One radio, multiple standards: BMW, Eurecom implement SDR car solution

October 04, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Automotive-related radio communications is an increasingly difficult terrain: Where once AM and FM receivers completely met the requirements of automotive infotainment, today a vast diversity of different standards is in use to interconnect the car with its environment - and the diverse electronic devices inside the car among each other. For automotive OEMs, this situation is increasingly a challenge. In order to keep hardware complexity at bay, BMW has joined forces with a number of partners and implemented a software-defined radio platform capable to handle the diversity of standards.

In the PROTON-PLATA research project (Programmable Telematics Onboard Radio), a cooperative effort of French post-graduate university Eurecom, the Munich Technical University, technology group Thales SA and BMW, researchers have implemented a software-defined radio platform that embraces the functionality of infotainment, traffic message channel, and car-to-x communications. The functionality of the prototype demonstrated by the research partners is limited to this functionality, but eventually the device will be able to handle more communication standards and tasks, explained project leader Peter Fertl.

The SDR (software defined radio) approach would enable telematics, infotainment and radio communications designers to run such different tasks as car-to-x communications (IEEE 802.11p) and Digital Audio Broadcast on one platform, Fertl said. Thus, the number of different control units inside the car would be greatly reduced - after all, these standards do not only vary from region to region, but they also change very rapidly over time. An SDR platform could be adapted to a new standard or a new standard version by a simple software update. In addition, it would help automotive designers to keep pace with fast-moving consumer electronics standards. The discrepancy between the design cycles for cars and for consumer electronics devices such as mobile phones and the like had created an increasing challenge for car electronics developers.

For the PROTON/PLATA researchers, it was particularly interesting to combine local telematics data transmitted by roadside stations or by other cars participating in the car-to-x communications scheme, and global traffic data received by broadcast stations in one unit. Thus, the services handled by the platform would contribute to overall traffic safety, Fertl said.

The design of the platform demoed recently at the Eurecom campus in Sophia Antipolis (France) was based on an FPGA. Thus, it is possible to follow the approach of time-multiplexed hardware and dynamic partial reconfiguration, explained researcher Raymond Knopp.

It is unclear if and when BMW will turn the research platform into a real product.