November 29, 2022
Radios have been in cars for a long time. 25 years ago most vehicles on the road had one—but only a tuner, that is, a receiver of certain frequencies. Except for police cars and ambulances, transmitters were a rarity in motorized vehicles out on the road.
This changed with the introduction of the cell phone. This was the first time that radio frequency transmitters were used in private cars in great numbers. However, the cellphone is owned and operated completely independent from the vehicle and it uses frequency bands that are clearly distinct.
The situation has dramatically evolved over the last several years in which vehicles have seen many new modes of wireless connectivity. Broadcast radio, in addition to AM/FM, now includes DAB, HD-Radio, and Satellite Radio systems and can also be used to download data, such as JPEG files, into the car. Bluetooth was added in the infotainment system, at first for hands-free connection to the user’s phone. Meanwhile, Bluetooth Low Energy is used also in Car Access systems, along with UWB and NFC.
Cellular modems started to be embedded in the car for voice-based telematics applications such as breakdown assistance. They later added data and progressed through 3G to 5G, which now theoretically enables data rates in the multi-gigabit per second range. WiFi connectivity is becoming widely available, both as a hotspot data service within the car, as well as an alternative way to connect to the internet externally.
The next step was vehicle-to-everything technology (V2X). Although not yet widespread, it promises to provide new data from other cars and from roadside infrastructure.
All these new technologies and connectivities arrived in vehicles item after item, not following a general concept for their (mutual) integration.
This has led to the situation that there is a high number of electronic control units (ECUs) in cars, processing various functions. ECUs, often connected to sensors, cover tasks from door control to fuel injection management. The number of ECUs now has reached 80+ in some cars and keeps rising. In the case of the various wireless interfaces, the result of this development is that they are typically distributed around the electrical architecture of the car.
Obviously, a consolidation of the various wireless connectivity technologies would be advantageous—it would lower costs, improve safety and security, and might even cut weight by reducing hardware and wiring. Another aspect is the use of overlapping radio frequencies. With more and more devices in a car or used in the vicinity of the car, the co-existence of the various radios becomes a challenge with interference potentially leading to loss of performance.
Of these aspects, cybersecurity is vital for moving vehicles. As cars have become increasingly computerized in their operation and also potentially handle users’ private data, cybersecurity has morphed into one of the most important aspects of automotive design. The challenge is that with the current distributed approach to wireless connectivity, there are many different paths for data to enter the car’s internal networks, and it is almost impossible to apply consistent, updated, and state-of-art security protection to prevent malicious code from getting in.
But how is consolidation to be achieved, with devices so different?
The solution is a shift from a decentralized architecture, using separate ECUs for individual features, to domain control units (DCUs) for multiple functions. DCUs are becoming more prevalent in different concepts. In the automotive sector, they are computers that control a certain set of vehicle functions. A DCU might, for example, be in charge of the entire powertrain. It is expected that the DC approach will get increased traction in this decade.
To address the consolidation problem in the wireless arena, NXP is introducing the concept of a Connectivity Domain Controller (CDC) that combines all the different wireless interfaces in a subsystem and manages all of them with a single, powerful processor.
This enables a consistent security policy to be applied to all data entering the car—analogous to a modern Enterprise Security Appliance which uses an ML-powered Next Generation Firewall to protect the corporate network from external attacks.
The CDC also enables RF coexistence technologies to be optimized for all the various wireless formats. The term coexistence refers to the co-operative functioning of multiple RF transceivers, often operating in close frequency bands, to enable acceptable performance even when in close proximity to one another. In particular, in cars, such devices need not only to deal with interference from similar devices but with interference from many other electric and electronic sources as well.
The next step of the integration for an OEM would be to develop and test the CDC concept. For these purposes, NXP now introduces the OrangeBox reference platform. The OrangeBox is a comprehensive development platform that contains all the typical wireless interfaces used in cars and connects them via a single processor to an Ethernet port. By pre-integrating all of this connectivity, NXP is accelerating the work of customers andparties, enabling them to rapidly evaluate new use cases and port applications to the CDC architecture. The OrangeBox is also modular so that wireless modules like the Wi-Fi or cellular modem can be swapped with other versions as required. It includes an i.MX 8XL applications processor along with multiple wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, UWB, V2X, broadcast radio, and a 5G modem.
The connected vehicle is rapidly evolving and this means an avalanche of software and electronics for the entire automotive sector. In the framework of this evolution (which rather resembles a revolution these days), integration is important, to avoid indecipherable mazes of hardware and software, to save money, and to provide safety and security. NXP supports integrations with its platforms for future intelligent connected vehicle use cases.
NXP is a global leader in auto microprocessors, ADAS, radar, secure car access, infotainment, and in-vehicle networking; our comprehensive solution portfolio enables our customers to accelerate the design of their next-generation automotive designs, allowing rapid time to market and scalability. The latest step of progress is our OrangeBox development platform for the evaluation and testing of CDC concepts. OrangeBox is expected to be available to customers and parties in the first half of 2023. For more details see nxp.com/orangebox