The automotive electronics revolution is here

9 November 2012

IRVINE, Calif.–Back-up cameras seem almost quaint today, even though the technology is just moving into the mainstream automotive market. That’s because there’s a sense that technology is catching fire really quickly in automotive design and not just at the high end.

Earlier this year, as we steered the Volt through the sunny southern California climes, we pulled into Broadcom and convened a panel of automotive experts to get their perspective on what’s going on in the industry.

Two big take-aways: open standards are helping quicken the pace of automotive innovation and at the same time are giving OEMs are car manufacturers an opportunity to move their R&D dollars into new and exciting areas.

The 34-minute panel — featuring Ali Abaye, Richard Barrett, Yongbum Kim, and Tim Lau — is embedded below, but what follows in the text are some highlights with links to the segments within the videotaped panel where they expounded on an idea or question.

First off was our discussion of ethernet, which is rapidly becoming the de facto networking backbone in automotive designs. This has implications not only for reducing cabling weight in an automotive design but allowing design engineers to leverage the standard to plug in ethernet-ready services inside the car, according to Abaye (1:29-6:50), who is senior director of marketing, networking infrastructure.

The question arises, then, is this the type of solution, given the relative low cost of an established technology such as ethernet, that might get proliferated quickly from high to low-end vehicles? (6:55)

We then asked Barrett, who is product marketing director for wireless connectivity in the automotive sector, what trends he is seeing; the biggie? Wireless LAN leveraging the smart phone as the control device, Barrett said (starts at 9:21 and runs to 14:42). Barrett went on to describe how the expected completion of the 802.11ac wireless standard will affect automotive design (starts at 10:31). The big application? Personalization of the car.

Driverless cars are getting a boost from ethernet but more so from wireless communications. You have microseconds improvement in the ability of a car to respond.

Passive to active safety
In fact, if you take into consideration that the automotive design cycle is 5-7 years, engineers at this very moment are designing driverless systems that will be introduced in model years at the end of the decade, according to Kim, who is senior technical director at
Broadcom for automotive (17:00-20:00).

Lau, senior product line manager for automotive ethernet, dived into existing designs that are happening now especially the shift from passive safety to active safety (20:01-21:25).

In fact, at a higher level, the automotive industry is about to enter a period of explosive innovation, according to Lau (starts at 22:18).

Future options
Perhaps the biggest impact we will see in the coming years is how the adoption of technologies such as WiFi and ethernet will free car makers to focus their R&D in other more pressing areas, Abaye said (Starts at 26:24).

But all this automotive electronics innovation may have a downside for drivers, according to Kim, who acknowledges that he loves to
drive; he helped close our panel with a funny observation: (Starts at 32:31).

Here’s the complete panel:

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