(Note: This article originally appeared on EE Times Europe.
While the FlexRay automotive data bus system has yet to find mass acceptance in volume vehicles, some OEMs already consider connectivity options beyond FlexRay. At a congress, BMW detailed plans to roll out Ethernet/IP technology within vehicles.
While the FlexRay technology still has ways to go for broad acceptance in volume vehicles, it is state of the art in the upper class. For instance, in its latest series 5 sedan, BMW has implemented up to 17 FlexRay ECUs, said BMW top electronics designer Elmar Frickenstein at an automotive electronics meeting in Ludwigsburg (Germany). "Today, FlexRay can be regarded as standard in the automotive industry", he said. Independently of this, semiconductor vendor NXP announced the same day it has shipped two million FlexRay transceivers and announced to broaden its respective product portfolio during the course of the year.
Nevertheless, rising data volumes to be processed within the vehicles call for even higher bandwidth for in-car networks. Examples are real-time image and video data generated by multiple cameras. These data are used to compute complete digital representations of the area surrounding a car and generate blind spot warnings, pedestrian recognition and detection of obstacles in general. The concept is known as "sensor fusion" and embraces data generated by video and infrared cameras as well as radar and ultrasonic sensors. It can be characterized by high data volumes to be processed and transported in this context.
"When it comes to fast communications with large quantities of data, one needs to go a step beyond FlexRay," Frickenstein said. According to the automotive electronics mastermind, the technology of choice will be a combination of Ethernet and the Internet Protocol (IP).
A major reason to choose this technology is that it is a mature technology with very high production volumes throughout the IT industry. As a result, the technology is very competitive in terms of pricing. The technology, enhanced by real-time capability and features ensuring high reliability, could help to integrate cars into global data infrastructures. "The car will become an IP node in the world wide web", Frickenstein said. "We believe that this will be a way for the future."
Ethernet is already in use for few selected car applications, such as software updates within garage environments. By 2013, BMW will implement Ethernet / IP networks in specific subsystems such as cameras. By 2020, the company according to Frickenstein plans to realize a comprehensive, efficient E/E architecture based on Ethernet and IP.