New solutions for a new era
Will it be a compact robot taxi? A high-performance electric sports car? Or a self-driving limousine whose car seats turn into a bed at night? No-one really knows what the car of the future will look like. But one thing’s certain today: during the next ten years, the automobile is going to change in ways unlike anything that has been seen in its history. Not only will the vehicle change due to electromobility and autonomous driving, but the cars will also become part of a networked mobility system in which a temporary use – rather than car ownership – will be the core business model.
It’s also certain that the power and dataflow will be significantly higher in the vehicles of the future. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that more and more on-board controllers and data or power lines will need to be added. Instead, the long-term trend for most manufacturers is towards a centralized architecture where a computer equipped with high-performance processors is responsible for running everything. These kinds of architectures also change the ways in which circuits and fuses are organized for electrical components: rather than using electrical relays and thermal fuses, solutions will utilize more and more purely electronic and semiconductor-based systems.
Adapting to the future
LEONI adapted early on to the needs of the impending transition in vehicle electronics: our ‘Future in Automotive’ program creates the environment needed for us to establish ourselves as a key partner for data and energy solutions – from conceptual design to production. LEONI takes a multi-stage approach in order to live up to the high standards that automobile manufacturers place on their development partners. Taking into account various areas of expertise across all company departments, LEONI is developing the so-called digital twin concepts and solutions integrated in parallel, for future vehicle architectures comprising mechanical, electronic systems and software. In this way, LEONI's Wiring Systems division is working on new ideas to expand the existing product portfolio and taking a solution-driven approach to solving the challenges presented by future electrical/electronic architectures. The development timeline here is complementary to the timeline in a conventional pre-development phase. This approach has already produced solution strategies for energy and data management in future generations of vehicles, which are briefly outlined below.
Energy management solution strategy
Energy management in the vehicles of the future will be largely determined by the way driver assistance systems are being enhanced to enable full autonomy. Already, a Stage 3 automation level allows drivers to temporarily turn their attention to tasks other than driving. This means that enough energy must be continuously available to ensure that the safety of the vehicle, for example: energy available to steer the vehicle to the hard shoulder and bringing it to a halt in case of unexpected events.. Since designing full redundancy into the power supply is not advisable in terms of cost or weight, LEONI has developed an approach that achieves redundancy in the power subsystem by interconnecting two on-board networks. A partial set of sensors and actuators are connected to the 12 Volt on-board power supply, while the rest are dependent on a 12 Volt “back-up” on-board power supply.
These two parts of the wiring harness are interconnected using an electronic power distribution switch (iPDS, Intelligent Power Distribution Switch). The iPDS, which is constructed using power semiconductors (MOSFETs), can ensure safe electrical isolation within milliseconds if a short circuit occurs in one section of the on-board network. It thus replaces classic relays whose switching times would be too high for this application. Following a second development phase, the switch will then be replaceable by an integrated 12 V energy storage system that continuously stabilizes the network voltage.
Data management solution strategy
Data volumes are set to rise drastically in future vehicle generations. At LEONI, we assume that a mid-range vehicle produced from 2020 onwards is likely to generate around four Terabytes of data every day. These vehicles will therefore be equipped with on-board Ethernet: with initial capacities of 25 Gbit/s, later rising to as much as 45 Gbit/s. For sensors such as rain sensors, however, whose data volumes do not justify the use of Ethernet, will be connected locally by using a traditional communication protocol like CAN, for example. Since this requires a ‘translator’ component, LEONI is now developing a universal gateway that ensures reliable data transmission between network layers. Our gateway design is modeled on an approach already familiar from other IT networks: the gateway is independent of other electronic components and is solely responsible for handling data transmission. This approach is expected to significantly improve the stability of the network.
Time for a rethink
The electrical/electronic architectures used in present-day vehicles have mostly evolved in response to various requirements. For the car of the future, however, the huge complexities involved in supplying data and energy require a new, proactive approach. LEONI has already achieved key milestones in its strategies in this regard. We would gladly welcome cooperation with partners as we think about the future of the automobile and developing intelligent power and data transmission systems.