PC technology filters down to the automotive market

BMW is no stranger to high-tech computer wizardry in its vehicles. The German company befuddled BMW owners around the world with the introduction of the Windows CE-based iDrive driver information center in the current 7-Series. iDrive, which has been panned by most enthusiasts and auto journalists, later filtered down to the 5-Series, 3-Series, 6-Series, 1-Series and X5.

Since the introduction of iDrive way back in 2002, many manufacturers have introduced their own control schemes with varying amount of control knobs and buttons to control everything from basic vehicle functions to the intensity of interior lighting -- most of which are far more intuitive than iDrive.

BMW is looking to make another leap forward with the introduction of Internet Protocol (IP) networking in future automobiles. The company is using off-the-shelf Ethernet components to replace the vast array of networking systems included in today's automobiles (CAN, LIN, MOST, Flexray, etc.).

It should come as no surprise that by settling on standard PC networking technology, greater cost efficiencies can be utilized as well as greater interoperability between car manufacturers. A wider array of standardized, off-the-shelf communications gear could lead to faster development cycles for vehicles and lower overall development costs.

BMW used IP networking to connect engine control units (ECUs), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and the dashboard head unit among other things. BMW's current testing uses the IPv4 standard, but the company hopes to move to IPv6 in future testing.

"One of our research goals was to verify the real-time capabilities of IP for safety-critical applications," said IP project manager Richard Bogenberger. "In order to guarantee the short response times required, we used features such as QoS and traffic shaping. Our experiments with prototypes demonstrated, that the real-time behavior far exceeded the requirements -- even when we ran multimedia applications across the same network."

BMW has no set time frame for when the first "IP Car" would be made available to the public, but chances are that we could see production versions within the next ten years.

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