The shift to digital broadcasting and the emergence of vehicle-to vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications may drive a shift to software defined radio (SDR). These computer-like radios, which use software to handle a range of radio frequencies, will also help OEMs use a single platform for all radios.
NXP Semiconductors is investing heavily in SDR, hoping that automakers will follow the path taken in military and aerospace. In these fields, digital radios are increasingly being used to handle the range of inputs used by different agencies.
In automotive, AM and FM bands are now augmented by HD and satellite in the U.S. and DAB, DAB+, and T-DMB in Europe and Asia. A single SDR box could handle all these inputs and others. Vehicles could be programmed at the end of production when their final destination has been set.
“SDR saves significant R&D effort; the engineers don’t have to design each radio from scratch,” said Kurt Sievers, General Manager of NXP's High-Performance Mixed-Signal automotive business. “It’s also good for automakers’ production lines because they can set up the radio late in manufacturing when they know where the vehicle is headed.”
NXP has introduced a digital radio coprocessor for car entertainment systems that’s already being used by Audi and Fujitsu-Ten Europe GmbH. Sievers noted that, while many digital links can be pulled in using NXP’s SAF356x chip, conventional devices will be used to handle analog AM and FM signals.
Sievers also noted that SDR boxes could become a central component when vehicle-to vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure links move from research to production. This area remains in flux, but a variation of IEEE 802.11/Wi-Fi may play a role. Last year, the IEEE approved IEEE 802.11p, a version commonly called wireless access in vehicular environments (WAVE).
It defines enhancements to 802.11 required to support intelligent transportation systems applications, communicating over the 5.9-GHz frequency. Sievers said it’s set for road tests.
“The SDR platform happens to be an ideal engine for this standard,” he said. “We’ll soon be able to discuss a big field trial with a major European OEM for car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications.”