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In-Car Ethernet: The Backbone of the Automobile

If someone asked you “What is the backbone of your car?” you might respond with “the chassis” or perhaps “the drive train.” But according to Kevin Brown, VP and general manager of the Phy Group for Broadcom, that answer is going to be “Ethernet.”

Several miles worth of cables snakes through the innards of the average vehicle, controlling everything from the anti-lock breaks to your gas gauge. The result is a labyrinth of interwoven lines and adding significant weight to the car, which Ethernet aims to relieve.

Not only would Ethernet alleviate the significant costs and complexity of traditional wiring, this less-expensive, lightweight solution would also reduce a vehicle's weight, boosting fuel efficiency.

While Broadcom estimates that Ethernet adoption could reduce connectivity costs by a not-insignificant 80 percent, its estimation of a 30 percent reduction in wiring weight spells up to 100 pounds in weight reduction.

However, in order to reap the benefits of this sizable weight reduction, car manufacturers would first need to integrate several black boxes to which the Ethernet would connect. Ultimately, each car would have a single, master black box that controls the entire vehicle. By this token, the black box would function as the car's brain, with the Ethernet acting as the spinal cord. So, perhaps “backbone” was a premature label.

Currently, the promise of in-car Ethernet is limited to non-critical systems, such as back-up cameras, but it's not hard to imagine a system that would link SatNav to the transmission controller, allowing the car to make on-the-fly changes to the suspension and gear ratios in order to maximize fuel economy.

Despite the promise of in-car Ethernet and the dedicated efforts put in by collaborations by companies such as Hyundai and Broadcom, the technology is still years away from showroom floors, let alone broad-scale implementation.

This won't be automakers' first attempt at in-car Ethernet implementation: BMW created both the “multiplex” system found in the 1980's 8-Series coupe, as well as the “Flexray” technology used in the current X5 SUV. But unlike previous iterations, in-car Ethernet is now capable of anywhere from 100 Mbps to 1Gbps while continuing to reduce complexity, weight and cost.

Full story at Wired


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