Like it or not, smartphones and cars are becoming inseparable — with Bluetooth Low Energy as the communication technology that ties them together.
You've already seen how Bluetooth enables hands-free phone calls inside the car, along with infotainment control. But you haven't yet seen Bluetooth Low Energy technology exploited for opening and closing doors and windows, or adjusting seats, mirrors, and lighting — all wirelessly — by touching a smartphone or punching a wirelessly controlled in-vehicle button.
Texas Instruments, armed with its automotive-qualified Bluetooth Low Energy device, hopes to be in the forefront of the emerging automotive revolution in which car OEMs advocate to replace in-car cables with wireless technologies, and promote smartphone-controlled applications for their vehicles.
Leveraging the company's wide range of Bluetooth devices, including SimpleLink CC2541 (broad-market Bluetooth low energy solution), WiLink 8Q (automotive connectivity offerings for combo WiFi, Bluetooth, and GNSS), and BL6450Q (dual-mode Bluetooth), TI announced Monday, April 21, a Bluetooth Low Energy wireless device called CC2541-Q1. It's designed specifically to meet AEC-Q100, a critical stress test qualification for automotive ICs set by the automotive electronics council (AEC).
The new device is a “complete Bluetooth Low Energy solution,” according to Ram Machness, business director for automotive wireless connectivity solutions at TI. The chip is integrated with RF, MCU, and flash memory. It also features TI's royalty-free Bluetooth low energy stack software and sample applications, including over-the-air download support for in-field updates.
The automotive industry's enthusiasm for Bluetooth Low Energy seems real and is based on realistic reasoning. Rather than driven by the “coolness” factor (controlling a car from your smartphone), car OEMs and Tier-1s are eager to go whole hog with Bluetooth Low Energy for purely economic reasons.
Cable replacement is a big reason carmakers are interested, says TI's Machness.
First, by going wireless, carmakers can shed the weight of cables — as much, in some cases, as several kilograms, according to Machness.
Second, car OEMs can escape the complexity of assembling cables. For every control mechanism inside a car, a car designer has to run a special wire from the control unit to the end unit. To open and close doors, there's a wire. But the exact length of the wire varies from car to car, and from left door to right. “Nobody wants to have a loose wire hanging,” Machness tells us. “Imagine the inventory issues of all those different cables.
“I was surprised to learn how sensitive automakers are when it comes to the weight of cables… as many as 14 cables” in use today just to control all the doors, windows, and mirrors.
Most car companies are using LIN bus today for such non-mission-critical control functions, which generally require the transmission of very little control data. They can all be perfectly handled by Bluetooth Low Energy.
(Source: Texas Instruments)
Keyless car entry
Wireless car entry via key fob controls or smartphones is another application area where Bluetooth Low Energy has set its sights. Although a sub-1-GHz RF technology is already in use for keyless car entry today (TI offers it), Bluetooth Low Energy is “equally ideal,” Machness contends, since its power consumption is also below 1 microamp.
But the advantages of using Bluetooth Low Energy for car access are many, once drivers start to use the Bluetooth Low Energy embedded in their smartphones.
If you walk up to a car and open it with your smartphone, the smartphone can exchange driver information with the car, prompting the car to adjust seat positions, climate settings, and others according to driver preference.
Smartphones can also display diagnostic information to help drivers understand those cryptic, maddening engine warning lights.
Nonetheless, obviously, controlling everything inside a car via smartphone isn't entirely practical. Machness says it's best for lifestyle chores like changing the ambient light inside a car.
There are a lot of possibilities for users to control the in-car environment that would become reality only if OEMs weren't reluctant to run more wires. Further, truth be told, carmakers are running out of dashboard space for more buttons.
The industry players charged with writing applications for in-vehicle functions via Bluetooth Low Energy are Tier 1s, car OEMs, and third-party developers. Asked about Bluetooth Low Energy security, Machness noted that the wireless technology standard comes with robust, built-in AES-128 encryption. “Only car OEMs and Tier 1s will have the full control over what's allowed and what's not allowed in the Bluetooth Low Energy-enabled control functions inside a car.”
TI is sampling its Bluetooth Low Energy CC2541-Q1 wireless MCU today, with “several projects” already in process, according to Machness. The device will become available in volume in the third quarter this year. Cars whose doors and windows can be controlled by Bluetooth Low Energy are expected to reach the market in 2015 and 2016.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times
This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times.