Auto Electronics

Wireless Advances Enrich The Vehicle-Connectivity Experience

From safety measures to game playing, the automotive industry continues to incorporate and search for new methods and systems to satiate the consumer’s voracious telematics appetite.

Today’s vehicles rely on several wireless technologies for applications ranging from traditional broadcast wireless signals to remote keyless entry (RKE), tire-pressure monitoring, bidirectional Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) connectivity, and others. Greater use of wireless devices relates directly to technology improvements and ongoing efforts to take advantage of the latest wireless capabilities. It comes as no surprise, then, that the role of telematics and vehicle infotainment continues to expand in the automotive space.

An “Automotive Telematics” study conducted by ABI Research reveals that between OEM and aftermarket consumer telematics, the pool of telematics users will balloon from 37 million in 2010 to more than 211 million in 2015. ABI Research practice director Dominique Bonte says, “Improved wireless technology, including lower cost, plays an important role in this growth. With cellular, Bluetooth, GPS, and even Wi-Fi, owners will improve the safety, security, maintenance, convenience, and infotainment in their vehicles.”

According to Bonte, automotive OEMs, including General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and BMW, want to use the smartphone with customized applications. These apps include a connected vehicle remote control for door unlock and engine start, remote diagnostics (e.g., electrical vehicle battery status), or for eCall (European mandate) and bCall services.

In its Ford SYNC Second Generation Teardown Analysis, iSuppli noted the expanding use of wireless technology in SYNC. Ford added a Wi-Fi module with integrated Bluetooth functionality to the hardware and obtained new features. The features include in-vehicle Internet browsing while the vehicle is parked, and Wi-Fi hotspot generation for portable devices with a brought-in wireless air card. With the Microsoft Windows Embedded OS, Ford can make enhancements to SYNC, while users need only to upload the new software and apps wirelessly from a home or office WLAN.

OnStar’s relaunch of its initially telematics-based approach will drive wireless connectivity even further. OnStar still embeds its telematics, but links to smartphones with special apps (e.g., MyLink) will be launched on the Chevy Volt to monitor charge and provide charging-related updates. In fact, MyLink mobile apps will be extended to nearly every new GM vehicle. The company also has plans for other upgrades that include hardware to turn cars into roving Wi-Fi hotspots.

IntelliDrive And DSRC

The Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI), authorized by the 1998 Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) ITS program, has made some significant progress and changes of late. Roderick MacKenzie, CTO and VP of Programs for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS) America), is pleased with the transition from the old Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) program to the new IntelliDrive program. He says that IntelliDrive provides greater focus on the safety potential, with strong engagement from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

MacKenzie considers IntelliDrive the “next-generation” development for advanced cooperative safety applications between vehicles: “There is some really cool technology being built into cars today, such as forward collision warning with preemptive braking, lane departure warning, and blind-spot detection. As good as these systems are, they all rely on sensors in the vehicle, so [they] have limited information on what other cars are doing.”

If vehicles communicated with each other via IntelliDrive, much more could be accomplished in the safety area. “For example, you could be warned of another vehicle running a red light, or know that traffic was backing up over the brow of a hill before you could see it,” says MacKenzie.

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MacKenzie thinks the IntelliDrive program is now strongly focused on these cooperative safety applications, and that 5.9-GHz DSRC is still the right technology choice to enable them. However, there’s been a recent shift in philosophy to incorporate other wireless technologies, potentially even 3G and 4G cellular wireless, within the IntelliDrive architecture. “That could allow IntelliDrive to leverage the massive, capable, and cost-effective ecosystem that has already been built to achieve faster and cheaper implementation,” he says. A key factor is the 2013 target for NHTSA to decide whether the safety potential justifies mandating on all vehicles.

Timothy McGuckin, executive director for OmniAir Consortium Inc., has some insightful comments on the changes over the past year that impact DSRC. The first important area concerns standards. The base wireless communication standard, physical layer 802.11p, was fully balloted and approved by IEEE. He expects the other standards, IEEE 1609.2, 3, and 4, to reach the same status early in 2011. According to McGuckin, after over a year of strategic re-evaluation and program planning, the USDOT's IntelliDrive Program has gelled and is now resource-focused on the IntelliDrive Safety Pilot—a test of 2500-plus DSRC-enabled vehicles in a city/metro area to be determined in early 2011.

“The pilot, in essence, will test and demonstrate primarily vehicle-to-vehicle DSRC safety communications,” says McGuckin. The goal of the two-year effort is to return data that gives NHSTA the confidence to make a regulatory recommendation that all new cars (and perhaps light trucks) be embedded with 5.9-GHz DSRC on-board equipment (OBE). USDOT believes NHTSA will be able to put out a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in 2013.

The equipment supplier situation for DSRC has changed in the past year, too. “Last year, I would say there was one supplier providing DSRC equipment ready for real-world deployments,” says McGuckin. “Today, I would say there are three more: Cohda Wireless, Savari Networks, and Denso.”

These companies provide DSRC OBE to the Vehicle Safety Consortium, which is the USDOT/IntelliDrive-funded auto OEM group that will supplement the 2500-plus vehicles in the Safety Pilot, including 60 cars with more fully functioning DSRC OBE. Those 60 vehicles are meant to communicate with the 2500 to 3000 other vehicles outfitted with a more simplistic DSRC “Here I Am” (HIA) radio. HIA radios only send a message that basically indicates time and location.

McGuckin noted that OmniAir is now under contract with USDOT to develop the “IntelliDrive Certification Pilot” in support of the Safety Pilot. It will develop the apparatus to test for standards compliance of HIA devices (to provide a level of confidence that they can interoperate), as well as to conduct basic performance tests (such as an HIA's performance as various read ranges, and the accuracy of the self-reported location data).

