The impending boom in automotive IoT

Alex Tan, Marvell


There has been a vast array of wireless technologies introduced that aimed to connect devices and people

The past 15 years have seen a massive shift in the way consumers communicate, not only with each other, but with the devices around them. There has been a vast array of wireless technologies introduced that aimed to connect devices and people. These connections ultimately became the foundation for the ever-evolving Internet of Things (IoT), a transformational trend that will shape both industrial and consumer technologies in the coming years, much like the Internet and wireless communications did in decades prior. 

The concept of the IoT is not new. It has been discussed for almost 20 years and refers to a theoretical concept that connects everyday objects and assigns computer data to devices, enabling them to “communicate” with one another. Theoretical no more, the IoT has reached an interesting turning point for both engineers and consumers. The endless possibilities that have been the focus of numerous articles and research are finally being developed and brought to market for the everyday consumer. Whether it’s turning on the heat with a smartphone or tracking fitness diagnostics with a wearable device, people are experiencing the full power of IoT firsthand.

Just the beginning
This revolution is only beginning, as ample research has predicted billions of devices will be connected in the next decade. The IoT will have a significant impact in several different industries including both the consumer and industrial markets, the health and wellness sector, the evolving smart home and in particular, the automotive market. 

In fact, a pillar of the IoT that has been widely anticipated is the connected car. Movies have long featured what consumers think of as the car of the future (see Figure 1). The car arrives when summoned, sends alerts to divert an accident, self-parks and weighs in on directions and destinations. If any of these features sound familiar, it’s because the car of the future is quickly becoming a reality. The industry has already seen integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in cars, applications integrated into the user console and Google’s fleet of prototype autonomous or “self-driving” cars. But what’s next?

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Figure 1: Connecting the Connected Car

Multiple top-tier analyst firms have predicted that the “smart car” trend will boom, with approximately 200-300 million vehicles connected globally in coming years. What does this mean for the individual driving to-and-from work every day? What does it mean for maintenance and cost savings? What are some of the new transformations on the horizon when the IoT truly meets automotive?

It’s important to note that the appeal of IoT across industries – smart home, healthcare, mobility, etc. – is rooted in the demand for convenience. IoT enables people to collect all of their information on a tangible device so they can access it whenever they want. It also ensures that they’re never out of date. This is especially important when making an investment as large as a vehicle.

Product lifecycles

Consider the lifecycle of a smartphone, an everyday consumer electronic that may update its operating system three times in a span of two years.  Aside from updates to the operating system, new smartphone models could be introduced as frequently as twice per year. How can industrial industries like automotive keep up with technology when they are designed to be long-term investments?

The connected car is the solution that will bridge the gap between consumer and industrial replacement cycles. Although the exterior of the car will remain the same, the technology working inside of it will continuously be updated to reflect new versions of the car’s tech capabilities. For example, a vehicle’s navigation system will be updated as seamlessly as the map app on a smartphone. That said, the benefits aren’t restricted to the automobile’s interior.

The idea of a connected car is all about making data available, both within the car and with the external world. There are two distinct connected use cases found in the connected car: infotainment and Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS). Infotainment refers to the entertainment available inside of the car, such as audio and video. That encompasses Bluetooth, navigation systems, etc. ADAS covers the technology outside of the car that assists with driving, for example safety and security.

The driving experience

How does ADAS and infotainment impact the driver’s experience? When video and application data from smartphones and the Internet are distributed within the car, it can be sent outside of the vehicle and used in a variety of ways.  This could include combining an IP-based vehicle’s camera data, alarm system and LTE to get uploads of pictures surrounding the car when the alarm is triggered. Self-driving cars can unload passengers and then head to a designated parking area awaiting summons from a smartphone for pick-up.

There are also substantial changes in store for the internal vehicle data networks. Current systems use a combination of proprietary low-speed or single-purpose communication busses. Next-generation architectures are converting to an IP-based network using Ethernet hardware. This allows massive amounts of data to be easily sent between the various domains inside the vehicle and with external devices. Examples of this type of data include information from the body electronics components, commands on the control systems, multimedia information from the infotainment system and camera/sensor data for ADAS use cases.

In addition, the IoT will soon enable car manufacturers to improve automobile quality by getting real-time data from individual vehicles and providing corrective updates when problems are identified. Auto manufacturers are also looking at completely new ways to use connectivity to make vehicles safer or improve the functionality of the car after it leaves the dealership. Tesla is a good example of a manufacturer that recently introduced a firmware update that actually adds new features, such as adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection. These capabilities also allow auto manufacturers to strengthen ties with their customers.

These are some of the ways car connectivity will change the driving experience. From a chipmaker’s perspective, the challenge is leveraging experience in wireless and Ethernet technology to develop the latest high-quality AECQ100-qualified automotive products and solutions. Marvell’s latest automotive advancement comes in the form of the 88Q2112 chipset, which can transport in-vehicle uncompressed 720p30 camera video and support for multiple HD video streams, including 4K resolution (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Marvell® 88Q2112

In other words, high-technology like the 88Q2112 is bringing optimized viewing and entertainment traditionally found in the home to the car.  In addition to powering infotainment capabilities Marvell’s 88Q2112 also addresses the growing demand for ADAS functionality within all vehicle tiers. This product supports ADAS capabilities to enable operational procedures, for example, high speed and bi-directional data traffic over light weight, low cost, single pair cable harnesses.

A string of advances

The 88Q212 is one technology in a long line of future advancements consumers can expect to see in their vehicle. In Europe, an initial set of technical specifications for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communications, based on IEEE802.11P Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments (WAVE), has already been created. The primary goal of this technology is to reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic throughput by allowing cars to communicate with each other in the case of accidents and congestion. V2V could also be used to improve traffic control, collect tolls or aid in police enforcement.

To consumers, the automotive IoT may feel new, but it’s actually a long-discussed topic that is finally making its way from the design board to the road. More and more people will quickly become familiar with the benefits and possibilities of automotive IoT and inevitably adopt the technology as the norm when considering a new car purchase. The IoT is no longer a concept in the distant future. It’s a very real, seamless network of devices that has established itself in everyday life and the automotive IoT is another example of how it can be used.