Big changes are happening in the automotive industry, and connectivity plays a vital role in making today's cars safer, more comfortable, and equipped with new features.
Big changes are happening in the automotive industry, and connectivity plays a vital role in making today’s cars safer, more comfortable, and equipped with new features. To make this possible, vehicles will need to support multiple wireless technologies – this article discusses how this can be achieved.
Vehicles are shifting away from being hardware-centric, to become software-defined platforms that evolve over their lifetimes with new features and improved safety and efficiency. At the same time, end-user demands for better in-vehicle experiences are leading to adoption of more infotainment capabilities.
The number of connected vehicles is growing fast (Figure 1). This increasingly places vehicle-to-cloud connectivity at the forefront of vehicle design: Today’s cars require high-speed, robust Wi-Fi, and cellular connectivity to the cloud.
Figure 2 shows some use cases. While many applications have previously focused on information-sharing such as location-based services, there are growing activities in more advanced analytics and machine learning that will leverage the huge amounts of data generated by vehicle sensors – likely rising to four terabytes each hour for autonomous cars.
To enable these use cases, OEMs are increasingly adopting service-oriented gateways that support secure, vehicle-wide OTA updates that go beyond the capabilities of typical automotive microcontrollers (MCUs). For example, NXP’s automotive-grade S32G processor has the performance and networking capabilities to rapidly deploy new use cases and enable upgradeable vehicles.
OTA updates will typically happen over a Wi-Fi network to ensure effective coverage and avoid increases in cellular data consumption (and hence cost). This requires a secure, high performance Wi-Fi network (such as the new Wi-Fi 6 standard).
The traditional decentralized approach to vehicle architecture, where new ECUs are added to support each new feature with its own processing and connectivity, does not scale thanks to its complexity. Instead, the automotive vehicle architecture is moving away from flat hardware-based designs, towards domain and zonal compute architectures.
In domain-based architectures, the vehicle’s logical or software systems are split into five major different functional areas, such as connectivity, infotainment, ADAS, powertrain, body, and comfort. The physical construct of the vehicle is simplified by a move to zonal topology where processing is concentrated within zones of a vehicle, such as left-front, right-front, left-rear and right-rear, with a central vehicle computer.
The key for this is the connectivity domain controller. This is responsible for radio reception, cellular connectivity, DSRC V2X communication, and secure car access, alongside consumer connectivity including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GNSS, and NFC.
Another important area is security: As vehicles become more autonomous, ensuring that they cannot be infiltrated becomes increasingly safety critical. The new domain architecture means OTA updates are securely downloaded to the connectivity domain controller where they are authorized and sent to the vehicle networking service-oriented gateway. Here, they are further verified and distributed across the vehicle securely.
The in-vehicle experience
The in-car experience is becoming an increasingly important differentiator for carmakers. Enhancements to wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 will be critical to enable improvements.
For example, Wi-Fi 6’s high throughput and efficient networking enable better performance for UHD video streaming on multiple displays, and support for parking and safety cameras (see Figure 3). In the longer term, Wi-Fi could also be used as a wireless link between different ECUs, saving cost, weight, and space by replacing cabling.
Bluetooth’s role will expand to support new applications, such as connecting controllers for in-car gaming, linking to smartphones for lighting and heating control, and monitoring drivers with wearables to detect fatigue.
New Bluetooth enhancements will improve the in-car experience. For example, LE Audio, included in Bluetooth 5.2, improves audio quality at lower data rates. LE Audio also introduces Broadcast Audio, which allows a device such as an infotainment system to broadcast audio to a potentially unlimited number of devices.
Upcoming automotive grade Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.2 chipsets from NXP will support both Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 LE Audio.
More wireless technologies
Complementing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ICs, other in-car technologies include broadcast radio reception.
In addition, in-car NFC use cases include driver authentication for engine start, seamless pairing of personal devices to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and recognizing the driver for personalization. NFC and other contactless solutions for smart cards can also be leveraged for vehicle access as a back-up to Ultra-Wideband (UWB).
For wireless key fobs, UWB provides much greater resistance than Bluetooth to attacks, as it can determine Time of Flight (ToF), and hence distance, more accurately between two devices. Today’s digital key designs often handle initial wake-up and authentication over Bluetooth, and secure detection of range using UWB. NFC can also be used as a backup technology for when a mobile device’s battery is drained.
Vehicles embedded with RAIN RFID chipsets within license plates or windshield stickers can take advantage of smart mobility applications such as vehicle identification and registration, road tolling, and access control.
Another critical automotive feature will be Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication, between vehicles and other vehicles, the smart city infrastructure, and other road users. Figure 4 shows some use cases for V2X, which require low latency, high reliability, and stable performance.
V2X has already been deployed in some regions using Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) based on the 802.11p standard, with more new vehicles adopting the technology.
Automotive wireless connectivity is no longer an afterthought. The growth of connected cars will enable new use cases ranging from predictive maintenance to fully upgradeable software defined vehicles.
As Figure 6 shows, vendors who offer automotive processing solutions for service-oriented gateways via chipsets alongside processing and connectivity for connectivity domain controllers are well placed to enable this transition.
In conclusion, OEMs should futureproof their automotive connectivity with new technologies such as Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, and UWB, among others, in order to ensure strong user experiences today and the ability to support evolving demands within infotainment, vehicle to cloud, secure access, and V2X.
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.