Connected Cars: From Chip To City

Tomorrow’s vehicle-to-infrastructure network will require a coordinated effort between standards bodies, infrastructure providers, and technology developers.


As the automotive industry moves closer to autonomous vehicles, ecosystem players are focusing on the infrastructure pieces needed to make autonomous technology a reality for the first adopters, which are most likely commercial fleets.

Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I or v2i) is a communications model that allows vehicles to share information with the components that support a country’s highway system, or a “walled garden” city-wide system for driverless vehicles such as buses. Similar to vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, V2I presently uses dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) frequencies to transfer data.

Tom Wong, director of marketing of design IP at Cadence, contends that the connected vehicle is considered mainstream today, even if it isn’t fully realized. Chevrolets have been equipped with 4G-LTE connectivity for several years, and Tesla electric vehicles leverage over-the-air application software/firmware that is “software-pushed” via telematics overnight while the driver is sleeping.

“By 2021, we expect 60% of light vehicles will be cellular connected, but right now it is not that important to pinpoint if that will still be 4G-LTE or 5G or DSRC or some form of 802.11x standards,” Wong said. “The technology innovation, market dynamics and industry competition will sort itself out.”

V2X is a critical component to enable vehicles to communicate with each other and beyond. Among the components:

• Vehicle to infrastructure (V2I), which includes communications to traffic signal timing and prioritization and traffic signs;
• Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) to enable collision avoidance safety systems in L3/4/5 autonomous vehicles;
• Vehicle to pedestrian (V2P), which can provide safety alerts to pedestrians and bicyclists, and
• Vehicle to network (V2N), which can enable real time traffic/routing and cloud services.

V2X also is a key technology enabler for enhanced ADAS. Using LiDAR and cameras, it can provide 360° non-line of sight awareness, enable better traffic efficiency and increased situational awareness. One option that has been suggested as the foundation for V2X is the 802.11p standard, which can be adapted for latency-critical V2X communications in the 5.9GHz band.

“802.11p is the path to DSRC rulemaking in the USA by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationm), and commercially available technology is here today,” Wong said. “There is also cellular V2X (C-V2X) that can provide a unified connectivity platform for connected vehicles of the future. Based on part of Release 14 of the global 3GPP standard, it builds upon existing LTE connectivity technology for automotive. LTE is already delivering key services such as telematics, eCall and connected infotainment.  With further latency reduction and range, this can be a stepping stone to the eventual 5G technology,” he said.

V2I is vehicle-to-infrastructure, which is a concept that allows vehicles to communicate with fixed infrastructure such as smart lamp posts, traffic signs and traffic lights. It is meant to be the first step to enable driverless vehicles for “walled garden” city-wide deployment initially, expanding out from there.

“It is really difficult to rely on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) systems to realize the driverless vehicle vision unless 100% of the vehicles on the road can ‘talk’ to each other,” he said. “How do you retrofit millions of existing vehicles to give them connectivity/communications capabilities? In light of this real limitation, V2I is a reasonable alternative. V2I also can be extended to support hands-free driving on highways, which is a simpler problem to address compared to the L4/L5 autonomous vehicle vision.”

SoCs supporting the various wireless protocols that can be used for V2I already exist today. “Chips supporting DSRC including 4G-LTE, Cellular V2X and 802.11p exist today. V2X systems are under development, and field testing and will be deployed in L3/L4 autonomous vehicles with in the next three to five years,” Wong added.

Fig. 1: What is V2X? Source: Cadence

Supply chain shift
Behind this infrastructure build-up, the automotive supply chain is shifting away from IC houses supplying chips to Tier 1s creating ECUs, which then gets integrated into the vehicle network, said Andrew Macleod, director of automotive marketing at Mentor, a Siemens Business. “Now, we see this concept of carmakers at the center of this whole chip-to-city concept, where carmakers are looking to bring IC development expertise in-house. There are lots of parties talking publicly about this, and we also see examples of carmakers buying fleet management systems, such as what Ford has embarked upon. The carmakers are now the center of this world, from IC design spanning the smart city concept, whether it is V2X smart mobility systems or city-wide projects. What that means in terms of mobility and new opportunities is emerging, and carmakers now have a lot more on their plates than ever before.”

David Fritz, account technology manager at Mentor, explained these changes are being driven by automotive OEMs observing developments in other markets. “It’s smartphones and televisions and laptops, and this whole consolidation makes tremendous sense in the vehicle,” he said. “When you start talking about the latency, when you have a V2X command that comes in on an ECU, it takes several milliseconds to get there. If you’re going 130 kilometers per hour, it’s a little late. So it’s about that wiring. If you think about how heavy that is, you think about legacies and how it takes this many meters of wiring and now it’s about 3nm long, the OEMs start to get the idea that this is something they can’t stop.”

