Literature Review - Automotive Electronics - Assessment Answer

January 15, 2019
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Write a Literature Review on Automotive electronics

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The current automobile was not developed in a single day. It is a culmination of efforts spanning decades and worth thousands of patents. Today, automobiles are not just mere mechanical devices. Modern vehicles contain myriads electronic components that are networked together and which as whole are tasked with monitoring and controlling the automobile state. The overall safety of the modern automobile depends on the near instantaneous communication of the electronic control units. This paper will review existing literature on the field of automotive electronics. Special focus will be on the evolution of automotive electronics and the architecture of the electronic control units. Additionally, the paper will also examine the trends in the automotive electronics industry and overall systems security of these devices. The overarching premise of the review will be to explore how far the field of automotive electronics has come with respect to prevailing protocols, applications, threats, and recommendations to address the cyber security issues.

Evolution of Automotive Electronics

One of the most authoritative works on the history and evolution of automobile electronics was done by Tom Denton. He argues that argues that although most of the changes witnessed in the automotive electronics occurred towards the latter years of the 20thcentury, evolution of the fields goes back to the invention of static electricity by Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher (2012, p. 1). Thales discovered that rubbing amber on fur attracted light objects such as feathers. Denton (2012, p. 1) further argues that around the same time, a shepherd in Turkey also discovered the phenomenon of what is today magnetism when he found out that pieces of lodestones were attracted to the iron on the end of his crook. In the 16thcentury, William Gilbert provided a very useful insight in the field of electrics (Ribberns 2012, p. 13). He proved that many other materials are electric and that there exists two electric effects: resinous and vitreous electricity. Denton (2012, p. 3) further notes Hilbert observed that resinous electricity is the kind acquired by amber when it is rubbed on fur whereas glass acquires vitreous electricity when rubbed with silk.

According to Sobey (2009, p. 6), it was not until the 17thcentury that Otto von Guerick invented the initial electrical device by charging a ball of sulphur with static electricity generated from his hand as he rotated it on an axle. The 18thcentury was marked by several key inventions. Incidentally, in the 1740s, William Watson and Benjamin Franklin theorised that electricity exists as matter and can therefore be transferred through rubbing (Ribberns 2012, p. 14). Particularly, Franklin, through his flying kite experiment showed that lightning was a form of electricity. It was the Italian Alessandro Volta, who is credited with coming up with the first assembled electronic, the wet battery, when he discovered that placing a several glass jars containing salty water, and connecting zinc and copper electrodes would electric shock as argued by Denton (2012, p. 7). The wet battery was the forerunner of the accumulator. The latter was invented in 1859 by Gatson Planche, a French physicist (Ribberns 2012, p. 14).

Nonetheless, Planche's device had a major shortfall in that the storage cell only supplied a small amount of power hence could not produce a running source of current. This shortcoming was remedied with the development of the first electric generator by Michael Faraday (Mellard 2013, p. 24). The 19th century was generally an era of rapid technological innovations in the field of electronics and witnessed the development of hallmark devices such as the electronic motor by William Sturgeon, and permanent magnets by Cromwell Varley and Henry Wilde. In 1867, Ernst Werner Von Siemens developed the first successful generator, which he called a dynamo (Denton 2012, p. 9).

Despite Siemen’s formidable development, it was Elihu Thomas who pioneered the production of motors that could produce alternate current. Thomson also created the first transformer, which was able to change the voltage of an electric supply. It is impossible to chronicle the particular electrical items and who invented them since the latter half of the 19th century was marked by thick and fast developments in the field (Mellard 2013 p. 25). However, a number of them stand out. Among these formidable discoveries are the development of the first gas engine by Etienne Lenoir in the 1860s, the development of the ignition current by Karl Benz in1866, and the invention of contact breakers by Georges Bouton in 1889 (Denton 2012, p. 10). Bouton’s invention is believed to be the epicentre of modern ignition system. It was the introduced of the high tension magneto by Robert Bosch and Fredrich Simms which stirred great advancement in ignition technology. This technology was picked up in the U.S. and in 1912, Charles F. Kettering devised a more advanced system that started and lit the 1912 Cadillac (Denton 2012, p. 10).

