Having come from the traditional IT world where Ethernet has long been a standard, I suppose I have a particular bias. That said, Chuck, I'm wondering why the automotive makers and other industry sectors have been hestitant to spec Ethernet in the past since it's such a well-proven technology? What advantages did the MOST technology you talk about in the article have over Ethernet and how has that changed now?
Chuck - How much of this slow adoption rate do you believe is due to regulations and entrenched processes in the automobile industry? Having worked on the research and development side of the automobile industry I know that they are very innovative and develop cutting-edge tools used for design and testing -- all while the production vehicle is outfitted with a cassette tape deck and a bicycle brake cable actuator for the fuel door.
Replacing the spools of copper with multiplexed twisted pair would have an instant effect on fuel economy. Is it because "that is not how it is done" or an automated assembly line that cannot accommodate radical change? I suspect that it is not due to insufficient technology.
Bill makes a good point about regulation. Another, somewhat related issue, is that the user life of a car is now well in excess of what it used to be. I believe people now keep their cars upwards of 9 years. So this means, as new technologies displace older ones, will be have issues about maintainability of legacy vehicles. OTOH, I was always able to get parts for my 1988 Camry. I finally had to get rid of it two years ago when the rust became a danger (the rear quarter panel was about to fall off, and maybe the trunk after that).
>> -- all while the production vehicle is outfitted with a cassette tape deck
>> and a bicycle brake cable actuator for the fuel door.
I don't think I have seen cassette tape decks since around the 2000 model year, when they were replaced by CD players. Actually, my 2000 Mustang had both. The cassette decks were not nearly as reliable as CD players, due to the damage that moisture condensation tended to do to the tapes. In my experience, the CD players wear out after about 8-10 years. Replacing a 10-year old car stereo with an up-to-date aftermarket unit tended to be a nice, affordable upgrade to the vehicle. One that will not be possible with the modern OEM integrated system control/entertainment/navigation systems.
I think the "brake cable" activated fuel door is a perfectly serviceable solution. The alternatives would be a key lock on the door (clunky, especially in an era when the doors are keyless, proximity key actuated) or a solenoid operated mechanism, which I think would be quite a bit more expensive and less reliable.
@RadioGuy - I was intentionally exaggerating to illustrate my point. While car companies continue to highlight performance of components under the hood, inside the transmission, or bolted onto the suspension it has not been until recently that median sedans included technology over and above power windows and door locks. With so many commuters spending multiple hours in their automobiles per day, it is difficult to appreciate the technology of Variable Valve Timing while sitting in traffic with only a speedometer and an FM radio to keep you company. If manufacturers are going to incorporate radical changes such as drive-by-wire Ethernet, the entire system will require a redesign or more appropriately, a new design from scratch.
I'd love to think that there'd be less wiring, but I find that a bit tough to believe. I think that williamlweaver has it right: the whole system has to be redesigned from the bottom up if we're going to make such a radical shift as moving to a drive-by-wire Ethernet.
You're probably right, Ann. Wiring bundles are going to continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future. Still, all the automakers know something will need to be done eventually. It's kind of like of like building up deabt on your credit card. At some point, you've gotta pay the piper.
Beth: If you've ever had a computer lock up on you or, worse, gotten the so-called BSOD (blue screen of death), then you can understand why automotive engineers were worried about Ethernet. They need determinism. If a message doesn't get to the brakes or steering or engine on time, they could have a serious safety problem, so they simply stayed away from Ethernet. They used CAN for powertrain and MOST for infotainment because of its bandwidth. But over the last few years, Ethernet has been recognized for greater determinism and MOST has lost some support because it's proprietary and because it's more expensive than Ethernet. So Ethernet has nudged its way into the picture, especially for applications such as video, which isn't safety-critical.
