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Why Are Automotive OEMs Asking for Multi-Gig Automotive Ethernet?
March 30, 2021 News

Author: Alan A. Varghese, Automotive Technology and Marketing at Keysight Technologies

Automobiles are at the point of progressing from Level 2 to Levels 3 and 4 of automation. These autos include an array of components such as Domain Control Units (DCUs), Electronic Control Units (ECUs), Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), high-definition cameras, sensors, and storage devices for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), connectivity, and navigation.

In addition, they include circuitry for control of the powertrain, chassis, body and comfort functions, human-machine interface, as well as infotainment. The in-vehicle network (IVN) and associated cabling to connect this functionality is the third heaviest component in the automobile as well as the third highest in cost – only surpassed by the chassis and the engine itself.

In 2004, this probably was not on Thomas Konigseder’s mind.  Thomas was an Electronics Engineer and Group Manager at BMW and he was trying to solve a basic problem; find a way to speed up the software flash programming process for BMW cars.  If he used the existing Controller Area Network (CAN) interface, flashing the 1 GB of software expected for the next BMW model would have required several hours to complete.  After a lot of evaluation and collaboration with semiconductor partners, Thomas chose standard 100Base-TX Ethernet, and in 2008 the BMW 7-series was the first serial car with an Ethernet interface.

Even after Thomas’ decision, automotive OEMs took a while to transition from where Ethernet was used solely for software downloads and onboard diagnostics when a vehicle is parked – to where it is used for in-vehicle networking when mobile.  Concerns centered around Electromagnetic Interference/Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMI/EMC), latency, and Ethernet’s vulnerability to hacking and tampering from compromised ECUs; unused ports; and external interfaces such as cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and diagnostics.

Design and Test for Automotive Ethernet

For all these reasons, compliance and conformance testing is critical for automotive Ethernet.  Testing should include transceiver, receiver, and link compliance tests; conformance, integration, protocol validation, and performance tests; and security testing that includes connecting to the device via all interfaces, simulating attacks through software, regression testing, and fuzz tests.

The Need for Multi-Gig Automotive Ethernet

The growing number of automotive applications today continues to drive up bandwidth and other requirements for the In-vehicle network.  Ethernet will meet these requirements, because Ethernet technology and standardization continues to evolve for automobiles.  What started out as a solution for the luxury line of BMW, is now pervasive in most vehicles.

In fact, in conversations with automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), they mention they are already starting to evaluate the next version of automotive Ethernet, i.e. Multi-Gig Ethernet (2.5Gbps to 10Gbps) due to increasing bandwidth demands from:

  • The number of ADAS sensors such as cameras increasing from about 10 to 20 or more for Levels 3 and 4 automation
  • The requirement for raw uncompressed data from the cameras (compression causes loss of image quality and increased latency, and puts more cost and heat burden on the sensors)
  • Increasing resolution of each camera from 720p to 1080p and even 4K
  • Increasing frames/second from 30 to 60
  • Increasing color depths from 8 to 16, 20, and even 24-bits/pixel

At 4K resolution and greater than 8-bit color depth, Multi-Gig Ethernet will become imperative (see table).

Hres Vres Frames/sec 8-bit 12-bit 16-bit 20-bit 24-bit
3840 2160 30 1.99Gbps 2.99Gbps 3.98Gbps 4.98Gbps 5.97Gbps
3840 2160 60 3.98Gbps 5.97Gbps 7.96Gbps 9.95Gbps 11.95Gbps

Sensors, In-Vehicle Networks, and Autonomous Driving in Europe

In the European (EU) market, the automobile industry represents more than 7% of the EU’s GDP, and Europe represents by far the world’s largest investment in automotive R&D. Europe also leads in the number of patent applications in automotive.  Since 2011, more than 37% of all applications have originated in the EU (compared to 34% U.S.; 13% Japan; 3% China) – (European Automobile Manufacturers Association).

A good project to keep track of sensors and IVN requirements in the automotive market is the EU’s 3-year, 51 million euro’s project named PRYSTINE: the project received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program and comprises 60 partners including car manufacturers BMW, Ford, and Maserati; and semiconductor companies Infineon Technologies and NXP Semiconductors.  The project leverages radar and lidar sensor fusion, integration of signal processing, and AI to enable safe automated driving in complex traffic scenarios – in both urban and rural environments. The end objective is to move from a fail-safe to a fail-operational system, and to improve the safety of all components integrated in future cars such as safety controllers, sensors, radar, lidar, cameras, and computing platforms.

Note that in the EU, 22% of road fatalities involve pedestrians and 8% cyclists. Solutions developed by PRYSTINE vendors will use 360-degree video processing with surround cameras to eliminate blind spots so vulnerable road users are seen before they even enter the driver’s natural field of view.  In addition, solutions will provide safety alerts which will reduce road accidents and improve driver awareness.  Traffic-management solutions will fuse information coming from traffic controllers, floating car data, and plate-recognition camera data.

All this data needs to be transferred on high-speed, high-bandwidth, low-latency networks and this is where standards such as Multi-Gig Ethernet are crucial.

Final Thoughts

Warren Bennis, world-recognized authority on market leadership used to say: “The factory of the future will have only two employees – a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

Warren might have said similar words about the automobile of the future: “It will have only three entities – a person, ADAS, and Multi-Gig Ethernet. The person will be there to turn on the ADAS.  ADAS will be there to keep the person from driving the automobile. And Multi-Gig Ethernet will be there to connect the ADAS.”