The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced a new law that will require all new vehicles sold in the U.S. under 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, including passenger vehicles, buses and trucks, to be outfitted with a rear back-up camera by 2018.

An estimated 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries are caused every year by back-over accidents, according to NHTSA. Of those, children under the age of five account for 31 percent of the fatalities and adults 70 years of age and older account for 26 percent. Once all vehicles on the road are so equipped the agency estimates that 58 to 69 lives will be saved each year.

The ruling requires the back-up cameras to display a field of view of at least 10 feet wide and 20 feet directly behind the vehicle. The NHTSA mandates that images should remain on the screen for at least four seconds but no more than eight seconds after a driver shifts out of reverse.

Back-up cameras aren’t exactly new as they’ve been a feature on some vehicles for years but they are most often reserved for luxury models. NHTSA estimates that even without the mandate 73% percent of light vehicles will have rear-view cameras by the 2018 deadline and that the cost per vehicle to equip the remainder will be $132 to $142 for a complete system, $43 to $45 to add the camera to a vehicle that already has a display screen.

Even more automotive cameras may be coming. In addition to mounting on the back side of the car these one inch cube-size cameras with megapixel image sensors can be put in the side mirrors, in the front of the car and even inside the car to watch the driver and passengers. Last week Tesla Motors and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington lobbying group, filed a petition with NHTSA seeking permission to replace traditional side mirrors with cameras. They argue that cameras are smaller than side mirror assemblies, so they could help aerodynamics and improve fuel economy. Small cameras are also valuable to carmakers for aesthetic reasons as they easily can be hidden within design features of the car, such as in the front grill or bumper and unlike mirrors they do not have to be installed in the driver's line of sight.

The upshot for automotive component and connector suppliers will be increased demand for terminals and PCB and harness connectors, as well as wire and cable assemblies, signal processing ICs and passives, sensors, relays and switching modules, among many other parts.

With Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) applications becoming increasingly integrated with infotainment systems the electronic components used for on-board display must fulfill very stringent requirements in order to meet demanding automotive quality and safety standards.

Infotainment graphics will play a key role in the so-called “connected car” and has become a main focus of the car buying public. Consider that a vehicle can have an instrument cluster, a front passenger-side display, a central console display, possibly a heads-up display [HUD], the aforementioned rear back-up camera, and even a rear-seat camera and display. Supporting multiple screens in an automobile is not just matter of computational power. It also brings to the forefront complex cabling, connector, and signal integrity issues. So among the basic engineering challenges are: how do you effectively support multiple displays and cameras from one, centrally located processing core?; and how do you deploy entertainment as well as advanced driver assistance systems in low-cost and mid-market vehicles as well as in luxury brands?

Deployment of low-cost automotive Ethernet could be part of the solution. Recently, Freescale Semiconductor and Broadcom teamed up to create a compact MCU using the BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet PHY designed to deliver automotive features such as park-assist and blind-spot detection to economy cars. BroadR-Reach is promoted by the Open Alliance SIG, which has members that include Broadcom, Freescale, NXP, BMW, GM, Renault and Daimler. In BroadR-Reach, compressed video is transmitted via unshielded single twisted-pair cable, reducing the cost of connectivity by 80 per cent and cable weight by 30 per cent, according to Broadcom's estimates.

Freescale's Qorivva MPC5606E chip is said to be the industry's first fully-integrated, packaged MCU and physical layer transceiver solution for use in 360-degree camera systems. The chip allows multiple cameras to send compressed video data simultaneously over an Ethernet in-vehicle network, displaying them on a center stack screen. Beyond reducing costs for connectivity and cable weight, the Qorivva MPC5606E helps reduce the size of automotive camera modules by up to 50 per cent, the companies stated. The chip will be in volume production by the end of 2014 and vehicles integrated with the Qorivva MPC5606E will reach the market in 2015.

The obvious solution of using large, standard copper cables is not attractive because they are needed to help carmakers add surround-view camera systems to higher volume, mid-range and economy vehicles.

The APIX interface technology, now in its second generation (APIX2), is another notable attempt to reduce the cost, weight involved and the sheer bulk of routing cables. APIX has been adopted by a number of semiconductor companies in different products including Inova, Fujitsu Semiconductors, Analog Devices, Spansion and Toshiba. APIX2 technology offers high speed differential data transmission over a single twisted pair (STP) cable. So instead of 19 wires of the HDMI cable, this interface backbone requires just one four-wire cable. Its physical layer drives up to 12 meters of cable (more than sufficient length for automotive application) at 3Gbps and up to 40 meters at 500MBit/s. The serial link interface consists of the downstream link, capable of supporting bandwidth modes of 500MBit/s, 1GBit/s and 3GBit/s at what is said to be low EMI, and an optional upstream link providing bandwidth modes of 62.5MBit/s and 187.5MBit/s enabling full-duplex video and audio data communication and GPIO capabilities.

At Embedded World 2014 held at the Messe Nürnberg fairgrounds in February, Inova Semiconductors, creator of the APIX standard, exhibited its APIX2 receiver INAP395R with touch control support and HDCP-1.4-cryptography for transmitting HD motion pictures.

HD video resolution graphics and larger WVGA displays improve the consumer’s experience in a car. But the question remains: Is HD video needed in a vehicle? That may be an arguable point but what is not debatable is that like it or not HD is coming. Indeed, so is 4K video, known as Ultra HD, which are displays that have an aspect ratio of at least 16:9 and at least one digital input capable of carrying and presenting native video at a minimum resolution of 3840×2160 pixels – four times as many pixels as standard HD. Renesas, for example, expects to see requirements for 4K displays in cars by mid-2020. (It should be noted that not only is Japan, the home base of Renesas, championing 4K video, they fully expect to be broadcasting in 8K by the time the Summer Olympics takes place in Tokyo in 2020).

The APIX group seems to agree and has noted that the forthcoming introduction of APIX NEXT technology, currently under development, will support even UHD (Ultra High Definition) type of displays.

A fundamental requirement for back-up cameras in infotainment systems is that a user must see the rear camera video in the display screen immediately after putting the vehicle in reverse gear. As a result, very fast boot-up speeds are needed to display the rear camera output. In January, Intel engineers published a white paper (“Early Camera Presentation on Intel® Atom™ Processor E38xx Series") describing a method to meet these requirements by decreasing the boot time for the Intel Atom processor family. In general, the authors report, as soon as the car is switched into reverse gear this process should occur in less than two seconds (even when the infotainment box is powered off). The paper suggests an implementation with which the camera can be displayed at around 1.4 seconds after the power button is pressed with the UI displayed only 1.5 seconds later.

Murray Slovick

Murray Slovick

Murray Slovick is Editorial Director of Intelligent TechContent, an editorial services company that produces technical articles, white papers and social media posts for clients in the semiconductor/electronic design industry. Trained as an engineer, he has more than 20 years of experience as chief editor of award-winning publications covering various aspects of consumer electronics and semiconductor technology. He previously was Editorial Director at Hearst Business Media where he was responsible for the online and print content of Electronic Products, among other properties in the U.S. and China. He has also served as Executive Editor at CMP’s eeProductCenter and spent a decade as editor-in-chief of the IEEE flagship publication Spectrum.

View other posts from Murray Slovick. View other posts from Murray Slovick.
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