Auto Electronics

Power and Data Networks Redefine Automotive Electronics

The significant growth of automotive electronics for the past 20 years was fueled by the “microprocessor era.” We are now entering the “digital era” for automotive electronics identified with 32-bit computing, communications and infotainment. This era will redefine the automotive electronics business.

The new era of vehicle electronics is fueled by the explosive growth of the computing and cellular industries. These technologies have accelerated the possibilities for automotive features and performance. Today, one needs to see the vehicle architecture in terms of power and data networks. On the power side, the vehicle has grown from a 500-watt platform to a 2 kW platform. Electrical power generation, storage and distribution systems have grown to approximately 1,500 circuits per car to deliver electrical power to every function of the vehicle.

At Yazaki, we see increasing functional integration of power control functions into the vehicle power centers including features like memory seats and mirrors, smart windows and multifunction locks. The combination of function consolidation and advanced programmable electrics provides improved architecture flexibility, fewer wire harness cut leads and built-in system diagnostics via software. This is accomplished by increasing deployment of high current FET technologies growing in combination with traditional fuse and relay technologies. These digital power centers are also showing trends toward distributed power networks linked by body communication buses. This trend of power networking enables more functions and performance by controlling circuit count while saving cost, weight and assembly for the carmakers.

Another driver for vehicle electrical power growth is the trend toward hybrid vehicles. The 12 V electrical system of the car is expected to continue into the future as a fundamental electrical power source to many vehicle functions. Hybrid vehicles are introducing a much higher voltage, ranging from 150 V to 500 V, to supplement the traditional mechanical power train with electrical energy boost and recovery, i.e. regenerative braking. Hybrid vehicles bring a new dimension to electrical power management. In addition to electrical power generation (alternators), electrical power storage (batteries) and electrical power distribution (wiring), hybrids need voltage/power conversion. Dc-dc voltage converters are needed to provide the bridge between 300 V batteries required for the hybrid drive system and the normal 12 V electrical components in a vehicle. Overall, the electrical power of a hybrid vehicle at 30 kW to 50 kW is 25 times the electrical power of a standard car. These multivoltage systems integrated into the total vehicle architecture bring a new level of technology and complexity to vehicle power networks with special requirements for power cables and connectors designed for high-voltage safety and service requirements.

The rapid growth of digital communications and infotainment systems is driving requirements for high bandwidth data networks in the vehicle. The J1850 and J1930 vehicle protocols of the 1980s have been generally superseded with the CAN protocols of the 1990s, followed by MOST and Bluetooth in the 2000s. Increasing applications of high-performance data products are driving a new generation of data networks including wireless and optical fiber media to deliver automotive performance levels approaching Gigabit per second data rates.

As performance requirements continue to push the limits of automotive technology, Yazaki is taking the lead to develop and implement data network solutions such as its connection system using polymer clad silica (PCS) fiber with vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). This technology can extend the performance of MOST or IEEE 1394 networks, as well as other high-performance requirements, i.e. digital video displays in cars. Yazaki is working together with key OEMs to define the system requirements to ensure its solutions meet the future needs of the vehicle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Myron Trenne is vice president of research and development for Yazaki North America. He is responsible for bringing new power and data solutions to automotive electrical/electronic architectures. He is an active member of the Convergence board of directors.

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