Fire(Wire) in the hole! Auto-1394

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Date: Sun Sep 17 2000 - 19:07:02 PDT

[Standards only a Fortune 1 customer could love... "Nor is it a problem
if we endorse two of them." --RK]

Car makers consider 1394
By Charles J. Murray, EE Times
Sep 15, 2000 (4:48 PM)

PARK RIDGE, Ill. A draft specification released describing an
automotive version of the IEEE 1394 bus is moving forward as a
high-speed serial interface for future vehicles, and as a potential
competitor to the fiber-optic Most bus backed by several European car
makers. Key to the success of the 1394 bus will be support from the
powerful Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMIC), an
industry group that includes 12 of the world's biggest auto makers. AMIC
has met with representatives from the 1394 Trade Association and the IDB
Forum in an effort to hammer out a specification that would put IEEE
1394 serial buses on board everyday vehicles. If they can reach
agreement, the bus would provide a high-speed connection for the
efficient transmission of data in vehicles. The agreement would also
enable consumers to plug handheld electronic devices, such as camcorders
and DVD players, into vehicle networks.

The availability of such bus technology is considered critical because
of the increasing amount of digital data that now passes through
vehicles. In particular, automotive audio and video systems will require
high-bandwidth buses to handle huge data streams in the future.

The 1394 serial interconnection is said to be a strong candidate for
such applications because of its high speed and compatibility with
consumer electronics. IEEE 1394 is already used in more than 10 million
camcorders and eight million PCs, as well as in millions of printers,
scanners, video games, and mass-storage devices. It offers speeds of
100, 200, and 400 Mbits/second.

"One of the big things driving 1394 is that it does very well with
video," said Arlan Stehney, executive director of the IDB Forum
(Pittsburgh), a cross-industry group concerned with networking and
electronics standards. "So it's well-suited for rear-seat entertainment
systems in minivans and sport utility vehicles."

The meeting between AMIC and the standards groups raises questions about
the future of automotive network buses. AMIC is currently drafting the
first release of a specification that will include a low-speed CAN
(controller-area network) bus, and possibly a high-speed fiber optic
bus. Until recently, the fiber-optic Media Oriented Systems Transport
(Most) bus was the leading high-speed candidate for endorsement by AMIC.

But OEM engineers and representatives from the 1394 Trade Association
and the IDB Forum this week introduced an 80-page draft spec of the
so-called IDB-1394 bus, which could be thrust into a prominent position
with AMIC.

The AMIC's endorsement could be critical for the technology, because
AMIC counts as members BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Fiat, General Motors,
Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot-Citroen, Renault, Toyota and
Volkswagen. The group of manufacturers has stated that it wants to
standardize electrical architectures because such architectures could
lead to simpler implementation of navigation systems, CD players, video
screens, digital radios, cell phones, and a host of other devices in
their vehicles. Car manufacturers now complain that they must often
reengineer vendor products, which are not designed to any specific
standard. As a result, they lose valuable development time and risk
falling behind the rate of innovation in the electronics industry.

IDB-1394 could help by offering car makers a high-speed fiber optic bus
that takes advantage of widely used technology. "The idea is to leverage
the economies of scale that you get from 1394 technology and incorporate
them into automotive applications," said Frank Desjarlais, a network
systems engineer for Ford Motor Co. who wrote the draft IDB-1394
specification along with Brad Little, an engineer with Texas Instruments

The new specification describes the basic architecture, plastic fiber
and copper connector specifications for the 1394 multimedia backbone. It
provides consumers with a foundation for 1394-equipped embedded devices
and provides a way to connect portable computer products such as CD
players, DVDs, games or laptop computers in a vehicle.

The spec also includes a so-called "Customer Convenience Port" to make a
connection to those outside devices. The convenience port, which uses
copper wire, provides a common type of port that consumer devices can
plug in to. Embedded 1394 dashboard devices, however, would connect
directly to the bus.

Eight months in the making, the IDB-1394 spec was fashioned with input
from Ford, General Motors and Toyota, as well as from makers of consumer
devices such as Sony and Panasonic. "There's been agreement between the
auto manufacturers and the consumer electronics giants that it's in
their best interest to work together on this," said Max Bassler of Molex
Inc. (Lisle, Ill.), vice chairman of the 1394 Trade Association. "They
want to leverage 1394 technology."

Whether IDB-1394 will be endorsed in the AMIC specification is still
open to question. AMIC board members said that technical issues must
first be resolved before IDB-1394 can be endorsed. In particular,
engineers question whether IDB-1394 meets the electromagnetic
interference capabilities needed for an automotive environment, and
whether it will meet temperature specs.

AMIC members know, however, that they will need a high-speed bus
specification at some point in the near future. The only bus set for
definite endorsement by AMIC right now is IDB-C, which offers a speed of
250 kbits/s. In contrast, the Most system features a speed of 24.8
Mbits/s, while IDB-1394 operates at 100 Mbits/s or greater.

Neither Most nor IDB-1394, however, appear likely to make the first
release of the AMIC spec. Most, which was co-developed by Oasis Silicon
Systems AG (Karlsruhe, Germany), Becker Automotive Systems (Karlsbad,
Germany), BMW and DaimlerChrysler, has been stalled in the AMIC
proceedings by intellectual property issues. AMIC members say those
issues, which involve "lack of openness," must be resolved before they
can endorse it. For that reason, along with IDB-1394's technical
problems, they question whether either high-speed bus can be endorsed in
their first release specification, due out in October. "Given the
timing, the reality is that we probably won't endorse either of them
just yet," said Scott Andrews, a former Toyota engineer who cofounded

But AMIC member companies said they have no preconceived notions about
how many high-speed buses AMIC can endorse. "It's not a requirement that
we endorse any high-speed bus in release one," said Mike Noblett, an
engineering manager for General Motors and a program manager for AMIC.
"Nor is it a problem if we endorse two of them."

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