DETROIT – In-car connectivity is strangling the auto industry.
So says Daniel Shwartzberg, whose company, Israel-based microchip supplier Valens, is offering a solution that appears to be gaining traction with automakers as they begin the march toward the automated-driving age.
Called HDBaseT, Valens’ long-touted, high-speed connectivity solution has entered the advanced testing stage at several automakers and Tier 1 suppliers and will move to the next phase with its first production program set for a ʼ20-model Mercedes vehicle platform.
The problem the industry faces, as Shwartzberg sees it, is the need for vehicle systems to process and share exponentially growing amounts of onboard data quickly while being hampered by an aging wiring architecture that is too slow and too complicated to get the job done.
Currently, vehicle electronics systems resemble a Tower of Babel of connectivity. Some microprocessors and devices run on the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus communication protocol. Others operate via FlexRay, Linux, TTP (Time Triggered Protocol) or Ethernet networks.
The multiple connectivity technologies are used because some devices perform better with specific protocols. But to share data throughout the vehicle, special networking gateways are needed to serve as data translators so a system or device operating on one protocol can talk with one tied into another.
HDBaseT promises to solve that communications snarl, Valens contends, because it can work well as the connectivity solution for all onboard applications.
“If we can get everything to work with HDBaseT in the future, then everything can interoperate together,” says Shwartzberg, Valens’ technical marketing manager. “We will no longer need these gateways.”
Such a scenario is a long way off, the Valens executive admits. The initial Mercedes application is focused solely on the vehicle’s infotainment system, and the company will need a few more smaller wins before it can even hope to persuade automakers to apply HDBaseT technology across the board. But without the Valens high-speed technology, or something like it, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers will have a tough time turning the promise of automated driving and vehicle-to-everything connectivity into a reality, Shwartzberg contends.
“We’re at the point where the OEMs are being held back in terms of their technology, simply because of the amount of (onboard) infrastructure that’s needed,” he says.
HDBaseT holds several advantages over existing connectivity technology. Most importantly it offers a high bandwidth, with current chipsets capable of processing up to two gigabytes a second and future generation technology on the way that doubles and triples that speed.
“The roadmap takes us beyond that as well,” Shwartzberg says, pointing to forecasts autonomous vehicles will create four terabytes of data or more each day that will need to be distributed. “That requires a very, very high-speed data link. Four gigs (per second processing speed) and beyond are going to be the kind of numbers a connectivity solution is going to have to handle.”
HDBaseT also does away with shielded cable, using a single, twisted pair of copper wires to carry signals. That significantly reduces wire harness size and weight. It also means other components don’t have to be designed to work with shielded cable, further reducing system costs.
“Those harnesses are cumbersome,” the Valens executive says. “(They) occupy a lot of real estate. And that’s just the cars we have today. As you scale toward autonomous driving, the existing connectivity solutions simply are not going to be able to handle it.”
Advanced digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms are what allow HDBaseT to work with unshielded cable, Shwartzberg says. Rather than shielding the system from electromagnetic interference, HDBaseT counteracts the “noise” and “and takes it out of the game.
“A lot of OEMs and Tier 1s (now) are putting HDBaseT automotive through EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) testing on that simple unshielded cable,” he tells WardsAuto. “The results are super impressive. We’re getting a lot of very positive feedback.”
Another advantage of HDBaseT is its scalability through daisy chaining. Currently, wiring architectures follow a star, or hub-and-spoke, design scheme, where several devices are plugged directly into a central control unit. Daisy chaining allows devices to be strung together like Christmas tree lights, cutting down on cable and making it easier to add features.
Shwartzberg offers the example of USB connectivity in the infotainment system for Mercedes. Typically, if an automaker wants to offer USB access in the rear seats, it would have to fit additional ports into the dashboard-mounted head unit and run cable from there to the rear-seat connectors. With the HDBaseT system, Mercedes will be able to have one port in the head unit, and simply string all USB jacks together in sequence throughout the car.
“It’s very powerful in that respect,” he says. “It’s going to change the way system designers are creating their topologies. In the future, we see it as a network based around an HDBaseT backbone that everyone can connect into (via daisy chaining).”
Valens initially developed HDBaseT for audio-video equipment, so it makes sense the initial application at Mercedes is focused on infotainment. But Shwartzberg says the technology will work well with ADAS devices and ultimately be critical for autonomous systems, because it allows a bidirectional flow of data.
“As the amount of data goes up and cars look more like data centers on wheels, (automakers) are going to need high-speed, bidirectional data, because we’re going to need (system) redundancy,” he says. “You will have to have a central storage unit that will be serving your infotainment system, your ADAS system and other systems. If every system needs to duplicate all of the resources, the cost is going to be prohibitive (and) the weight is going to be prohibitive.”
Shwartzberg doesn’t say when additional production applications could be coming, but hints it won’t be long after the ’20-model Mercedes’ debut. But without a change in connectivity solutions, he adds, the industry simply won’t be able to take the next steps in onboard technology.
“(Automakers) are now being strangled by in-car connectivity,” Shwartzberg says. “They are already hitting the wall (and) have to go to new approaches.
“We think we’ve got the right solution at the right time.”