The inventions that followed in the 20thcentury were geared towards granting the driver more control over battery charging. Noteworthy among these developments is the two-brush dynamo, as well as the compensated voltage control system, which were used first in the 1930s. This advancement granted better control over the charging system and curtain-raised many other electrical systems. The auto’s lighting system witnessed significant innovations in the 1950s as flashing indicators replaced semaphore arms (Ribberns 2012, p. 15). Moreover, the development of the twin filament enabled the production of more suitable headlights. It was not until the 1970s, however, that the quartz halogen bulb was developed. The 1970s were also an era of major innovations in fuel and ignition injection technology (Mellard 2013 p. 27). Automotive instrumentation became more sophisticated while the dashboard was now a crucial area of design.

Most of the developments in the automotive electronics as they are known today were delayed mainly by two factors: minimal power and absence of or underdeveloped micro-computing technologies. However, the 1980s remedied these issues. The additional power available together with the stable supply of the alternator sparked high paced developments in automotive electronics. Moreover, innovations in micro-computing and related technology rendered the control of all functions of the vehicle possible through electrical means (Denton 2012, p. 12). Some of the major developments in automotive electronics that characterised the 1980s include the production of the on-board computer by BMW in 1981, the talking dashboard, produced by Austin Rover in 1983, and manufacturing of small but highly powerful alternators able to produce more than 100A in 1989 (Ribberns 2012, p. 15). In the 1990s, Fiat and Peugeot launched the first electric car, while fibre-optic systems were used in Mercedes automotives records Denton (2012, p. 12).

The advances in automotive electronics in the latter years of the 20th century and the first two decades of the third millennium are mainly geared towards reducing the environmental impact of vehicles and increasing comfort and aesthetic design through integrating mobile technologies. Incidentally, in 1998, the Mercedes S class had 40 computers and came up with more than 100 motors (Denton 2012, p. 13). In 2001, GPS became a popular optional extra in cars, whereas in 2005, FreeScale Semiconductor pioneered the onslaught of the autonomous car. In 2009, as part of its SARTRE project, Volvo experimented with car platooning (Denton 2012, p. 13). The latter enables high density traffic on highways without causing collisions. In 2010, twin motor wipers went into production. Today, great electronic control continues to be a key aspect of the automobile development. An emerging technology in the field is that of the networked car and the limitless potential it could unleash-some beneficial, some bad. Presently, hybrid cars have become a mainstream whereas mass production of automatic vehicles is not far behind.

Exhaust Emission Regulation and Vehicle Safety as Key Drivers of Automotive Electronics

Electronics have become a mainstream component of automobiles. The trend intensified during the 1970s as a result of two concurrent factors. Firstly, there was the introduction of government policies controlling exhaust emission regulation and fuel efficiency. These regulations called for efficient control of the automobile’s engine than was technically possible using the extant mechanical technologies. The move towards increased use of electronics in vehicles was triggered with the passing of the Clean Air Act in the U.S. (Motovalli, 2010).

According to Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3), the legislation was first passed in 1963 and later amended in 1970. As a result of the ubiquitous smog experienced in LA basin, law makers, through the legislation, made it mandatory for automobile manufacturers to fit catalytic converters in order to curb the air pollution. Despite this requirement, Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 4) further note the technology required to enable the right blend of oxygen and fuel was not yet developed at the time. Consequently, the need for accurate measurement of the oxygen volume gave rise to the development of electronic sensors (Hollembeak 2010, p. 69).

In addition to emission regulation, government policy also contributed to development of vehicle safety measures. In 1973, for instance, automobile safety regulation demanded passive restraint systems. Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 4) also observes that by 1985, airbags had supplemented seat belts as a safe technology of choice. Today, airbags contain a number of sensors that ensure speedy and accurate deployment, as well as safeguard against unwarranted launching. Moreover, policies on fuel efficiency also drove the industry further to the adoption of electronics. The first legislation regarding fuel economy for new vehicles was passed in 1975 (Robert Bosch GmbH 2013, p. 95). In order to meet the obligations of the fuel economy, auto makers applied fuel injection technology, as well as electronic engine control systems argues Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 4). The application of these technologies was enabled by the progress made in the electronics filed such as the development of integrated circuits and solid-state sensors.

The second factor that contributed to increased use of electronics in the automobile was the development of fairly cheaper digital electronics for controlling the engine and other vehicle applications. According to Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 1), while there are various applications for electronic devices in the automobile today, the two major functions supported by electronics are performance and connectivity. While performance addresses safety issues and has been largely driven by legislation, connectivity application is driven mostly by consumer demand.

