Setting technical standards can advance vehicle connectivity

Features - Standards

Standards organizations and trade groups must collaborate to clear bottlenecks to autonomous and connected cars for those technologies to reach their potential.

March 11, 2021

Photo courtesy of Molex

Fully connected cars are on the horizon. As auto manufacturers worldwide integrate more connectivity capabilities, they bring the entire industry closer to fulfilling visions for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous drive. Accelerating the push is more vehicle owners embracing the idea that increased connectivity and ADAS will vastly improve personal safety. Navigating the road ahead, however, will require avoiding numerous technology, standards, and user acceptance obstacles.

According to a recent global automotive survey commissioned by connectivity systems manufacturer Molex, 94% of automotive manufacturing decision makers polled expect cars to include autonomous driving by 2030. Only 28% of the participants, however, envision fully self-driving cars in that timeframe. Respondents were much more optimistic about connectivity: electrification and connectivity were cited as the top two areas of innovation in the next decade.

Advances in connectivity, such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and car-to-mobile-device integration, were ranked among the top five most likely standard features by 2030. What’s needed is a holistic, cooperative approach that aligns automotive design engineers, system architects, software developers, network engineers, interconnectivity providers, and standards bodies to identify, invest in, and integrate technologies that comprise the ADAS ecosystem. It’s not a question of if, but when and how the industry can come together to make this happen.

Igniting the market

Adopting initial ADAS functions, such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and hands-free parallel parking, is becoming more commonplace. However, overall adoption of all five levels of vehicle autonomy (from Level 1 minor assistance to Level 5 completely autonomous) has been slower than expected. What must be done to ignite and motivate the market to spur advancements?

Various standards bodies, industry groups, and associations are ideally positioned to provide stronger guidelines and more definitive directions on next steps. Organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) are delivering exemplary engineering work on connectivity must-haves such as Automotive Ethernet, but more needs to be done.

IEEE’s open format encourages industry players to develop products that enable the most innovative and effective design solutions to stand out. In turn, this creates competition for other designers and engineers to prove who can offer the most capabilities at the best economic value proposition while ensuring standards-based products work seamlessly with other products and solutions across the automotive ecosystem.

The Automotive SerDes Association (ASA) recognizes the challenges facing the industry, particularly how information is transmitted by the growing number of sensors, connectors, and cables in connected cars. A consortium of automotive technology companies, ASA’s members are striving to advance standardization of asymmetrical, high-performance SerDes (serializer/deserializer) technology for broadband connection of sensors for autonomous driving.

Powering ADAS will necessitate continued advancements in Automotive Ethernet and interconnectivity standards. Requirements for data processing are increasing rapidly in keeping with improvements in high-performance cameras, automotive radar and LiDAR systems, in-vehicle networks (IVNs), and external communications systems (V2V and vehicle-to-everything) with lower latency, increased signal processing integrity, higher reliability, and greater bandwidth. Manufacturers and suppliers with connectivity expertise from the IT, telecom, and data center worlds will be among the first to address these emerging requirements most effectively. Transmission speeds and fault tolerance are non-negotiable for ensuring safe, fully autonomous driving.

Another group with the potential to play a significant role in ADAS evolution is the eSync Alliance, an open consortium seeking to standardize end-to-end, over-the-air (OTA) updates and data gathering for enabling whole car communications with any number of electronic devices in the connected car. To foster industry-wide cooperation, eSync is also part of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA), which is trying to facilitate increased collaboration among companies, organizations, and governmental bodies focused on developing bidirectional vehicle communications.

Over-the-air (OTA) updates are the future, but this will require full acceptance by automakers and they’re not yet all in. Reluctance impacts the entire supply chain, because designers, manufacturers, and suppliers can’t dedicate massive resources unless vehicles are clearly being developed and produced to use this technology.

ADAS is a team sport

As a critical enabler in the driving process, ADAS must deliver highly accurate information, free from environmental factors and external interference. Moreover, the system must process, judge, and act upon all data with precise, real-time decisions. The required interconnectivity creates unprecedented complexity and seamless handoffs between devices, data, and networks in vehicle architecture.

ADAS is a team sport, as no single car maker can lead all development of next-generation vehicles. Understanding how the overall system works to ensure safety, security, and redundancy is crucial to designing those attributes into the connected car of the future.

The notion of embedding compliant, certified security and diagnostics capabilities into automotive devices is a crucial first step to reducing ADAS development barriers. To gain traction, however, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to get involved in industry-wide initiatives and resist reinventing what already exists, which will only slow progress and create additional roadblocks.

Aside from closing gaps in interoperability, standardization will improve the economic value proposition of new technologies. The only way to reduce ADAS costs is to produce the software, electronics, and interconnectivity solutions in greater numbers, increasing viable business cases. Ever-increasing numbers of autonomous applications will hasten development while creating market momentum.

Industry players should follow the lead from lessons learned by Amazon’s Zoox, which has announced driverless ride-hailing services in Las Vegas, Nevada; and San Francisco, California. Google’s Waymo is offering the same in the Phoenix, Arizona, suburbs. Meanwhile, General Motors’ Cruise will be testing driverless cars in San Francisco while proposing various delivery options.

With the growing presence of technology innovators, such as Apple, Google, and Amazon, wanting to shape the form and function of tomorrow’s vehicles, now is the time for an industry shift. All participants should be working together, sharing information, and playing to their individual strengths to develop innovations that solve challenges.

Accelerating innovation

Business use cases centered on advancements in 5G networking and Automotive Ethernet will reduce the complexities of V2X communications. Designers and manufacturers also must focus on developing new connectivity solutions – such as cellular-, WiFi6-, or DSRC-V2X antenna systems; millimeter-wave antennas; high precision GNSS connectivity devices; and signal transceivers – to keep improving the efficiency and performance of the vehicle architecture.

Today’s cars reportedly have more than 100 million lines of software code, so the need to collect actionable data while quickly locating, troubleshooting, and fixing complex systems is critical. This requires a collective effort to design interoperable automotive devices that ensure data integrity, security, safety, low latency, adequate bandwidth, and timing.

Software also has the power to transform the design and development of connected cars, including the steady climb to fully autonomous driving. Automotive designers can rely on evolving digital tools and software simulations to simplify and speed the development process. Stimulating nearly every part of a car design before entering the test and validation phase can result in shaving months – even years – and millions of dollars off final development and production costs.

Down the road

BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Toyota, Volkswagen Group, and others are investing and innovating to bring ADAS within reach. Emerging business use cases are continuing to justify major investments. Still, these investments cannot be made isolated from the other systems that must connect and communicate.

Addressing cybersecurity requirements will remain a top priority, as the need to safeguard data grows exponentially with increased connectivity. For manufacturers, getting involved in industry-wide standards development, and even initiating the process, will go a long way to resolving technology, regulatory, and standards gaps.

The ability to deliver next-gen features and functionality at a price point palatable to consumers will require continued innovation and collaboration among all automotive stakeholders. If any motivation is needed, there’s the lurking reality of tenuous consumer brand loyalty.

According to market intelligence firm Mintel, 44% of consumers said they would change automakers when acquiring their next vehicle for one that better understood their needs. As an increasingly important part of buying decisions are made on who has the best connectivity and computing functionality, this should keep the best innovators and designers at the forefront.

Molex LLC

About the author: Gary Manchester is director of technology and innovation/connected mobility at Molex.