How reduced cable weight can improve connected vehicle efficiency

Automotive Ethernet may be able to kill two birds with one stone, according to experts

Speaking at Automotive Megatrends India 2015, Ninad Deshpande, Specialist, Open Technologies at B&R Industrial Automation, suggested that there was significant potential for Ethernet cable to reduce vehicle weight and manage the complex transfer of data within a connected vehicle.

Ninad Deshpande, Megatrends India
Ninad Deshpande, Specialist, Open Technologies at B&R Industrial Automation at Megatrends India 2015

In short, he suggested that OEMs could ‘kill two birds with one stone’: meeting stringent emissions and fuel economy regulations, whilst assisting OEMs in their push for highly connected vehicles.

Comparing Ethernet cables to highways and dense wire clusters to rural road networks, he said: “When you use smaller roads, you have problems with speed, traffic is congested, safety becomes an issue and there are also lower levels of engine efficiency.” In comparison, he pointed out, modern highways are “straight forward,” and as such the flow of traffic is direct, well managed, more efficient and safe.

The megatrend spurring on the introduction of Automotive Ethernet is the growing importance of in-car electronics. New active safety features and entertainment systems require significantly more cabling in order to facilitate the transfer of data. As Dr Ali Abaye, Senior Director, Automotive at Broadcom wrote recently for Automotive World, “Connected cars have morphed from offering a back-up camera and navigation system to a complex network on wheels. Automotive Ethernet transforms the entire vehicle into a centralised, secure data centre with proven standards of compliance, performance and protection.”

“This complexity is growing simply because of the needs of the user; it is down to what we demand,” said Deshpande. Although Abaye pointed to Ethernet as a solution to cyber security troubles, Deshpande focused on its potential to keep things light and simple. But in reality, how significant is the weight of in-vehicle cabling? “You have a lot of cables, sensors and actuators, and as such the number of cables and wires within a heavy commercial vehicle can total about 3,000 metres in length, with a combined weight of up to 100kg.”

Making the unsustainable, sustainable

Ethernet cable can reduce vehicle weight and manage the complex transfer of data

A controller area network (CAN) bus is used to allow devices within the car to communicate with eachother, but with the level of ‘devices’ – microcontrollers – in the car increasing, the CAN bus “is not able to sustain the bandwidths,” said Deshpande. “You can simply increase the number of interfaces on the electronic control units (ECUs), but this also adds weight to the vehicle, making it less efficient. Ethernet is less complex, and reduces the number of cables and associated costs.”

Given that Deshpande was speaking at a Megatrends conference, he pointed out that his comments related to a future solution that is yet to penetrate the automotive industry. “Emissions can be helped through a switch to Ethernet for sure, however, we cannot do this overnight. It is gradual a process,” he said. “We already have this solution in the agricultural industry, and slowly but surely, it will change in automotive too.”

There is a considerable number of buses in a vehicle, he concluded, “and what we are suggesting is one bus to take care of all requirements, with a matched performance.”

Freddie Holmes

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