Vehicle Performance

Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3) reiterate that most of the electronic systems in modern vehicles are mainly used to support the automobile’s performance. The architecture of a motor vehicle comprises of four main systems namely the power train, the chassis, the exterior, and the interior. The power train consists of the engine and the transmission, whereas the chassis is made up of the vehicle's frame, including wheels, the steering, and axles. The exterior system consists of the body. For many years, Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3) further argues that auto manufacturers assembled these systems using largely integrated modules, which were sourced from independent parts makers. In each of the four systems, the application of electronics has been growing significantly.

According to Ribberns (2012, p. 20), electronics are crucial in controlling various engine functions such as dictating fuel consumption and air flow. Moreover, electronic systems also manage the exhaust and emission functions. Electronics are particularly central to the effective functioning of the ignition system. In order for the vehicle to produce the necessary power to start moving, its gasoline engine needs the right blend of fuel and air. Furthermore, the engine system also requires a way of jumpstarting the burning of the mixture of fuel and air. Mostly, the only convenient is by using of an electric spark, through a process known as ignition. After a stable ignition has been initiated, the engine no longer requires the spark.

The spark produced during the ignition process ought to persist for a millisecond. During this relatively short second, high performance transformer circuits transmit a pulse carrying a high voltage to the spark plug (Sobey 2009, p. 27). Ignition system technology has been significantly improved by use of electronic control systems. Digital electronics have been widely applied in controlling the operating conditions of the engine performance. The measurement of an engine’s operating conditions is made possible by an electronic engine control mechanism which calculates sparking timing (Robert Bosch GmbH 2013, p. 38). The latter has helped in improving flexibility for maximizing engine performance vis a vis a mechanical distributors (Ribberns 2012, p. 26).

Electronics have been particularly crucial in ameliorating two major features of vehicle performance. Firstly, they have been instrumental in refining the power train so as to minimise emissions and bolster fuel consumption (Ribberns 2012, p. 37). Secondly, they have greatly refined the vehicle chassis, its external body, and interior thus improving its safety and comfort. Additionally, Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 2) argue that the growing significance of electronics in improving automobile performance has had less impact on the established relationships that exist between auto assemblers and their parts suppliers. This chain of production has not changed significantly given that even today; most of the performance-enhancing auto parts and other vehicle subsystems still follow the conventional industry framework whereby the auto manufacturer is on top of the supply pyramid. Moreover, there are long lead-times before a product is launched and automobile specifications can last for up to four years, as noted by Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3). As electronics become more prevalent, traditional suppliers of auto parts such as seats have become accustomed to provision of producing parts with electronic capability.


In addition to providing improvements in vehicle performance, electronics are also used to provide in-car entertainment. Initially, the radio was the dashboard entertainment device and was the sole connection between the driver and the external world while driving. For a long time, entertainment was the main function of in most automobile electronics. The first fitted car radio was installed by Galvin Manufacturing, which later became Motorola in the 1930s (Robert Bosch GmbH 2013, p. 43). In 1952, Blaupunkt offered the first dashboard FM receivers. In the mid 1960s, the 8-track became an option design, and in 1970s, cassette players also became an in-car entertainment feature (Denton 2012, p. 14).

Additionally, the 1990s saw the introduction of CD players, while in 2002 and 2003, the DVD and MP3 player were added to the growing list of electronics on the dashboard respectively (Denton 2012, p. 14). Although in-car electronics have diversified to more advanced applications, entertainment continues to be a key reason why consumers desire technologies in their automobiles. Consumer surveys have showed that being able to connect a digital media play to the vehicle’s stereo is still considered a key in-car entertainment priority. Nonetheless, the top priorities of in-car electronics for most consumers are not entertainment-related. According to Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 2), they are wireless-communications that can be activated by voice, and dashboard tools displaying instantaneous local information.

In response to consumer preferences, automobile manufacturers have been obliged to redesign the dashboard. Although the radio still remains a ubiquitous feature, information and communication devices have taken up the lion’s share on the dashboard’s space. The design and integration of these connectivity applications have presented some challenges to auto makers (Zhao 2002, p. 10). Incidentally, rather than doing the innovative developments independently, they have partnered with key players in the consumer electronics industry. An example of these alliances is the partnership between Ford Motors and Microsoft, which gave birth to a connectivity system known as Ford Sync. By 2011, Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3) argue that 70 percent of Ford motor vehicles were fitted with the Sync system. The Ford connectivity strategy is characterised by four principles. To begin with, Ford has elected to take advantage of extant technologies and formats instead of developing distinctive electronics systems for its models (Klier and Rubenstein 2011, p. 3).

