Innovations in Automotive Wireless

How various wireless communication protocols are shaping the automobile’s future.

Though they can still both be categorized as cars, there is a vast difference between the models of past generations and those which are now starting to emerge. And that gap is destined to get even wider. The elevated degrees of complexity now being seen in automotive design are allowing a wealth of new functionality to be incorporated—thereby improving safety, boosting operational efficiency, and enhancing the overall driver experience.

Figure 1: The infrastructure supporting connected cars is expected to depend on wireless solutions supported by a high-bandwidth Ethernet-based wireline backbone.

Figure 1: The infrastructure supporting connected cars is expected to depend on wireless solutions supported by a high-bandwidth Ethernet-based wireline backbone.

The migration away from mechanical systems to ones that are purely electronic, known by the umbrella term x-by-wire, is enabling vehicle weight to be reduced and thus improving fuel economy. Likewise, the advent of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) is leading to far greater levels of safety for road users—and this is only the beginning. In the coming years, technological progression will take the car even further away from its origins.

One of the key objectives for automobile manufacturers is to drive forward the concept of the ‘connected car’. This will bring us closer to the long term objective of autonomous driving. Benefitting from a more extensive array of different communication technologies, vehicles will be able to support features and capabilities that would have previously been unthinkable.

Wireless technology (with the support of a high-bandwidth Ethernet-based wireline backbone) will be the foundation upon which connected cars will rely. It is through this that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication will be made possible.

Key Wireless Technologies
The incorporation of Wi-Fi into car models is becoming increasingly commonplace. At this stage design-in activity is predominantly centered around 802.11ac technology–which can comfortably support data rates in the hundreds of Mbps. It provides a way for portable electronic items (like smartphones) to interface with the vehicle’s infotainment and navigation systems, as well as offering the means to share a cellular connection (thereby delivering a Wi-Fi hotspot in and around the car). There are other dimensions, too. It is recognized that automotive life cycles progress at a much slower pace than is seen within the consumer space. A car’s functionality isn’t permanently fixed, so a vehicle can benefit from new solutions as embedded engineers, for example, and develop them. What’s more, these as these solutions become upgrades for the car, it will be possible to implement them via firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) updates across Wi-Fi, avoiding trips for servicing and saving time and effort.

802.11ac based Wi-Fi is complemented by the latest incarnation of the Bluetooth wireless protocol. Bluetooth 5 is certain to be a valuable element in the advancement of connected cars. It significantly boosts the operational range (quadrupling the distance covered by Bluetooth 4) and the speed supported by previous versions. As a result, Bluetooth 5 will have a broad scope of uses. In addition to allowing the vehicle’s occupants to connect their portable devices to realize music sharing and hands-free control, numerous other benefits become possible. For example, the greater performance delivered by Bluetooth 5 will mean that the vehicle has the ability to interact with distributed beacons, which will form part of the V2I network. Road tolls, congestion charge payments, and various valuable information services will be enabled. With utilization of V2I, traffic movements will become smoother, with the chance of gridlock greatly reduced. Vehicles will be able to get information from traffic lights regarding their stop-go cycles, allowing ADAS to determine when to decelerate and arrive just in time for the lights to turn green. Having such information to go on, rather than just braking when close to a stop signal, can help lower vehicle fuel consumption.

Figure 2: Data from traffic lights could lead to efficient management of stop-go cycles, a boon to fuel savings.

Figure 2: Data from traffic lights could lead to efficient management of stop-go cycles, a boon to fuel savings.

Intelligent Transportation System Applications Are Coming
Already set to see widespread adoption in vehicles is the emerging 802.11p standard. It stems from the established 802.11 Wi-Fi foundation, taking advantage of its longstanding success and effective ubiquity, but is specifically designed to deal with the challenges of deployment within an automotive setting. It resides in the 5.9 GHz frequency band and relies on seven communication channels, each 10 MHz wide, with six being service channels, along with one additional channel focused on control tasks. The 802.11p standard supports an ultra-reliable, low latency connection through which both V2V and V2I communication can be enabled. It will consequently support intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications as they start to be implemented. Through this, vehicles will be able to send out data concerning their current position, the direction they are travelling, and what their speed is. In a V2I context, this technology could be used to transfer data between cars and surrounding municipal infrastructure, thus allowing more advanced warning of traffic jams, accidents, and suchlike, as well as ascertaining available parking spaces. In a V2V context, it could also furnish vehicles with the ability to talk to one another, so information on a potential hazard that one vehicle has identified is subsequently passed to nearby vehicles.

Advanced wireless technologies, such as those discussed in this article, are set to play a pivotal part in putting connected cars onto our roads. The range expansion that is made possible by Bluetooth 5, the strong data rate capabilities of 802.11ac, and implementation of 802.11p to ensure that Wi-Fi is fully effective in a high-reliability, low-latency automotive setting, all have considerable appeal. Having been involved in the automotive sector for many years, Marvell’s engineering team fully appreciates the challenges involved in obtaining elevated degrees of performance and robustness. In order for connected cars to truly become a reality, what is needed are sophisticated, highly integrated solutions that comprise multiple wireless technologies in compact, automotive-grade packages. The recently announced 88W8987xA series from Marvell is a prime example of this. The devices in this AEC-Q100 wireless combo SoC offering are the first to cover Bluetooth 5, 802.11ac Wi-Fi (Wave 2) and 802.11p, providing engineers with the flexibility they need to address the growing demands for greater wireless connectivity in vehicles.

The series comprises three  footprint-compatible devices—an 802.11ac with Bluetooth 5, an 802.11p with Bluetooth 5 and a switchable 802.11ac/802.11p with Bluetooth 5 device. Engineers are thus presented with options that will allow them to follow a more cost-effective and less resource heavy platform approach. Different versions can be selected depending on the car model, with economy models having basic functionality and luxury models being fitted with higher end capabilities. As these devices can be interchanged without needing modifications to the PCB, the feature set that a vehicle model supports can be upgraded, making it future-proof.

AvinashFullRez-2-(1)Avinash Ghirnikar is Director of Technical Marketing, Connectivity Business Group, Marvell. As a key part of Marvell’s Connectivity Business Unit (CBU), Ghirnikar promotes the company’s wireless solutions globally into the automotive market segment, covering Wi-Fi/BT and 802.11p solutions. He works closely with customers to develop new use cases and architectures in automotive which drive Marvell’s wireless product roadmaps. Ghirnikar received a BSc in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay and his PhD in Electrical & Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University.

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