How many antennas does it take to screw autonomy into a car?
This is no joke. In the emerging era of highly automated vehicles, as many as 18 antennas are needed to power the next-generation connected car, according to Taoglas, a leading antenna vendor headquartered in Ireland. That, of course, assumes that self-driving cars will need access to 5G connectivity.
Even without 5G, carmakers currently designing connected cars are demanding solutions that include everything from multiple cellular antennas for network connectivity, Wi-Fi for hotspot connectivity and GNSS for navigation to emergency call systems and other location-based technologies, satellite radio, AM/FM, radar for object detection, Bluetooth for smartphones and other devices, and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) antennas for vehicle-to-vehicle/infrastructure applications.
In response, Taglas launched Wednesday (June 7) a reference design, called Axiom, for a low-profile, compact multiple (nine) antenna solution.
Taglas, founded in 2007, is an antenna specialist for the industrial market. It generates 50 percent of its business from transportation, including trucks, buses and cars.
More antennas needed
Asked what changed — in OEM connectivity demand — Dermot O’Shea, co-CEO of Taoglas, told us that the number of antennas has grown exponentially. Carmakers keep adding, rather than trying to trim back. Some users now don’t need an AM/FM antenna because they use Internet radio via on-board WIFI or have a subscription to satellite radio. But carmakers are constitutionally loath to eliminate a “feature.”
As a result, antenna vendors face substantial challenges. They must keep their packages small, make antenna modules easier to assemble (“no manual assembly should be required,” said O’Shea) and sell cheap. Above all, antenna arrays demand “really high performance,” O’Shea said, with OEMs expecting all antennas to work all the time, although jammed into a small package in close proximity.
Smartphone users accustomed to all connectivity at their fingertips would get upset if their GPS-embedded car went silent in underground parking. “Never mind that your car can’t see a GPS satellite. When that happens, they blame carmakers, not the antenna supplier,” said O’Shea.
Luca De Ambroggi, a principal analyst for automotive electronics at IHS Markit, agreed. “Since five years ago, the role of connectivity has been changing abruptly, because more embedded solutions and technologies are required in the car," he said. "They are no longer based on smartphone anymore but they’ve become part of the in-vehicle embedded electronics.”
He noted that the attach rate in cars is expected to develop further. “They are not just in premium vehicles but also in middle economy segments,” he said.
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