Autonomous driving is just the beginning: connectivity as the basis for the future of the automotive industry

Interview with Christoph Zauner about the “connected car”, its future role in autonomous driving and its impact on infrastructure and on-board power systems.

Tech Talk is a series of interviews that introduce you to some inspiring personalities within and outside of MD as well as to the world of technology, innovation, and more. 

In this episode, we sat down with Christoph Zauner, Manager of Technical Product Management at MD. We talk about future scenarios that will be made possible by innovations in the area of data exchange between the vehicle and its environment and what this will mean for the infrastructure and the automotive industry.

“The networked future of the car: on the road to becoming Car2Car & V2X.”

Christoph, please tell us a little about yourself. What inspires you most about your job?

Christoph: After working in the electronics development industry for 24 years, I joined MD ELEKTRONIK in 2020 as Manager of Technical Product Management. What excites me most about my job? Being at the forefront of new projects, the exciting and interesting contact with our customers worldwide, and the wonderful intercultural experiences that come from working in a global environment.

“Connected” is one of the megatrends of the automotive industry. What does the term “connected car” mean?

Christoph: Connected car describes a vehicle’s ability to communicate with other vehicles, services or data servers or so-called “Clouds”. This generally takes place over the Internet and represents the next evolutionary step in the history of the car.

What opportunities does this create?

Christoph: The active exchange of data in road traffic situations means that a variety of new approaches can be implemented. This is indispensable for autonomous driving.

Vehicles communicate actively with each other, for example, using the sensor data of the vehicle in front of them. For instance, the car behind can detect that the car in front needs to make an emergency stop and activate its brakes, and the car behind can therefore react in real time. But that’s not all, this information is also directly communicated to all the other vehicles that are following behind. Imagine a scenario where there is a bend in the road or behind a hilltop where it’s not possible to see that the car in front has stopped. The car behind can still brake in time and therefore prevent a rear-end collision.

Another possibility is optimizing the traffic flow in cities by means of active traffic light control, as the positions and speeds of individual vehicles can be detected and the controls can react accordingly. Of course, this also has a direct positive impact on the car’s consumption.

Similarly, system updates and enhancements (new apps) can be loaded “over the air” so to speak. This eliminates the need to go into car workshops in order to use this service.

Taking the whole thing a little further, whole new business areas and innovative approaches could be opened up through the collection of data from vehicles. From displays and the ensuing route navigation to free parking spaces or reserving them, and to the detection of potholes, including independently notifying the responsible builder’s yard. There are no limits to the imagination!

What are the consequences of this on the infrastructure?

Christoph: To enable this type of Car2Car or V2X infrastructure, many more steps need to be taken. Data volumes and speeds with which this data needs be sent and received will be extremely high.
Work is currently being carried out on the large-scale expansion of the 5G mobile phone network which is the basic requirement for transferring high data rates of over 1 Gbit/s.
Furthermore, networked traffic lights and traffic control systems are also needed in order to realize the desired optimization of the flow of traffic.
Finally, extremely powerful, high-performance Cloud servers must also be available so that the huge flood of data can be evaluated and transferred. 

How will this change the requirements on vehicles?

Christoph: To be able to communicate with the outside world, a vehicle virtually needs to be turned into a Smartphone! And that’s how 5G, Internet and WLAN are finding their way into the car. Functions such as the installation of new apps and system updates will become the new standard.

The issue of cybersecurity in vehicles is also suddenly gaining massive importance. Nobody wants to travel in a car where the brakes suddenly stop working because the system has been hacked! The many sensors and cameras, the resulting data volumes and ensuing actions must be processed in real time by very powerful computers inside the car. All of this requires new on-board power system architectures and an extremely large amount of software inside the vehicle. “Software-defined vehicle” is a term often used to describe this. Functions that were once carried out by hardware, are now mapped via software. 

What will be the consequences of this for the on-board power supply?

Christoph: Zone architecture is the catchword here. This means that functions (sensors, actuators) from one physical region in the car (e.g. the front left corner) will be consolidated, and all signals will be redirected via a zonal interface (gateway) to the central data highway in the vehicle (backbone). All data will then converge on the central computer or on several central computers, which is why such high processing power is required.

This new architecture means that cable lengths must be drastically reduced which means that weight will be reduced along with the wiring effort required during production.

However, the backbone needs to be able to transmit data faultlessly at rates of up to 25 Gbit/s. When it comes to copper-based cables, we are slowly reaching the limits of physics. For this reason, increasing focus is being given to optical data transmission as this is where transmission rates of 100 Gbit/s are possible.
In addition, a fiber optic cable is insensitive to electromagnetic interference and also lighter than copper.

Where do we currently stand with the topic of connectivity?

Christoph: On a small scale, when using Google Maps, it’s already possible to see functions such as accident or traffic jam warnings. Diverting to faster routes is also already working very well on Cloud-based systems. However, currently, it is mostly still the Smartphone rather than the vehicle itself that is used as the medium for this.
It is likely to take some time before the necessary infrastructure for the complete range of functions will be available. This is unlikely to happen before 2030 as currently there are repeated delays in the expansion of the 5G network.

What is MD doing to equip itself for the future challenges?

Christoph: Thanks to its comprehensive product portfolio in the area of high-quality data cables, its longstanding experience, and its highly automated assembly systems, MD is already very well positioned. Of course, we are giving considerable thought to the requirements of the future so that we can continue to be the right partner for OEMs and Tier1s. The subject of optical data transmission is currently of crucial importance to us.

Christoph, thank you very much for this very interesting interview!

Software-defined vehicle – highest requirements for the on-board power system  

Connectivity is the magic word. In the future, vehicles will be fully networked devices that must be equipped with an on-board power system with the highest data transmission rates in order to communicate with their environment. The expansion of the infrastructure is progressing, and by the end of the decade, the foundations will have been laid for the extensive exploitation of many new opportunities. The supply industry is reacting to the increasing requirements, for example, with the development of new, optical data transmission solutions. Contact MD to find out more about the connectivity of the future!

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About Christoph Zauner

Christoph Zauner is a Technical Product Manager at MD. His focus is on automotive PCB connectors and electronic components. His many years of professional experience in electronic engineering make him highly capable in this field. What excites him most about his job: “Being able to help shape new products from the very beginning is a special privilege. The close customer contact, the collaboration in an international team and the resulting intercultural experiences make the tasks particularly interesting.”