Makes perfect sense. Thanks for clarifying, Chuck. Luckily for me, I use a Mac so I've never encountered the dreaded "blue screen" <grin>, but I can imagine that the possibility of dealing with any kind of unknown or security breach is too risky especially for power train applications that have such a close correlation to driver safety. Question though: Were there specific advances around Ethernet that drove up its level of determinism?
Perish the thought that a critical Real-Time system would be using a general purpose office OS such as Windows. Modern Real-Time data acquisition and control systems are extremely reliable. For example National Instruments LabVIEW RT (real time) is a very mature product and has embedded solutions and even a real-time hypervisor for running multiple RT instances in parallel. I don't think the BSOD is the fault of the Ethernet communication standard.
Even after years of reading about the incredible advances made in automobiles, I am still amazed at what the car companies are coming up with. When I was younger and my parents put the car on "cruise control," I thought it meant that the car knew where we were going and would just take us there by itself. Based on all the fascinating (at least to me) stories I've been reading lately, I'd say that might not be so far-fetched after all!
I hate to be a wet blanket, but this sounds to me like yet more wiring that can go wrong. Automotive wiring is notoriously difficult to fix when some short or simple disconnection happens. This may just add to the "fun" for mechanics. Are there are statistics for failure rates?
The idea is that you would have LESS wiring with a standardized data network bus instead of "home run" wiring to each device data point. You just have to get to the nearest network switch, which might be a short distance.
I'm a PE in electronics (15 years) and have nothing against technology, but I think this is ridiculous. It's a good example how we apply technology to something that doesn't need it. It does the driver no good, except for complacency while driving, which I'm very against. All the entertainment, cameras and navigation are not needed. Neither is drive-by-wire. Auto manufactures embrace it because it adds complexity to the vehicle. Complexity means more money from specialized equipment, training and perception of value. Why let a small garage repair a problem, when we could force the owner to take to dealer and force the dealer to pay for new equipment and training.. Of course, most people get rid of a vehicle as soon as the warranty expires anyway, so I guess repair cost wouldn't be a factor. I know I'm ranting, but it upsets me that we put so much effort into something that doesn't need it when the areas that do need revamped take a back seat. Example, why does it still take 3 business days for a check to clear a national bank?
David, I agree with you on the entertainment "features" in cars, however, not so much on some of the rest of the electronics. I've got an old car, but a portable navigation system (i.e., GPS). When I'm going some place new, I still like my maps, but as soon as you hit a snag you've got problems. When a road is closed, you miss an exit, you can't read a road sign, or whatever, it sure helps get you back on track without having to try to figure out where you are. As far as the 15 cameras are concerned, yes, that's excessive, but one on the bumper to let you back up far enough, but not too far is a good thing. (Not that I have that on my current vehicle...)
To me, GPS assistance is the only new thing in car electronics that I find useful. But even that has problems, especially in the more remote areas like the one where I live. The problem is simply that, while the GPS function may work just fine, the maps are often wrong because no one's actually come out here and driven the roads. They can also be wrong for different reasons in major cities, where roads change more frequently.
I don't dislike GPS, but I've grown less trustful of it over the years. When it gets confused, it declares, "recalculating," after which it demands that the driver make sudden, unexpected changes. I've had numerous situations in which GPS les me astray, including this one:
Chuck, that sounds pretty bad, indeed. And I remember hearing similar stories from some of my friends with in-car GPS systems back then in 2007. But haven't GPS systems improved much since that article was written?
The key is the databases. GPS is only as good as its databases. And, yes, they're definitely improving. That said, I went back to the same Connecticut location in 2009 and stayed at the same hotel. Again, I rented a GPS system for the vehicle. This time -- I swear I am not making this up -- the GPS led me to a nearby cemetery and told me it was my destination.
Although that's funny, it's sad, too. And also scary. You would think that Connecticut might be considered less out-of-the-way than the wilds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, so the maps would be better. I agree, it's all in the databases. I guess GPS assistance just fell off my list of car electronics I want to have, leaving it blank.
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