The future of connected vehicles

Published Monday 15th October, 2018

We spend a large portion of our lives sat behind the wheel of our cars, and as devotees of new technologies, we're incredibly interested and excited about the developments in connected vehicles. It's no longer good enough for us to have access to the Internet via our smartphones, laptops and other personal technology - the public now demands that our daily runabout is also internet enabled.

Let's take a look at some of the advantages these vehicles will offer, and also some of the problems the electronics and car manufacturing industry will have to overcome in their continuing development.

What are connected vehicles?

A connected vehicle is, essentially, an automobile that's Internet-enabled, and modern versions are also often equipped with a wireless local area network (WLAN) that allows the vehicle to act as an independent local network.

The first of these appeared back in the mid-90s, but the tech was rather limited until Audi introduced 4G LTE WiFi, which allowed their vehicles to access enough bandwidth to make using a car as a WiFi hotspot viable.

How we use them today

As with all emerging technology, we're going to see successes and failures, but the current crop of connected vehicles appear to be offering advances that help drivers, passengers and other road users alike. We already have parking assistance, integrated roadside assistance, voice commands and features like purchasing food, drink and even fuel ahead of arrival... but the future is so much more exciting.

Cooperative safety-of-life-and-efficiency may be a mouthful, but it’s an innovation that will improve road safety by connecting cars up so that they can communicate in real time with each other and the infrastructure of the highways - the first real step to truly interactive autonomous vehicles.

The introduction of 5G will really be the advance that will make this a reality, as stronger and more stable connections will allow better communication between vehicles and their surroundings, leading eventually to fully autonomous vehicles.

Interestingly, the current trends amongst consumers show that it’s not the high-tech features that appeal the most on connected vehicles, but rather the number of USB ports available. For example, the 2018 Ford Expedition has six USB ports - a feature that trumped all others in tests.

The practicalities of manufacturing connected vehicles

Designing and manufacturing connected cars presents the electronics industry with some intriguing challenges. With the next generation of Internet enabled vehicles promising to offer so much more computing technology, it’s clear that the two most important issues to overcome are the weight of cabling in the vehicle and adequate bandwidth.

When we consider that cable harnessing is already the second most weighty component of a modern car (after the chassis) and among the most expensive, the next-gen connected vehicle designs must solve this conundrum or risk developing fuel heavy and cumbersome vehicles. Add the necessity for lightning-fast data transfer and adequate bandwidth to safely implement autonomous driving, and the obvious answer is Ethernet.

Ethernet - the logical next step

Adapting an already existing technology that’s proven to be effective makes so much sense, and that’s why Ethernet seems to solve most of the challenges that high-powered internet-enabled vehicles present. Already capable of supporting speeds up to 10gbps, and with the capacity for more in the future, Ethernet certainly has the power – and through the use of scaled-down single unshielded twisted-pair cabling, the weight issue can also be resolved.

Ethernet will, however, have to be upgraded somewhat to cope with the demands of the harsh automotive environment - high temperatures, humidity, vibration and even electromagnetic interference are all factors that current Ethernet systems would struggle to cope with.

The multi-gigabit technologies that Molex has developed have successfully prevented bottlenecking while running 4K video at the same time as dealing with huge loads of sensor data. Of course, this is only as impressive as it is secure, but they appear to have overcome the obvious security issues of opening a vehicle up to the cloud by employing Blackberry QNX suite.

Their impressive developments open the door for other electronics companies to develop or adapt existing Ethernet technology, which gives us hope that the future of connected vehicles is in safe and powerful hands.

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