A crash course in “the connected car”

July 21, 2014 // By Peter Nicholson, Spirent Communications
As our somewhat cheesy headline suggests, there’s plenty of scope for sensationalising automotive connectivity but, for both the automotive and IT industries, there remain serious issues on how to ensure safe, practical solutions both within a vehicle and for external connection, according to Peter Nicholson, Spirent Communications

Figure 1 gives some idea of how the buzz-phrase “connected car” is catching on. It is still rising fast, with Juniper Research predicting that nearly 100 million cars will have Internet access by 2016. Much of the public’s interest has focussed on external connection – to the Internet, to intelligent traffic signalling, and between vehicles – but for the automotive industry the term “connected car” also has major implications for connectivity within a vehicle.

Figure 1: Click image to enlarge.

Vehicles have always been internally connected with internal linkages and wiring to deliver monitoring, diagnostic and control functions to the dashboard or between systems. In today’s connected car, however, these separate functions increasingly converge towards a single network – as has happened elsewhere. Enterprises also experienced a proliferation of electronic networks at the end of the 20th century: a corporate Ethernet LAN, a telephone network, one connecting burglar alarms, one connecting fire alarms, maybe another connecting access security on some doors, another providing environmental monitoring and control – let alone the machine control networks also required on a manufacturing site. But now all these independent networks are converging onto the Ethernet system, and a host of different wiring networks are being replaced by a single IT network that allows all the separate functions to continue as if they still had their own independent wiring system.

The same convergence has been happening in the car. When once there would be separate sets of wires going to the brake lights, fuel gauge, indicators and so on, increasingly these are using different protocols to share a common network.

However, the challenge in any complex system is that it is very difficult to predict exactly how it will behave when new factors are added. The Ethernet packets carrying voice messages on the corporate network have very different needs to the signals carrying a fire alarm, for example; so if the one network is going to serve a host of new services then the only sure way to know that it will continue to work under all circumstances is to test it rigorously under all realistic and extreme operating conditions.

The same will apply as cars become more connected.

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