Secondly, the firm will adopt technology changes from 3rd generation to 4th generation mobile phones technology. Today, portable electronic equipment that offers connectivity such as smartphones and tablets has become common in automobiles. Users now attach great significance to wireless devices and consider them not only legal, but also safe. These expectations have started to influence the manner in which vehicles are being utilised, designed, and marketed. The third principle of Ford’s connectivity strategy is that it provides consumers with a variety of options from which to choose from hence enabling them to express their preferences (Klier and Rubenstein 2011, p. 4). Such preferences include the capacity to reconfigure and customise displays. Lastly, the company’s in-car connectivity ought to operate smoothly with the consumer’s other devices at home, in the office, or with their portable electronics.

The ever-increasing application of electronics in satisfying consumer needs has given rise to a number of challenges for vehicle makers beyond the usual ones of the existing issues of design and design and dashboards integration. Ultimately, the rate at which consumer electronics change or become obsolete is higher than with vehicle models. As consumer electronics firms come up with novel versions of their products almost every other year, auto manufacturers, on the other hand, make major changes only after a period between four to six years.

Moreover, although most of the connectivity hardware and software tools are installed on the vehicles dashboard, they are sourced from suppliers who fall outside the conventional realm of vehicle parts makers. As a result, motor vehicle manufacturers are called upon to vitally alter the structure of their internal electronics as they work in collaboration with hardware and software firms.

Owing to the differences in product life cycles between motor vehicles vis a vis consumer electronics, auto manufacturers need to take a proactive approach on production. This approach will ensure that they remain flexible to changes in the consumer electronics sector will need to institute some challenging adjustments in their production approach. Key among these changes ought to be to develop greater plasticity into their vehicles’ consumer electronics interfaces to enable customers swap in subsequent generations of electronic devices, according and develop vehicles that can enable users to swap in subsequent generations of electronic devices, according to Klier and Rubenstein (2011, p. 3). The flexibility in incorporating consumer electronics interfaces will offset the differences in product life cycles and enable them, to keep cars longer. Due to these factors of product-life cycle disparities, car makers are now obliged to avoid obsolescence by initiating future developments in personal electronics.

Electronic Control Units and Network Protocols

As more and more consumer electronics become part of modern automobiles, a large percentage of manufacturing expenses is been attributed to electronics. Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1218) argue that these electronic gadgets or ECUs typically come in form of one 8-bit micro-controller chip that has about 100 bytes of RAM, around 32 kilobytes of ROM, a number of input/output pins connecting the sensors and actuators, as well as a network interface. Automotive electronic devices can be categorised as either body or system electronics. On the one hand, body electronics control those functions not directly linked to the motion of the vehicle. Examples of such systems include theft avoidance systems applications, audio/media equipment, air-condition and airbag control, as well seat adjustment (Shrinath & Emadi, 2004, p. 1218). On the other hand, system electronic gadgets are directly involved in the motion of the vehicle. The most significant advancements have been in the computerised engine control, transmission, as well as the popular anti-lock braking system (ABS) (Mayer 2006).

Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1218) observe that the main merit of introducing networking protocols in vehicle’s electronic systems is because they offer scalability and functionality. Automotive electronic appliances only substitute mechanical functions, but also aid in synchronising other systems. The functioning of automotive electronics is made possible by a controller area network (CAN), which was first introduced by the pioneer of today’s formidable Bosch Group, Robert Bosch in 1986 (Johansson, Torngren & Nielsen 2004).

According to Mayer (2006), the CAN is a sort of network protocol founded on the standard of broadcast transmission system. Data is sent to different nodes including that for which it is intended. Etschberger (2001, p. 61) notes that the nodes examine the data packet with a view of determining if the message was destined to them. In case it wasn’t, the nodes simply get rid of the data packet. Conversely, if the node realises the data packet was meant for it, the data is downloaded and processed Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1218) reiterate that CAN protocol is popular due to its speed, data length, as well as its event-triggered system. The pace of transmitting data in a CAN network can be as high as 1 megabyte per second, according to Navet (1998, p. 8). Such high pace is critical in modern automobiles as it helps run real-time control systems without low latency.

Corrigan (2008) posits that as an event-triggered mechanism, data transmission in the CAN protocol occurs only when it is prompted by a particular event. For instance, data may be send once a switch is pressed. Due to this mode of functioning, the bandwidth available is put into maximum utility because the system bus has a minimum load (Mayer 2006). As Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1218) observes, communication in CAN protocol is not founded on a particular time plan and thus the message traffic is only determined after run time.

