The move toward copper-based automotive infotainment networks accelerated recently, as one supplier rolled out a new chip for it and industry proponents met in Detroit to discuss the technology's adoption.
Copper-based IEEE 1394 network cabling, which made its name in applications ranging from computer peripherals to handheld cameras, appears to be gaining momentum in the worldwide auto industry and is reportedly drawing interest from Ford, Nissan, Honda, Renault, Peugeot and Daimler. Although none of the companies are yet talking about their plans for it, all are believed to be considering it for next-generation networking of signals from DVDs, GPS displays and camera-based safety systems.
"We've been working on it for nine years," says Max Bassler, chairman of the 1394 Trade Assn. and author of the 1394 automotive specification. "And we're hearing from the automakers, especially in Japan, that they are looking to put copper in their cars."
If the technology does reach broad adoption, it would represent a major change for the auto industry. Up to now, high-end European automakers have been huge supporters of plastic optical fiber (POF), rather than copper, as the medium-of-choice for infotainment applications. The pioneering technology in the field, Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST), uses the optical fiber to send signals and has been employed heavily by BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Volvo and Audi.
Members of the 1394 Trade Assn. say; however, their so-called "FireWire" technology is gaining momentum in the automotive world because it is faster and more flexible than plastic optical fiber. At a 1394 Auto Technology Seminar in Dearborn, MI recently, association members presented the technology to tier-one suppliers and automakers.
"We've come up with all the building blocks and with a complete eco-system of components for 1394 automotive networks," Bassler told them. "And we've started to benchmark these networks against other possibilities, such as MOST and Ethernet."
Some of the technical discussions, they say, have revolved around the issue of electromagnetic interference (EMI), which was initially believed to be a problem with copper and was one of the big reasons plastic optical fiber initially flourished.
"With the advancement of differential signaling in 1394b, we've been able to prove that we could go up to eight meters or more, running at gigabit-speeds, with no EMI problems in the copper," says Richard Mourn, a board member of the 1394 Trade Assn. and founder of Quantum Parametrics, a provider of 1394 tools and testing services.
Electronic components for such networks are also said to be growing in number. In April, Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. rolled out the world's first 1394 automotive controller for high-definition video in vehicle networks. Known as the MB88395, the new controller can simultaneously transmit multiple data streams from Blu-Ray DVDs, digital TV and car navigation systems around a vehicle using a high-speed 800 Mbps physical layer.
"Video content requires high bandwidth," says Akio Nezu, senior marketing manager for Fujitsu Microelectronics Automotive Business Group. "In our minds, you need that bandwidth to support navigation images, DVDs, movies and digital TV."