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Automotive Ethernet Consortium Takes 100Mbps Ethernet to the Street

Consortium’s objective is to help producers of BroadR-Reach devices and auto manufacturers bring their products to market faster, while ensuring there is broad market appeal devices through interoperability and conformance testing and demonstrating product readiness.

By Cheryl Coupé, Editor

The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) recently announced the launch of the Automotive Ethernet Consortium, which hopes to pave the way for semiconductor companies to address automotive industry requirements for next generation in-vehicle networking. We talked to Dave Estes, Ethernet manager and research and development engineer for UNH-IOL, and Jeff Lapak, UNH-IOL senior manager for Ethernet technologies to get more background and to understand what the announcement means for developers of embedded automotive systems.

First, some background. A year ago, the OPEN Alliance (One-Pair Ether-Net) Special Interest Group (SIG) was announced by Broadcom, NXP, Freescale, and Harman International, along with founding automotive members BMW and Hyundai, to encourage wide-scale adoption of 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity as the standard in automotive networking applications. The approach is based on Broadcom's BroadR-Reach technology to allow multiple in-vehicle systems (such as infotainment, automated driver assistance and on board-diagnostics) to simultaneously access information over unshielded single twisted pair cable. By eliminating shielded cabling, the group expects automotive manufacturers can significantly reduce connectivity costs and cabling weight.

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Figure 1: Broadcom's BroadR-Reach® Ethernet solutions power the next-generation connected car. Image provided by Broadcom Corporation

UNH-IOL is the first laboratory to be endorsed by the OPEN Alliance to provide neutral testing for the BroadR-Reach standard, but is no stranger to this approach: the lab was founded in 1988 to do Ethernet 10Base-T testing. The lab employs about 100 undergraduates and 10 graduate assistants, plus about 20 full-time staff members, and has 20-22 consortia doing testing for different technologies at any given time. Consortia membership varies from year to year, but the lab typically works with more than 200 companies. These organizations’ year-long memberships allow access to testing and equipment throughout the year. While the lab is affiliated with the University of New Hampshire, all projects are funded by industry through membership and testing fees. The lab is active in IEEE 802.3 working groups and the Ethernet Alliance.

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Figure 2: Representatives from companies participating in a University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) plugfest assemble at the laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire. UNH-IOL plugfests allow participating companies to test their products and identify interoperability issues early, speeding go to market time for products.

For embedded developers of automotive systems, the lab offers the confidence that Ethernet-based products are interoperable and conformant to the customer’s expectations. Developers should be able to reduce time to market by having an existing set of test beds available for them to come in and test against, as well as the potential competitive advantage of an Ethernet-based system that is proven compliant and interoperable. The lab is careful to maintain third-party independence and neutrality to make sure that even direct competitors can use the lab for testing, knowing the results will stay completely confidential.

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According to Jeff Lapak, auto manufacturers who are part of the Open Alliance are looking towards Ethernet as the way of the future. Most of the big automotive players are consortium members, including BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, GM, Ford, Hyundai and Toyota, and new members are joining all the time. Although testing is currently only available to semiconductor companies, the UNH-IOL plans to open membership to parts suppliers and automotive manufacturers as adoption of the BroadR-Reach standard progresses. Dave Estes provided the following responses via email.

EECatalog: What was the objective for establishing the Automotive Ethernet Consortium? What does “success” look like a year from now? Five years from now?

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Dave Estes, UNH-IOL: The objective is to help producers of BroadR-Reach devices and auto manufacturers bring their products to market faster and to ensure there is broad market appeal for these devices through interoperability and conformance testing and demonstrating product readiness. In a year we hope to have several members including semiconductor companies, parts suppliers and auto manufacturers. Success would also mean having tested a reasonable number of products and showing proven interoperability. In five years we hope to have even more members and to be testing the next generation of in-car Ethernet being standardized by the IEEE, which is called Reduced Twisted Pair Gigabit Ethernet (RTPGE).

