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Zone Architecture, Ethernet Drive Vehicle of the Future


A zone architecture and Ethernet represent the future of networking in vehicles. New features in vehicles, as well as the shift to aggregating sensors and actuators into zonal modules, require a high-bandwidth and low-latency in-vehicle communication network. A zone architecture implementing Ethernet enables the growing trend of the software-defined vehicle.

Most vehicles today are built using a type of wiring and electronic control unit (ECU) architecture called a domain architecture. A domain architecture categorizes ECUs into domains based on specific functions, regardless of their physical location in the vehicle.

A zone architecture, in contrast to a domain architecture, organizes communication, power distribution and load control by location rather than by function, as shown in Figure 1. A zonal module behaves as a network data bridge between the vehicle’s computing system and local edge nodes like smart sensors and ECUs. To reduce cabling in the vehicle, a zonal module will also distribute power to different edge nodes (by implementing semiconductor smart-fuse capabilities), handle low-level computing and drive local loads like motors and lighting.

Example of a zone architecture.
Figure 1: Example of a zone architecture

Zonal modules transfer data from various sensors and ECUs through an edge-node communication network and forward the combined sensor data to the central computing system through backbone communication. Similarly, the zonal modules transfer data received from the central computing system to various actuators, again through backbone communication, again through an edge-node communication network. This two-way communication between the central computing system and the zonal modules requires a high-bandwidth and low-latency communication backbone to handle the large amount of data generated by functions like multiple advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) cameras, vehicle motion control and adaptive driving beams.