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Issue: Sep 2009


The best protocol with which to create an industry standard for serial communication systems



AI interview with Frank Cornelius, spokesperson of the FlexRay Consortium and senior manager of safety and network at Daimler AG

by Lenny Case

Recently, chipmaker NXP Semiconductors shipped its one millionth FlexRay Physical Layer compliant transceivers to the automotive industry. NXP said that the millionth shipment of its FlexRay transceivers reiterates its number one position as the leading supplier of in-vehicle networking technology. The announcement by NXP was not only a boost to the company but also to the FlexRay Consortium. This is because it reflects a rapid increase in the adoption of FlexRay in-vehicle networking technology among car OEMs globally.

“Over the past 15 years, the automotive networking team at NXP has constantly strived to drive innovation so that we can bring the latest in-car comfort and safety to the end consumer. We’re delighted to have reached this landmark and having passed the industrialization phase of FlexRay. As one of the founding members of the FlexRay Consortium, NXP is working actively to broaden the adoption of FlexRay technology towards a global scale, enabling car OEMs worldwide to meet their requirement to reduce emission and fuel consumption and increased driving experiences,” said Jeroen Keunen, FlexRay Consortium Executive Board Member and General Manager of Integrated IVN & FlexRay MST of NXP Semiconductors, in a press release.

NXP’s FlexRay physical layer compliant transceiver was first road tested by BMW in its 2007 BMW X5 car – this was followed in 2008 by BMW’s fifth generation 7 series that used eleven FlexRay node transceivers. “In order to implement new features such as the BMW Dynamic Driver Control which offers our customers exceptional ride control, BMW has used NXP FlexRay technology. BMW is committed to further develop the FlexRay bus system that provides the safety, speed and robust quality demanded in automotive applications and counts therefore on the strong partnership within the semiconductor industry in the future, too,” said Kai Barbehön, BMW Department Manager Platform-Technologies and FlexRay Consortium Executive Board Member.

The FlexRay Consortium was formed in 2000 and the core member companies are BMW, Bosch, Daimler, Freescale, GM, NXP Semiconductors and Volkswagen. These companies have been working together in developing the requirements for an advanced communication system for future automotive applications. The seven companies have brought together their respective areas of expertise to define a communication system that is targeted to support the needs of future in-car control applications.

The consortium’s aim is to establish FlexRay as the best protocol with which to create an industry standard for serial communication systems to efficiently support the control of communication between electro-mechanical nodes in automotive applications. The hope is that the adoption of FlexRay as the standard will afford the automotive industry many design and cost efficiencies by simplifying the manufacturing and design of vehicles, controlling the cost of the microcontrollers and electronic systems that go in them while benefiting from the advanced electronic systems that will become an integral part of new vehicles.

According to a Strategy Analytics report dated July this year, the global automotive networking protocol deployment will lead to a number of network nodes deployed of 2 billion units per annum and a bus transceiver market worth almost USD 1 billion by 2015. The report suggests that FlexRay technology is expected to gain an increasing share of this key market as demand for robust, real time electronic control in safety-critical applications expands. By 2015 Strategy Analytics expects FlexRay to account for around eight percent of global bus transceiver revenues, from less than one percent in 2009.

The reason for the optimism is that FlexRay is the automotive standard for deterministic, fault-tolerant, high-speed data communication and it clearly delivers the networking performance demanded by newer and enhanced automotive applications such as brake-by-wire and steer-by-wire. As the next generation in-vehicle networking, FlexRay has much higher bandwidth than existing CAN and is expected to be the communication backbone for drive-by-wire applications, which will help reduce car weight and energy consumption and allow for better safety.

“The introduction of advanced control systems combining multiple sensors, actuators and electronic control units are beginning to place demands on the communication technology that were not previously addressed by existing communication protocols. Additional requirements for future in-car control applications include the combination of higher data rates, deterministic behavior and the support of fault tolerance.
Flexibility in both bandwidth and system extension will also be key attributes as the need for increased functionality and on-board diagnostics also increase. Availability, reliability and data bandwidth are the key for targeted applications in powertrain, chassis and body control, and these must also be supported within the automotive environment which presents some unique challenges,” said Klaus Lange, earlier spokesperson for the FlexRay Consortium and head of networks and diagnostics at Volkswagen in an interview to AI.

The FlexRay protocol provides flexibility and determinism by combining a scalable static and dynamic message transmission, incorporating the advantages of familiar synchronous and asynchronous protocols. The protocol also supports fault-tolerant clock synchronization via a global time base, collision-free bus access, guaranteed message latency, message oriented addressing via identifiers and scalable system fault-tolerance via the support of either single or dual channels.

Automotive Industries spoke to Frank Cornelius, spokesperson of the FlexRay Consortium and senior manager of safety and network at Daimler AG.

AI: What is the significance of NXP’s shipping its millionth FlexRay Physical Layer compliant transceivers? 

This is a sign that FlexRay becomes really “automotive”. Currently the growth isn’t very big but it is a continuous growth. In the near future FlexRay experiences more and more importance.

AI: Does Ethernet pose a threat to the FlexRay protocol in terms of OEM usage – if not, why? 

Ethernet is no threat to FlexRay because the Ethernet protocol has other characteristics. Ethernet will be an applicable protocol for applications with a high amount of data and with fewer requirements concerning the time accuracy. Ethernet will be used in other application domains.

AI: What are some of the new developments in embedded in-vehicle communications? 

The development of in-vehicle networking is a continuous business. It is necessary to have always the appropriate basic technology if the application needs it. In this area the approach should be that the car makers adopt available technologies. Only if no technology is available a new communication system should be developed (e.g. FlexRay). 

Along these lines the FlexRay Consortium has been working on FlexRay V3.0, an enhanced version of FlexRay V2.1 that among other improvements provides support for hierarchical synchronized networks.

AI: What are some of the challenges facing automotive companies in terms of in-vehicle communications? 

The main challenges of new technologies are the availability, the quality, the reliability and the economic efficiency. The in-vehicle communication is the backbone of the car. Therefore we need right from the start the basic technology in a high quality with a high reliability. Another challenge is to find the rules for the use in the vehicle and a possibility how FlexRay can be deployed in an economic way.

AI: What kind of developments can we expect in this area as well as with developments in the FlexRay protocol by 2020?

The members of the FlexRay Consortium consider the upcoming FlexRay V3.0 standard mature to meet the requirements of future applications, and that for the time being, no further technical development of the FlexRay standard is planned after the release of V3.0. So, the next step is to introduce FlexRay V3.0 and to integrate FlexRay V3.0 in AUTOSAR.

AI: What are some of the immediate challenges facing the FlexRay Consortium? 

Currently one of the major tasks in the consortium is to finalize FlexRay 3.0. The main focus is the completion of all necessary specifications enabling a successful introduction of the FlexRay 3.0 standard in high maturity. In addition we discuss in depth a suitable organizational form in which we continue to co-operate. The running time of the consortium stops at the end of the year 2009. Here the objective is to find a way how we can increase the exploitation of FlexRay in order to support the establishment as world-wide automotive standard.


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