Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The current generation of in-vehicle networks cannot support the amount of data that will be required for AVs to make decisions in real time. One potential solution could be drastically improved automotive ethernet, a network for cars adapted from computers.

Why it matters: Wireless networks could offer some advantages in internal and external AV communication, but AVs cannot rely on a network with any chance of experiencing a delay, making wired networks the safest bet.

What’s needed: Cars with semi-autonomous features currently have networks speeds ranging from 500 kilobits per second to 1 megabit per second — but fully autonomous cars will require networks capable of speeds approaching 10-20 gigabits per second.

What's happening: Automotive ethernet systems currently use copper wiring. As copper is relatively inexpensive to deploy and maintain, OEMS are squeezing as much performance as possible from improved copper-based systems.

  • Currently, automotive ethernet can support network speeds of around 1 Gbps, 1,000 times faster than what is currently available in today’s cars.
  • Network speeds of more than 10 Gbps are expected in the next two years, which would enable the real-time decision making required by AVs for at least the next 8-10 years. After this timeframe, it is likely that advances in AVs will demand even higher speeds, and will require a new solution to be found.

Yes, but: Even as OEMs explore sophisticated new internal networks, they are hoping to reduce the amount of wiring in cars as part of a broader effort to reduce vehicle weights, improve fuel economy and increase the range of electric vehicles.

  • Today's cars contain an average of around 1,500 copper wires, totaling about 1 mile in length. Advanced ethernet networks will need to do more with less.
  • One other challenge associated with copper wiring is its susceptibility to electromagnetic interference, electrical noise that can interfere with data networks. This has been addressed for the current speeds of today's automotive ethernet systems, but as network speeds increase, the industry will need to address this.

The bottom line: As AVs require increasingly fast network speeds, the next generation of automotive ethernet technology could be a huge boon for AV development.

Alan Amici is vice president and CTO for transportation solutions at TE Connectivity, a supplier of automotive sensors and data systems.

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