Seamless connectivity for vehicle networking

How the design trend of zone architecture improves automotive communication

01 Apr 2024
Connected vehicle zonal architecture

Electronics are continuing to evolve how we interact with our cars. We have come a long way from the time when integrated navigation or hands-free calling were considered new, exciting features.

Today’s vehicles are loaded with innovative technology and can have hundreds or thousands of semiconductors for increased intelligence, electrification and safety. Semiconductor chips also enable a higher level of comfort, from air-conditioned seats to custom lighting effects; in some vehicles, multiple touchscreens or smartphone apps support these features.

This is the era of the software-defined vehicle, a major automotive market trend through which car manufacturers can offer higher levels of service, personalization and convenience.

Of course, safety remains paramount, with almost 93% of new vehicles having at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) feature[1]. It’s estimated that ADAS may prevent up to 1.6 million crashes per year and up to $36.7 billion in damages[2]. These figures would not be possible without the advancements in ADAS and connectivity that semiconductors bring to vehicles.

Zone architecture, another automotive trend, can help achieve the software-defined vehicle. Zone architecture groups electronic control units (ECUs) by location in a vehicle versus by function (called a domain architecture). These location-based ECUs, also known as zone control modules, strive to centralize the vehicle’s hardware and software architectures by leveraging existing and new network interfaces.

“Our company is well positioned to address all of the major communication needs of the architectural shift within the automotive industry,” said Tsedeniya Abraham, vice president of interface at our company. “We can help designers manage and simplify the mix of data types that a zone architecture calls for.”

Tsedeniya quote

Reducing cabling, leveraging protocols

As the number of sensors and actuators in vehicles grow, so does the amount of data to be transmitted within a vehicle. Each ECU needs to communicate with sensors, actuators and other ECUs to accurately execute motion and safety functions. This traditionally requires many heavy wiring cables carrying power and data throughout the vehicle.

Fortunately, zone architecture reduces cabling, weight and cost to best optimize the software-defined vehicle. Familiar communications protocols such as Ethernet, Controller Area Network (CAN) and Local Interconnect Network (LIN) remain essential in organizing this increasing amount of data as well.

For example, ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency enabled through Ethernet support safety-critical communications such as accident avoidance. Cost-effective protocols such as CAN or LIN may be best for other lower-bandwidth connections, such as rolling a window up or down, adjusting seat temperatures, or power steering.

“While Ethernet between the zone control modules is the best choice for high-speed data transmission, CAN or LIN are efficient, fast choices for the last mile of communication within each zone,” Tsedeniya said.

For the most demanding video transport requirements, the FPD-Link™ protocol can currently deliver 13.5Gbps over a single cable. That’s enough to keep up with the pillar-to-pillar, high-resolution displays in vehicles.

With safety in mind, our FPD-Link serializer-deserializer (SerDes) is fast enough to transmit uncompressed camera data, a critical advantage as vehicles incorporate more ADAS features.

Uncompressed data is essential to reducing visual artifacts that could otherwise interfere with a system’s ability to process and react to images. FPD-Link is also bidirectional, so the system can still control the camera even while receiving images.

Looking ahead

The need to integrate a range of protocols is one reason why manufacturers are turning to our company’s extensive family of automotive communications devices to handle the move to zone architectures.

The excitement is also wireless. “Some consumers are already able to get new performance or convenience features with over-the-air updates, even comply with recalls, all without needing to bring the car into the shop.” said Fern Yoon, TI’s director of automotive systems engineering and marketing.

With zone architecture supporting the vision of a software-defined vehicle, automakers are redefining the next levels of driver personalization, safety and convenience.

“At TI, we continue to invest in meeting the automotive architecture trends of today and tomorrow,” Tsedeniya said.

[1] AAA. January 2019. “ADVANCED DRIVER ASSISTANCE TECHNOLOGY NAMES.” Accessed March 25, 2024.
[2] Khana, Abdullah, Corey D. Harper, Chris T. Hendrick, Constantine Samaras. Net-societal and net-private benefits of some existing vehicle crash avoidance technologies. Published in Accident Analysis & Prevention 125 (April 2019): pp. 207-216.

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