IntelliDrive recently announced the candidate suppliers of HIA devices for the Safety Pilot research program. The Intelligent Transportation System Joint Program Office (ITS-JPO) identified eight contractors. These suppliers will develop prototype devices that can generate the HIA basic safety messages to other vehicles and devices using DSRC 5.9-GHz communication technology. Awards were made to AutoTalks Ltd., Cohda Wireless, Cohda Wireless/TomTom, Denso International America Inc., DGE Inc., Industrial Technology Research Institute, Savari, and Siemens Industry Inc.

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Each manufacturer will produce five HIA units for qualification testing. Using the SAE J2735 basic safety message, the devices will focus on identifying vehicle location, trajectory, and speed, but not any personally identifiable information. Products that pass DOT’s device certification testing will be placed on a Qualified Product List (QPL) and be eligible to support the IntelliDrive Safety Pilot model deployment. The seven-month period for qualification testing started October 1, 2010.

Improved Wireless Technology

As efforts push forth to develop new communication systems for vehicles, IC suppliers are targeting many existing wireless applications. Of course, the benefits of integration are evident in the latest ICs, which provide more functionality in a smaller space and reduce overall system cost. One such example is Atmel’s single-chip Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)-128 immobilizer and RKE microcontroller for combi-key applications. The ATA5795 specifically targets high-volume, unidirectional car keys, with the immobilizer and the RKE functions integrated in the same fob.

The ATA5795-embedded key fob communicates to the receiver in the vehicle (Fig. 1). The fractional-N RF transmitter in the ATA5795 covers the 315- and 433-MHz frequency bands. The AES-128 cryptographic engine is used for both immobilizer and RKE functions, allowing for similar security schemes in the two applications. Along with its ultra-low power AVR core, all of the chip’s integrated circuitry fits in a 5- by 5-mm QFN package, which suits a key fob’s small footprint.

Thanks to enhanced sound quality, more programming choices, and new wireless data services on existing FM and AM radio channels, iBiquity’s HD Radio Technology has now been adopted by 13 automotive brands representing more than 70 vehicle lines. In response, STMicroelectronics developed a chip set to address the growing market for HD Radio Technology. The end-to-end solution combines the baseband receiver (STA680) with the RF front-end IC (TDA7706). In addition, the pair extends the functionality of HD Radio receivers with features that include Conditional Access Support and Dual Channel Application (HD Radio 1.5).

The STA680 can simultaneously demodulate two different HD Radio streams from two TDA7706s. With dual-stream processing, the chip set addresses both single- and dual-channel HD applications. In the dual-channel configuration, the system can simultaneously demodulate audio and data from the first radio channel plus data from a second one (Fig. 2). It’s also possible to receive audio content from one channel while obtaining traffic or weather data from another at the same time.

The chip set is embedded in the Alps Electric module and certified by iBiquity Digital Corp. for meeting comprehensive performance requirements.

Updating A Wireless-Challenged Vehicle

Despite all of the available wireless techniques, some owners may want more than what’s offered by OEMs, or they may prefer to update an older vehicle with some of the latest wireless technologies. Perhaps one of the greatest frustrations is lack of an available cellular signal during a regular commute or anytime the vehicle is marginally close to a cellular tower. Another “must have” is keeping a backseat passenger occupied and quiet during the drive. Two relatively new products exemplify how suppliers are trying to address these requirements.

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Wilson Electronics’ Sleek cell-phone signal booster amplifies signals to and from North American cell sites. Operating on both the 800-MHz (cellular) and 1900-MHz (PCS) frequency bands, the signal booster (part number 815226) reduces dropped calls, extends signal range, and increases data rates. The complete system kit includes a cradle that adapts to a variety of cell and smartphone shapes, an antenna, and a power adapter (Fig. 3).

The roof-mounted antenna receives the signal from the cell tower and transmits it to the cradle via a cable. After boosting the signal, the Sleek’s built-in antenna sends the signal to the cell phone. The process works in both directions so that the cell phone can send a boosted signal back to the cell tower.

The 815226 has a gain of 20 db (maximum power output of 1.82 W or 32.6 dBm) and a noise figure of 3.0 dB nominal. While it may not be OEM, the kit installs easily and turns a one- to two-bar cellular reception area into four or five bars. The unit, which complies with industry guidelines for cellular devices, is Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Type Accepted and meets Industry Canada requirements.

Rear-seat entertainment (RSE) systems are increasing in quantity and complexity according to iSuppli’s Phil Magney, vice-president, automotive research. Referring to iSuppli’s Automotive Digital Entertainment Portal analysis, Magney sees OEM RSE increasing from 3.1 million units shipped in 2009 to 5.6 million units by 2015. Moreover, it’s no longer a bastion of merely a simple DVD player—the growing list of options include gaming systems, branded audio, HD Radio, USB, MP3 connectivity, mobile TV, increased display sizes, and Wi-Fi.

The entertainment unit is becoming far more than a diversion for children. Still, the smaller backseat passengers are major users of these products. To untether small children, Kidz Gear introduced the IR68KG02 Wireless Car Headphones for Kids.

If the vehicle did not come with wireless headphones for children, or if an aftermarket system was installed, the infrared (IR) wireless headset provides the right size for these smaller users. Compatible with U.S. cars that have single-channel built-in IR DVD/video systems, the headphones offer independent volume control on the ear-cup and automatically power-off when idle. The use of IR technology avoids potential interference with the growing list of RF-based wireless signals.

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