EECatalog: Are there key semiconductor (or other technology) vendors who are taking alternative approaches?

Estes, UNH-IOL: I am not aware of any other Ethernet technologies that are targeted for the automotive industry. There are several other in-car technologies that vendors may be invested in. Additionally, not all vendors will have become members of our consortium at this time, as it is still in an early-adopter state.

EECatalog: How will this group interact with other relevant in-vehicle networking standards groups, such as the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Groups?

Estes, UNH-IOL: This group will be actively participating in the IEEE802.3 RTPGE working group which is defining the Gigabit Ethernet PHY that is expected to be used in the automotive industry. We will also be working with the OPEN Alliance and the AVnu Alliance.

EECatalog: What’s holding back the broad use of Ethernet in in-car networks? What issues still need to be addressed?

Estes, UNH-IOL: Prior to BroadR-Reach, Ethernet was not widely used in in-car networks simply because the auto manufacturers had to use shielded cables to meet the automobile EMC requirements. Shielded cables are heavier and more expensive. BroadR-Reach is able to meet the EMC requirements over a single unshielded twisted pair, saving weight and cost. Additionally there was no alliance or forum that had formed to select a single automotive Ethernet standard, therefore the market could not easily select a single approach. As for issues that still exist, this is the main reason we launched our effort. At this point a standard is selected and the technology will be adopted faster by proving that it works.

EECatalog: How will the migration from multiple “closed” systems to a single Ethernet-based network play out for developers? Are there challenges they’ll need to address as this evolution proceeds?

Estes, UNH-IOL: By using a standardized version of Ethernet and proper testing, auto manufacturers will have access to a wide variety of products from multiple suppliers while guaranteeing that the networking interfaces will work together. However as in all technology deployments, each individual auto manufacturer will need to address how best to migrate into using this technology.

EECatalog: Some of the advantages of this standard include more cost-effective safety and driver-assistance applications as well as advanced power savings that may be especially important for electric cars. What other opportunities for innovation do you expect to see as this approach gains momentum?

Estes, UNH-IOL: Some other advantages are reducing the weight of the cable harnesses in cars, which should reduce cost and increase performance (fuel-efficiency). Also the nature of Ethernet networks means that by using packet switching an appropriate amount of bandwidth can be allocated to different systems. There are far too many other potential applications to comment on what may be actually developed (car safety systems like radar, cameras, infotainment systems, drive-by-wire, etc.).

EECatalog: There’s already a lot of talk about security concerns with connected cars. Is that an issue you’re addressing?

Estes, UNH-IOL: This issue will not be immediately addressed by our Automotive Ethernet Consortium; however this is an area that we can explore in the future because our lab has a lot of expertise in security protocols such as MACsec and IPsec. Also currently this technology is a wired solution; connected cars, on the other hand, I believe refers to wireless communication between vehicles, which is not currently part of this effort.

EECatalog: Are there any common misunderstandings about the consortium’s approach that you continue to run into? What questions do you find yourself answering regularly (or not often enough)?

Estes, UNH-IOL: The common misunderstandings are very similar to that we would have in any consortium. They generally revolve around the membership model, although we also offer pay-per-test services, and how they can access our test bed. There are also general questions about what kind of products we can test.

Editor’s Note: While Intel is not currently a member of the Automotive Ethernet Consortium, the company provided this comment: “Intel is excited about the opportunities for automotive use of Ethernet. While it appears simple on the surface to replace hundreds of pounds/kilos of complex wiring there is a significant effort underway to apply to automotive standards for reliability, predictability and durability. Intel is active in industry alliances that are taking an open approach to apply IEEE standards to these requirements. The alliance has supported automotive industry workgroups focused on development and adoption of these standards. For example, Intel is maintainer of a new open source project operating within AVnu called Open AVB, designed to encourage developers to take advantage of the APIs being defined within these alliances.”

 


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Cheryl Berglund Coupé is editor of EECatalog.com. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review and Windows Developer’s Journal and she has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.