Ford.

Ford is considering using Ethernet as a "supplemental" data transport system, Colella said. The company uses other transport protocols, such as (Low-Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) in a small number of models. One issue is that a lot of video content still uses analog signals in vehicles, Colella said, so the move toward digital streaming could push the industry to Ethernet.

LVDS and MOST are also more expensive and complicated to roll out compared to Ethernet, according to Koslowski.

"Think about the ability to stream video content, which will be a big one. We just don't see that capacity in cars today because [data transport] systems are separate," Koslowski said.

Ethernet will join together all of a car's electronics systems, including the instrument cluster, the infotainment and the telematics systems.

Freescale's new hardware and software stack come under the SABRE (Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering) for Auto Infotainment (AI) development system.

The development kit for automakers is built on top of two of Freescale's existing i.MX 6Quad and i.MX 6DualLite applications processors. The Ethernet card supports Atheros Gb PHY (software compatible with CPU1 systems), a 10/100 Broadcom BroadR-Reach PHY and a 10/100 Broadcom BroadR-Reach 4-port switch.

Ethernet is not alone
There are upwards of nine competing standards to Ethernet for internal vehicle networking.

Other protocols, such as LVDS offers greater bandwidth -- up to 655Mbps today with rates of up to 3Gbps in the future being possible -- but its adoption and industry support pales in comparison to Ethernet.

LVDS signaling also uses external serializers and deserializers at each end of the link, which adds cost to any deployment, according to Loop.

Automotive-grade Ethernet has wide industry support via more than 200 members of the OPEN Alliance Special Interest Group, a non-profit established to drive adoption. Open Alliance members include General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault and Volvo.

The recent formation of a new IEEE 802.3 study group to advance One Twisted Pair 100 Mbps Ethernet is expected to further drive adoption of the technology.

"As a proven technology with a vast ecosystem, Ethernet-based connectivity in automotive has enormous potential and based on how quickly membership has risen in the OPEN Alliance, the automotive industry is clearly enthusiastic," Natalie Wienckowski, General Motors' architect for electronics hardware, said in a statement.

Freescale is not the first chipmaker to announce an Ethernet solution.


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