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Marvell automotive centre boosts car Gigabit Ethernet design

03 May 2016  | Christoph Hammerschmidt

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The amount of data generated by cars nowadays is rapidly on the rise, mainly as a result of modern technologies that run ADAS and infotainment systems. In consequence, there is an equally pressing need for satisfactory means of transport for these data inside the car. As such, Marvell is betting heavily on different flavours of Gigabit Ethernet.

These days, the fabless chip vendor launched a new design centre for Gigabit Ethernet products in Germany. Based in Ettlingen near the south-western city of Karlsruhe, the Automotive Centre of Excellence can reached in about an hour by major German OEM customers such as Daimler and Porsche as well as by French carmakers such as Peugeot. The design team of some 50 engineers will focus on the development of (Gigabit) Ethernet switches, end node SoCs (eSoCs), gateways and related software, explained Alex Tan, director automotive at the chipmaker.

ADAS and infotainment systems

Figure 1: ADAS and infotainment systems in cars generate a large volume of data.

Tan observes a technology trend from decentralised to more centralised architectures for in-vehicle processing of real-time data. "Today, most of these processing units are located close to the respective sensors," Tan said. "But within the industry, there is a growing recognition that more centralised approaches would be more cost-effective. However, since in such an environment the sensor data would all need to travel to a central processing entity, the requirements to transport all these data in an adequate manner and timely between sensor and processing unit would become more demanding, at the same time the EMI situation would acerbate. Against this backdrop, Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet will emerge as the technology of choice, said Tan. Particularly suited for automotive environments are two-wire variations such as the emerging 100Base-T1 and 1000Base-T1 standards. "100Mbit/s four-wire versions are already in production; they are used preferably for connections between modules and for diagnostics data. Two-wire (or single-pair) versions are more suited for automotive applications because they contribute to lowering the weight of the cable loom," Tan added.

Car Ethernet

Figure 2: Gigabit Ethernet products for cars begin to increasingly occupy the automotive system.

Gigabit Ethernet also enables new applications such as HD video streams, be it between the infotainment system and the rear-seat video screen or between high-resolution camera and certain driver assistance systems capable of identifying objects around the vehicles. Gigabit Ethernet does not only offer a higher bandwidth, it also makes data compression dispensable in some cases. This property is particularly relevant for time-critical applications: The delay caused by compressing and decompressing can be significant.

Marvell is sampling Gigabit Ethernet chips since October, 2015. However, series production is not in sight since the standard is not yet completed. Once this is the case, it will take 12 to 15 months to provide series-production semiconductors, Tan said. "In any case, you should expect them to be available before the end of the decade," he said.

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