The number of communication channels coming into vehicles is growing as digital radio expands and automakers show more interest in vehicle-to-vehicle communications. That’s sparking more interest in software defined radio (SDR), which uses a single chipset to handle all these inputs.
Tier 1 suppliers and chipmakers are beginning to employ a concept being used by military branches that must deal with a number of different radio frequencies. Microcontroller-based SDR systems can shift frequencies and decode different formats as necessary. NXP Semiconductors is a key proponent, contending that SDR can let automakers use one radio in different countries.
“Carmakers can use what are basically programmable receivers to handle digital radio and TV, which use different standards in every region. In Europe, there are even different frequencies in some countries,” said Lars Reger, Vice President of Automotive Strategy for NXP Semiconductors. "SDR is also well suited for car-to-car communications and Wi-Fi.”
NXP predicts that SDR will start making its way into vehicles over the next couple years. Tier 1 suppliers are gearing up, saying that the pieces are in place to make the technology viable.
“Systems capable of implementing channel and source decoders for both analog and digital broadcast standards exist today. Performance of SDR systems can meet or exceed performance of dedicated chipsets. The real key is developing the right feature/function bundles to make it economically attractive,” said a Delphi spokesperson.
NXP has promoted SDR for some time, but Reger now feels the technology can reach beyond basic digital radio and AM-FM channels. The European requirement for emergency calling can be satisfied by chipsets that handle more conventional communication channels. SDR could also help move vehicle-to-vehicle communications from development stages into commercial viability.
Car-to-car communications are using IEEE 802.11, Wi-Fi, because it provides real-time communications,” Reger said. “If I slam on the brakes, cars within 400 meters around me will know I’m in an emergency braking situation. Traffic lights can talk to cars, telling them that if they go at, say, 30 mph, they will hit the next light green.”
Delphi also feels that SDR may play a role in the progress of vehicle-to-vehicle communications. “As vehicle-to-vehicle standards emerge, the software defined radio is a great, flexible solution to allow a hardware set to quickly adapt to varying standards and optimize performance levels,” the spokesperson said.