The standardization of SerDes links for asynchronous signal transmission in automobiles is making good progress: The Automotive SerDes Alliance (ASA), founded for this purpose, has grown from 13 to 36 members in a short time and reports rapid technical progress in specification work.
"The pace of development in our now three technical working groups is very high, as all members are intensively involved and are driving forward standardization with numerous technically sound contributions," said Steering Committee Chairman Stefan Brunner (Continental) in an interview with Markt&Technik. The ASA therefore expects a technically stable draft for an automotive SerDes standard by mid-year.
Up to now, only proprietary, non-interoperable solutions for the fast and cost-effective connection of sensors, cameras and displays to the corresponding ECUs have been available e.g. from TI (FPD-Link), Maxim (GMSL) and Inova (Apix). In addition, the MIPI Alliance, which is mainly known from consumer electronics, also is also developing SerDes variants for the automotive sector with the so-called "A-PHY", which are now largely based on technologies developed by Valens. Initially, however, Microchip was also involved in the A-PHY development. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Microchip has now switched to ASA and is even actively promoting ASA in the steering committee there.
Where does this attraction of the ASA come from? For Brunner, the decisive advantage lies above all in the strategic approach of not building on an existing solution, but rather starting with a blank sheet of paper: "This is the only way none of our members has a technological advantage that would make it uninteresting for other companies to enter this market as well.” He sees the intensive cooperation in the Technical Committees (TCs) as clear proof of the members' commitment - and at the same time as the basis for the expected increase in efficiency: "With so much technical input, the ASA has the potential to develop solutions that are competitive with existing products in terms of both cost and energy efficiency".
In addition, the Automotive SerDes standard supports security aspects directly on the communication level for the first time. The specially established "Security" working group is developing the corresponding specifications as an optional feature for the standard. The decision as to which products the security specifications will actually be integrated into lies with the semiconductor manufacturers. This is particularly useful for ADAS applications, while a simple display connection, for example, can do without this feature.
What will ultimately prevail in the automotive SerDes area is determined primarily by the automobile manufacturers. Officially, the ASA is currently supported by BMW, Ford, Hyundai and Kia in addition to a large number of semiconductor manufacturers. According to Brunner, however, many other OEMs as well as large suppliers are showing interest in SerDes standardization. Concerning the long term future of SerDes, the market is still undecided. It needs to be seen whether SerDes will sustain on the long run, or whether it will only be an intermediate step before asymmetric Ethernet becomes available. There are efforts to start a corresponding standardization at the IEEE, but these efforts are only in the discovery phase. "In addition, the IEEE group for Ethernet is very large - a development speed comparable to that of the ASA can hardly be achieved. In any case, Brunner assumes that a decision will soon be made as to which technology will dominate display and sensor connections in the vehicle for the next decade: "The course is now being set.“
The need for information on how the situation is developing is correspondingly great. The ASA itself provides information about its activities on its website launched at the end of last year. Within the framework of the Automotive Ethernet Congress on 12 and 13 February 2020 in Munich, two presentations will deal with Automotive SerDes and asynchronous Ethernet respectively. A comprehensive overview of the current situation in the entire SerDes environment will then be given at the Automotive SerDes Conference on October 13, 2020 in Munich.