A Systems-Based Approach to Driverless Cars
Internal and external systems that include an expanded range of connected technologies will bring autonomy to the automotive world and make driverless cars a reality.
By Guido Dornbusch, Senior Director, Network Connected Devices Segment, Molex CMS; Alex Bormuth, Director Business Development, Molex CMS; and Dr. Ayman Duzdar, Senior Director of Engineering, Vehicle Antenna Solutions, Molex CMS driverless cars
On average, the human brain has 86 billion neurons constantly transmitting electrochemical signals to muscles and organs. Concurrently, impulses perceived through sensory receptors are transmitted rapid-fire back to the brain, enabling the body to communicate, act, and react. In much the same manner, autonomous vehicles require complex technologies to anticipate and react in real time to internal and external stimuli. Powerful computers comprise the brain of the self-driving car while automotive sensors serve as the sensory system, vigilantly detecting dynamic conditions on the road.
The human brain and body have evolved to ensure survival under an extraordinary range of conditions. Likewise, connected automotive design must continue evolving to ensure the utmost safety of the driver and others on the road. Intelligent and autonomous vehicles must be able to independently manage safety issues and navigate the roads without relying on data produced by other vehicles or the infrastructure. That depends on timely and accurate data from hundreds of sensors and an agile nervous system that communicates with computing units throughout the vehicle.
Automotive Ethernet Ramps up In-Vehicle Bandwidth
Automotive Ethernet is well positioned to meet industry demand for transmission speeds, fault tolerance, and — above all — safety, making it a solid choice to serve as the nervous system for next-generation cars. Currently, automobile data networks operate at speeds of up to 10Gb/s. Scalable automotive Ethernet can enable the higher bandwidths and faster signal processing speeds that are essential to autonomous driving. In addition, Ethernet must be fail-safe and reliable.
Automotive Ethernet must quickly and reliably supply safety-related data collected by vehicle sensors to the computing units to help enable the vehicle to operate autonomously, particularly in high-traffic areas. Data is communicated to the vehicle via antennas that meet certain requirements to quickly feed external data to the vehicle’s computer.
Capturing data and communicating with the surrounding environment are essential functions to achieve the full potential of driverless cars. In addition to facilitating in-vehicle communications, antennas are used to supply signals received from other vehicles or infrastructure. For example, driverless cars may apply the brakes earlier and more gently because a vehicle ahead has wirelessly reported a braking maneuver.
5G Infrastructure and Communication are Key to Adoption
Meeting the rising demand for automotive data bandwidth will require more powerful connected infrastructure and networks. Existing 4G networks lack the bandwidth and speed needed to meet the data volume requirements of autonomous vehicles. Radio waves from 4G communications must be relayed to a cell tower before transmitting back to the vehicle, which results in unacceptable data latency (i.e., the amount of time it takes for data from a device to be uploaded and reach its target).
In addition to improving bandwidth (the amount of data that is transferred), 5G will significantly reduce latency and increase reliability, compared with current technologies. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication based on 5G will support latency at 10 milliseconds end-to-end and just one millisecond over the air. Similarly, 5G provides very high reliability, targeting 99.999% for ultra-reliable transmissions.
In the next several years, the expansion of 5G network infrastructure will ultimately enable ubiquitous driverless cars, allow data to be aggregated and shared between vehicles to improve visibility, and allow the network to contribute to vehicle safety. Ideally, autonomous vehicles would be capable of receiving raw sensor data both from within the vehicle, as well as from other vehicles and infrastructure, in an amount equal to the bandwidth capacity within the vehicle.
Industry-Led Efforts to Develop 5G V2X Standard
To leverage the required levels of bandwidth, automotive antennas will need to cover a larger frequency range. The 5G V2X standard being developed by industry groups is expected to facilitate 100Mb/s with several gigabits of bandwidth. At this level, vehicles would be able to receive and send the relevant data quantities for increased safety and comfort.
The frequency range for 5G V2X poses another important technical challenge. Radio spectrum has been a prized commodity since the beginning of the 20th century and there is no available and gratis frequency range below 60GHz around the world that could carry the required amount of data. Higher frequencies (e.g., 60GHz), are more available because their commercial appeal has been limited by technical challenges such as transmission and processing losses and costly components and test equipment.
Cabled external antennas from Molex offer best-in-class RF performance in ruggedized thermoplastic enclosures that are resistant to moisture, extreme thermal conditions, and shock and vibration and are easy to mount in a range of locations.
However, antenna technology offers a way to overcome these problems. Rather than waste energy by sending out an omnidirectional signal (i.e., a ring-shaped signal that transmits in all directions), an active electronically scanned array (AESA) can steer the antenna beams in a specific direction and automatically change direction as the two devices move relative to each other. The directed antennas would need to both receive and send signals, so they’d be connected to each other and to the vehicle’s computers using automotive Ethernet for in-vehicle data transmissions.
Driverless Cars Gather Speed
The connected car of the future has arrived and will continue to evolve. Shipments of vehicles that can communicate with long-term evolution (LTE) networks and road traffic agents will reach 62 million by the end of 2020 and over 97 million in 2024. Vehicles able to communicate to other vehicles and traffic agents directly (V2X) will reach nearly four million shipments in 2021.
Gartner forecasts that more than 745,000 autonomous-ready vehicles equipped with hardware that could enable autonomous driving without human supervision will be added to the global market by 2023, up from 137,000 units in 2018.
The evolution of driverless cars requires integrated high-speed and bandwidth signal integrity, network traffic prioritization, system scalability, and security, all of which demand in-vehicle and cloud computing, an ever-increasing number of powerful antennas, automotive Ethernet, and high-performance 5G network communications.
Molex partners closely with OEM customers to navigate the rapidly evolving automotive design landscape and incorporate integrated and scalable technologies for connected and driverless cars.