Data Centers on Wheels

2018-08-23  |  6 min read 

As vehicles pack in more and more technology, such as remote diagnostics, on-board GPS, collision avoidance systems, Wi-Fi hotspots for connectivity, cameras and yes, autonomous driving systems, it’s no surprise that they are increasingly being described as “data centers on wheels.”

Interconnecting all these complex systems involves wiring harnesses, connections, and, of course, data exchange processing. Sensors need to provide feedback to mechanical systems, and as more autonomy is built into vehicles, decision algorithms require central processing in between, often integrating inputs from external data sources. Some estimates state that the use of current, proprietary wiring harnesses in a typical car consumes up to 50% of the labor cost that goes into building it. This conventional wiring can also weigh upwards of 200 pounds (90kg), and each connection requires functional testing.

To solve these problems, auto manufacturers are turning to data center technology with the use of automotive Ethernet. This enables a single standard for wiring and cabling across all manufacturers, and can realize significant savings in production-line time and weight by simplifying connectivity.

Replacing complex and heavy proprietary wiring in current vehicles with simpler connections based around fast Ethernet also delivers further benefits. Today’s CAN (Controller Area Network) based wiring operates at just one megabit per second. But there are many functions in a vehicle competing for bandwidth — including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, infotainment systems, reversing cameras, automatic braking systems, hybrid powertrain systems and autonomous driving systems interconnecting dozens of sensors, processors and electromechanical system controls. Automotive Ethernet, offering 100 MB or even gigabit speeds, provides manufacturers with a proven method of interconnecting all of these subsystems, while ensuring that everything gets the bandwidth and ultra-low latency it demands.

Then comes the transition, as manufacturers migrate their vehicles from existing, proprietary CAN technology to automotive Ethernet. This requires a host of new testing approaches.

Putting automotive Ethernet to the test

We helped one of the largest automobile manufacturers in China make this transition. The company planned to upgrade to automotive Ethernet in its vehicles to reduce manufacturing costs and improve owners’ experience by enabling advanced data communications, remote diagnostic and software upgrade capabilities. They were using an older CAN system for their vehicle system bus, which meant using older electronic control units (ECUs) from several external vendors that identified them as end-of-life. The manufacturer had to upgrade, and we helped them move to Ethernet, to connect the cars’ digital instruments, driving data recorder, ECU, and infotainment switches. It turned out that the testing was not only more modern and comprehensive, but was also faster.

The manufacturer just needed to be sure the upgrade would work seamlessly before overhauling their manufacturing processes. Defining the new automotive Ethernet network required validation of the new physical layer, protocol conformance and automotive application performance. We ended up demonstrating a series of automated test scripts that provided so much test coverage, they were able to see how they could easily extend it across:

  • physical layer validation for the 100 Base T1 Ethernet standard
  • multiple physical layers validation within an ECU
  • conformance validation to the various protocols used in the ECU
  • network deployment validation and debugging using automotive data loggers

This was a great example to show the power of combining Keysight’s Layer-1 capabilities with Ixia, a Keysight business’ understanding of Layers 2-7. We demonstrated how to validate the physical test layer connection at every point, and follow that up with a full suite of Layer 2 through 7 conformance and performance testing. This was the only way to prove each new automotive Ethernet connection worked and properly interconnected every point within the car’s network.

The result enabled this car manufacturer to build a single integrated testbed (Keysight’s Oscilloscope, and IxANVL and IxNetwork from our Ixia business) to get to their desired test coverage and offer remote programming interfaces to achieve automation across testing tools.

By replacing an older, more manual test process with a set of modern, automated tests, testing time shrunk from two days down to one day. This is a great example of how upgrading can not only provide better performance, but also save time and money through greater efficiency. You can read the full Automotive Ethernet Case Study and find out more about Keysight’s automotive Ethernet solutions.