DEARBORN, Mich. — As I follow the automotive industry, where safety demands are paramount, a long product development cycle is a given, and margins are low, I'm slowly learning that revolutionary changes are hard to come by.
In contrast, in the electronics industry where I grew up as a beat reporter, changes -- I mean, big, constant changes -- are the key to survival.
In that context, when I attended the Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum (IESF), an automotive industry event held here last week sponsored by Mentor Graphics, I was fascinated to note names like Google and Tesla coming up so often -- during the keynote speech, presentations, even at cocktail hour and dinner. Google and Tesla, both tech companies with no traditional automotive ties, appear to be very much admired but also viewed as a thorn in the side of Detroit's automakers.
I also learned that an idea like bringing Ethernet into cars, which might have been once viewed as a "revolutionary" step, is slowly but surely gaining a foothold even in the conservative automotive industry.
During a speech entitled "In-Vehicle Networking Simulation: Both Sides of the Story," Vincent Bidault, telecom and network specialist at Renault, showed slides that illustrate how applications of CE technology are becoming an integral part of the in-car networking roadmap.
The key point of his presentation was how system-wide vision and electrical simulation are critical in the design of in-car networking. Removing or adding one ECU in an existing CAN network, for example, can profoundly affect the electrical integrity of the signal. The new global length of the network wires and differences in electrostatic discharge (ESD) on the CAN bus can influence harness diversity, resulting in extra cost and logistic issues for automotive system designers, Bidault explained.
When asked, after the presentation, where Renault stands in terms of embracing Ethernet in its cars, Bidault replied, "We've started to look into [the transition from FlexRay to] Ethernet."
Renault's Vincent Bidault shows a roadmap for in-car networking.
Of course, such a transition is no overnight affair. Any changes in in-car networking require good system vision and a lot of electrical simulations. But also, a growing number of carmakers, including Renault, are beginning to see Ethernet as a fault-tolerant bus for fast and reliable applications.
Hans-Juergen Mantsch, technical marketing engineer, responsible for Mentor Graphics' automotive networking design, identified "diagnostics" as the first place Ethernet is already making inroads inside the car. When a car is brought to a shop for diagnostics, it's well known that tracking down the source of an ECU warning signal can end up being a day's work. The Ethernet, by replacing the bottleneck CAN bus, has powers to speed up the process of ECU flashing.
Mantsch went even further. "The end game envisioned by some is to do ECU flashing wirelessly -- by having cars [brought into the shop for diagnostics] parked in a parking lot and do software updating simultaneously."