This is why so many automotive companies are building offices in technology centers. “We are seeing automotive OEMs either creating offices in Silicon Valley, or they’re pulling Silicon Valley people away in droves to places like Detroit where $350,000 buys you a mansion with a pool,” Fritz said. “It’s also happening in Europe and Asia, and they’re consolidating these teams. The challenge now is that they still have the intermediate model years where they need to use all these suppliers, so they have to segregate the teams. What we tell them is if they’re going after V2X, or if they’re going after full autonomy, Level 5, then they need to anticipate this consolidation happening and be a part of it.”

He’s not alone in this view. As electrification increases, so does the requirement on automakers to pull all of the pieces together.

“You now require components like high-voltage components that the automakers never knew about,” said Burkhard Huhnke, vice president of automotive strategy at Synopsys. “This includes inverters and IGBTs, where you need to simulate the transient characteristics of everything. And it is the beginning of creating an understanding that might be the core competence of the future for car companies.”

But there also is a more practical side to the automakers taking on a larger role. There are hundreds of companies trying to win a piece of the automotive market, but to actually play in this market companies need to be able to support parts for 20 years.

“Tier 1s have been doing this for a long time,” said Huhnke. “They work with the OEMs on the concept phase and then five years later they develop the technology. Startups do not have the breadth to supply for five years.”

So while chipmakers may help develop an ECU with a modem in it, OEMs and Tier 1s look farther out to develop 802.11p dedicated short-range communication technology, which will be folded into a much larger SoC. “Now they’re becoming SoC-centric and that’s why Volkswagen, BMW, all the European guys are talking to local municipalities saying, ‘If we put this in our vehicles, this is how you can actually benefit from it,’ and it’s not just the obvious things like better traffic flow and accident avoidance,” said Fritz. “It’s ways to actually monetize the fact that vehicles are driving through, and if we do something like that, what does that mean for how we have to handle the protocols? And what is the impact of that on the chips themselves?”

Managing complexity
Not all communications are the same, however, particularly when it comes to infrastructure, and this can cause problems.

“You don’t need as much bandwidth as if you’re talking on the phone, so the messages are more compact and you don’t need a ton of bandwidth,” said Kurt Shuler, vice president of marketing at Arteris IP. “Also, the distances don’t necessarily have to be that long, so they can be lower power. But when you have multiples of these things, let’s say every street light has some kind of sensor, these things can start interfering with each other if they’re too powerful, so there’s all kinds of stuff from an RF standpoint that goes into this.”

Further, vehicle air interfaces for 5G V2X may fall somewhere between the form factor and power of the radio heads at the side of the road, which will service hundreds of cars, and the extremely densely packed modules inside a 5G smartphone that have to make very cautious use of battery, noted Ian Dennison, senior group director for the Custom IC & PCB Group at Cadence. “To make use of the very large bandwidth of 5G millimeter wave for V2X, designers need to worry about the silicon, package and board together, such is the sensitivity of RFIC design at these frequencies to their context in the electronic system.”

He expects that for V2X, air interface designers will need a new type of RF design tool that blends design for electromagnetic and radio frequency, dense co-design of RFIC, package and module, and a free mixture of GaAs, GaN and Si transceiver technologies.

Finally, security will be a major factor in V2X systems of the future, Shuler stressed. “Security is super important, particularly from the standpoint of, ‘You don’t want to spoof these things and be able to drive cars into storefronts, or allow vandalism.’ You also want to have some reliability built into these things. When they’re in the car, there are functional safety features and all of the ISO 26262 compliance that these systems have to be a part of. There will be tons of investment from cities, counties, states, federal government to enable all of the required infrastructure. This can be a great driver for the economy, but it must be done right at the very early stages.”

Getting that right includes more than just the infrastructure, though. Patching and providing secure over-the-air updates for vehicles adds a whole new set of challenges.

“Quite a few things make this hard,” said Eystein Stenberg, CTO of Mender, which develops open-source over-the-air technology. “For example, if something bad happens during that update, you don’t have physical access—or it is very expensive to get physical access in general to repair that problem. You need ways of managing failures during the update process. If you have unreliable power, if you are in the middle of the update process and power goes away, what is going to happen the next time you boot that device? Is it going to come back up or will it be in some inconsistent state? You have the network side, as well, so you can lose connectivity at any point in time. And then security of the network is one big aspect as well. You can have someone listening to your conversation, or your connection with the update server. This is happening, unfortunately, quite a bit when people develop updaters on their own.”

V2X infrastructure continues to be refined and investments in infrastructure are planned, but there are multiple levels of development underway today. Along the way, there are likely to be disruptions in the supply chain as well as changes to how cars and the electronics inside of them are designed.

But at least for now, this is a huge opportunity for a lot of companies. And that is likely to continue for years until this transition to autonomous vehicles is complete.

—Susan Rambo and Ed Sperling contributed to this report.

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