Connecting commercial vehicles with advanced electronics

  • 16-Jan-2012 08:37 EST
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As higher speed and bandwidth products transition into construction, mining, municipal, and other commercial vehicles, network platforms are proliferating and converging. Complexity management is a central networking challenge in transportation network design.

As demand for user navigation, safety, comfort, and infotainment content increases in commercial vehicles, so too has the need for solutions that simplify electrical distribution systems and enable a feature-rich environment. Transportation engineers have a broad range of innovative and proven electronics solutions at their disposal, ranging from standard sealed connector systems to high-speed in-vehicle digital communication products.

As seen in the migration of robust safety equipment from luxury automobiles to economy class and commercial vehicles, OEM engineers are strategically incorporating electronics as business tools and for user functionality and appeal.

Electronic manufacturers have seen a boost in demand for high-speed wiring, connectors, cable assemblies, switches, and other electronic technologies to enable the latest in-vehicle, content-rich mobile applications in commercial equipment and vehicles. While industry demand is on the rise, not all commercial OEMs and designers have the necessary expertise for engineering and integrating high-speed electrical content.

Designing the connected commercial vehicle presents unique power management and other engineering design challenges, including in-vehicle data management, space constraints, and electrical voltage regulation. Commercial electronic platforms must meet stringent design specifications and performance requirements. Cost, compatibility, electrical voltage spikes, and in-vehicle or cab signal integrity are important issues that factor into engineering.

The sub-system that an intended link will service is a primary influencer in component selection, in addition to the module or device location within a vehicle’s cab and specific connector performance requirements. Unlike a PC or other portable consumer device, the serviceable life of commercial trucks or heavy equipment can span upward of 15 or more years so product integrity and longevity need to be high-priority considerations.

Leveraging cross-technologies

Industry demand has spurred development of new components to simplify engineering and meet the electrical and electronic requirements of the connected commercial vehicle segment. In terms of technology trends, three primary digital links are emerging in the connected vehicle segment—consumer access ports, video (port-to-port), and in-vehicle networking (peer-to-peer).

Copper connectivity solutions, with multiple options, are being used to support high-speed digital links entering vehicles. Many are based on SerDes (Serializer/Deserializer) technology, which reduces weight but increases complexity while opening up endless possibilities for in-vehicle network connectivity options.

Addressing design and engineering issues, leading electronics companies and OEM design engineers are increasingly leveraging expertise from other industries and adapting the latest advanced technologies developed for use in transportation applications.

Powerful cross-technologies provide invaluable tools for designers tasked with developing scalable, flexible, and economical platforms for smarter, connected commercial vehicles. An array of user access ports, point-to-point connector assemblies, and in-cab networking solutions have been tested and validated in demanding commercial transportation applications including:

• Driver-interface Customer Convenience Port (CCP) modules allow end users to integrate their comforts of home through optimizing the power supply and connectivity to high-speed audio, video displays, CD players, DVD players, and navigation devices. For improved engineering design flexibility, CCP options include total I/O integration with USB, SD memory cards, HDMI, IEEE 1394, EtherNet, Bluetooth, and auxiliary jack media ports, in addition to HSAutoLink connectors from Molex.

• Membrane switches provide durable, lightweight, and low-profile options for integrating user interfaces and electronic components into a variety of transportation applications. Standard membrane switches are thin micro-motion assemblies, with one or more layers of silver or carbon conductors printed on polyester substrate layers. Non-tactile membrane switches, poly-domes, silicone rubber keypads, and tactile metal domes can be selected to provide the "snap" feedback or audible sound when the switch is actuated.

• Using solid-state circuitry to detect touch, customized capacitive switches are designed to be resistant to harsh chemical exposures, contaminants, and EMI, which makes this user interface robust and durable in commercial vehicle applications. The latest advancements in capacitive switch were driven by the harsh environment market, allowing the user to be wearing gloves while activating the touch technology.

• Standard and custom light-emitting diode (LED) printed circuit assemblies support low power consumption in high-current applications, including indicator panels, interior lighting and navigation, mirrors, side markers, head lamps, emergency lights, brake lights, and stop lights. LED technology allows for more flexible lighting options without taxing the energy sources on the vehicles.

Streamlining electronics

The HSAutoLink portfolio is an emerging high-speed data bus for commercial vehicles and other heavy equipment, encompassing technologies such as Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS), 1394, FlexRay, eMOST, and ethernet among others.

Repackaging and ruggedizing an economical and widely deployed five-pin shielded connection system from the consumer market to meet tougher mechanical requirements and bring USB and other consumer technologies to commercial transportation, the release of the HSAutoLink high-speed databus represented a significant step toward streamlining electronics in connected commercial vehicles.

Addressing one of the most significant design challenges of blending consumer and industrial electronic components, the HSAutoLink assembly delivers on the requirement for reliable EMI and EMC performance in space-constrained packaging requirements commonly found in vehicle communications, telematic devices, safety cameras, infotainment, and other potential in-cab applications.

Full-length cable shielding provides for improved signal performance and reduced EMI with the HSAutoLink system. The USB 2.0 standard A receptacles feature shrouded and positive bezel-latching capabilities to provide in-cab mounting for connecting media devices such as portable navigation devices, flash drives, and MP3 players where high vibration is always present.

The HSAutoLink portfolio features expanded cable exit offerings for enhanced flexibility in compact design requirements. The angled exits or short profile, right-angle exit (RAE) options allow the assembled cable to exit the device at various angles, providing alternative routing options in tightly confined areas. The RAE version features an extremely compact connector footprint, allowing cable connections in areas with obstructions directly behind the interface.

Engineered for longer product life, the HSAutoLink high-speed data bus assembly blends proprietary shielding and volume assembly manufacturing processes, leveraged with breakthrough technologies from other markets. Configured to deliver the latest in connectivity to drivers and operators, the USCAR-30 compliant HSAutoLink interconnect cable assemblies offer a durable interface up to 5000 cycles.

Gaining competitive advantages

Raising the bar on practicality, connectivity, and comfort in commercial vehicles makes good business sense. Many drivers and operators are accustomed to 24/7 connectivity to the Internet for on-demand communication with family, friends, and their employers. A decade ago, electrical components represented about 10% of the overall cost for commercial vehicles. Today, electronics represent approximately 35% of vehicle component cost.

The transportation industry is starting to recognize a trend whereby features and conveniences commonly found in personal vehicles are steadily migrating into commercial vehicles, including audio and video infotainment, security and safety cameras, smart phones, and power and data connectivity for mobile laptops, netbooks, and smartphones.

On- and off-highway applications require the ability to communicate with the back office to help track and regulate vehicle behavior. Fleet owners face federal mandates limiting hours of service, which is placing the onus on drivers to regulate themselves and putting the corporations at risk.

Telematics integration tools such as GPS locators, tracking software, and other communication devices help business owners run their operations under strict parameters while better understanding real-time issues in the field. Integrated connected vehicles add a competitive edge for fleet owners in industries competing to retain experienced operators and drivers.

This article was written for SAE Off-Highway Engineering by Corey Schroeder, Industry Marketing Manager, for Molex Inc.

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