According to Johansson, Torngren and Nielsen (2004), therefore, this mechanism carries with it the inherent problem of collisions, which could culminate into loss of messages. In order to ascertain real-time data transmission, CAN overcomes this risk by the CSMAs or the collision detection mechanism (Mayer, 2006). In collision avoidance, the nodes first listen to the serial bus with a view of determining to determine if it is available before transmitting data. According to Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1218), this process of collision avoidance is known as bit-wise arbitration.

Johansson, Torngren and Nielsen (2004) further note that during the arbitration process, every node sends its identifier and then compares it with the level being monitored on the bus. When the levels are equal, transmission of message is initiated. However, in case a dominant level is noticed by the unit, the unit proceeds to transmit. On the hand, if the unit recognises a dominant level on the bus when attempting to send a recessive level, the unit stops sending and subsequently assumes the role of a receiver (Mayer 2006). Bit-wise arbitration not only prevents collisions, but also provides an access to the serial bus in accordance with the message priority (Etschberger 2001 p. 75). In addition to handling collisions, another crucial feature of CAN protocol is error detection and handling.

As a result of having a complementary error detection system, the likelihood of the system having an unnoticed error is normally very minute (Mayer 2006). Indeed, according to Unruh, Mathony and Kaiser (1990), the probability of corrupted messages remaining undetected in a CAN protocol is approximated to be 4.7 x 10-11. Johansson, Torngren and Nielsen (2004) observe that the CAN network has a number of error detection mechanisms namely bit monitoring, bit stuffing, and frame check. Others are ACK check and CRC. For bit monitoring, each system transmitter oversees the bus level and detects a bit error whenever the level fails to match that of the transmitter signal (Mayer 2006).

Frame check entails checking to ensure the fixed bits of the data comprise of the values they are intended to have. On the other hand, in the ACT mechanism, every receiver should send a dominant level (Johansson, Torngren and Nielsen, 2004). In case the transmitter, which is responsible for sending a recessive level, fails to recognise the dominant level, Johansson, Torngren and Nielsen (2004) argue that the ACK signals an error. In cyclic redundancy check (CRC), each receiver computes a checksum according to the message, which is then compared with the CRC field of the transmission. When an error detection system in CAN identifies a transmission error, the protocol’s node that has detected the fault stops message transmission by signalling an error flag, which is represented by 6 dominant bits on network's serial bus (Mayer, 2006). The error flag deliberately contradicts bit stuffing rule in such a manner that each node of the network notices the previously local error and reacts by terminating the message transmission. This mechanism achieves uniformity of data among all the system’s networks and is beneficial for distributed applications. In correcting the error, the terminated CAN message is resent by the same node on the first occasion when the serial bus is available.

Apart from event-triggered CAN, there are other network protocols that are used in automotive electronics such as the time triggered-CAN. Whereas transmission of data occurs when a particular event takes place, in time-triggered CAN, data transmission takes place at certain intervals on the timeline (Fuhrer et al 2003). Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1219) argue that TTCAN is synchronous in that all nodes are synced to a master clock hence; all have a similar sense of time. Every node is given a slot time during which it is allowed to send data. The TTCAN is a standard ISO 11898-4 protocol and is built on top of the conventional CAN module (ISO 2003, p. 28). According to Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1219) , implementation of the time-triggered CAN protocol is done by the mode’s IP module, which is responsible for handling both the TTCAN and the traditional CAN protocol, which is ISO 11898-1. In addition to providing global-time syncing, the TTCAN protocol allows clock-drift compensation. One of the areas where the TTCAN protocol has been applied is in X-by-wire technology common in the automobile industry (Fuhrer et al 2003).

As the motor vehicle industry continues to increasingly be wary of safety, it has become imperative to develop systems that increase security standards such as intelligent drive assistance. Nonetheless, such systems require computers to control them in order to function optimally. Such a trend has necessitated the replacement of all mechanical or hydraulic backup with electronic or electric parts. Hollembeak (2010) points out that this move is only possible after ascertaining that the systems substituting the mechanical or hydraulic bones are safe enough. Such a system uses X-by wire technology. According to Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1220), the X-by wire networks made up of actuators and sensors that are connected to the ECUs. The role of the sensors and actuators is to record measurements, which are then relayed to the ECUs to enable the driver to give feedback (Sikora et al 2014, p. 59). On the basis of the measurements recorded, the driver can institute appropriate changes, before being sent to the actuators for execution.

Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1224) observe that one of the defining characteristics of the X-by wire network is its composability. This feature implies that whatever characteristics are shown by network’s subsystems, they are replicated by different subsystems in order to perform a function. Additionally, the X-by-wire system handles errors that arise after nodes that were not supposed communicate (Robert Bosch GmbH 2013, p. 261). The control of such errors is made possible by the fact that the system is time-triggered hence it is easier to determine in advance which node is meant to send data after which time interval (Shrinath & Emadi 2004, p. 1224).

Apart from the CAN protocol, which is common even in non-automotive appliances, there are other networks which are targeted at the automobile industry. Leen and He?ernan (2002, p. 90) cite the SAE J1939 protocol as one such system. It is a class B protocol in which system data is transmitted between nodes in order to eradicate superfluous sensors and other system elements. Bonnick (2007 p. 720) argues that Class B protocols are typically used for modular communication communication between modules that support data transmission rate of about 100 kilobytes per second. Shrinath and Emadi (2004, p. 1224) further note the SAE J1850 protocol uses a bus level topology with a peer-to-peer protocol without a master. As is the case with CAN network, messages are broadcast to all nodes in form of frames without due regard to the intended destination. Mellard (2013, p. 106) observes that a major benefit arising from the J1850 protocol is its nature as an open architecture. It does not have not strong restrictions on its execution and development, thus giving engineers enough freedom to develop new applications.

In addition to the SAE J1850, CAN, and TTCAN protocols, there are other emerging networks such as LIN, IEEE 1394, MOST, and Bluetooth (Haarsten 2000, p. 31). The IEEE 1394 protocol provides a high rate of data transmission between devices. A common application of this protocol is in for in-car infotainment (Shrinath & Emadi 2004, p. 1225). Apart from supporting high data rates, the IEEE 1394 also supports plug-and-play compatibility, as well as various data types. The Media Oriented System Transport (MOST) is specially designed for use in multimedia devices in the automobile. The MOST protocol is easy to use, cost-effective, and flexible.

What is more, MOST supports asynchronous and synchronous data, and is compatible with various applications. Gadekar and Kodgire (2013, p. 510) indicate that while MOST is specially made for communication, the Local Interconnect Network (LIN) is able to address both communication and other role such as signal transmission, programming, as well as interconnecting of nodes. According to Specks & Ra´jnak (2000, p. 14), the LIN protocol thus adopts an inclusive approach in the development and integration of automotive protocol. Compared to other protocols such as CAN, Shrinath and Emadi (2004 p. 1225) affirm that LIN is cost-effective. However, this advantage is countered by its low bandwidth and performance, as well as its single master topology network.

Safety Concerns in Modern Automotive Electronics

Ultimately, advances in technology and various protocols have made it possible for electronics to be used in automobiles. However, even as there are an increased number of applications, security concerns have become an issue especially in the modern world of cybercrime and terrorism (Wolf, Weimerskirch & Wollinger 2007, p. 2). According to Koscher et al (2010, p. 3), a number of electronic controlled systems of a vehicle can be compromised without having to physically access the vehicle. Firstly, Nisch (2011) points out that tire pressure monitoring systems can be compromised by injecting spoofed messages to signal low tire pressure. This can make the driver discontinue his or her journey to fill up the hence causing unnecessary inconveniences. Secondly, Melone (20120) reiterates that GPS networks can be spoofed in order to produce erroneous readings, which can compromise the safety of the driver or of the car in case of kidnapping or vehicle theft.

The key-less car system can also be compromised whereby intruders can intercept and relay the relay signals originating from the smart keys to open the car. Moreover, attackers can also hijack a car’s on-board diagnostics network through eavesdropping the WiFi network hence gaining control over the vehicle’s re-programming (Nisch 2011). In addition to compromising the integrity of GPS system and safety of keyless locks, the vehicle’s audio system can be attacked. An MP3 file can be transformed into a Trojan horse. Mass production of the corrupted file and transmission through peer-to-peer networks can have devastating ramifications on the car's safety. Moreover, Schweppe and Roudier (2010, p. 13) observe that as wireless technology and smart devices continue to be integrated in modern automobile systems, cyber attackers can compromise the user's portable device, which when connected to the car jeopardises its safety and security of the driver.

Security Measures to Address Cyber Attacks on Automotive Electronics

Ultimately, cyber attacks are key threat to automotive electronics hence there is a need to develop safety measures to address the various risks. More importantly, Larson and Nilsson (2008, p. 3) recommend that automakers need to focus on cyber security in the design and quality processes and throughout the entire product lifecycle. With respect to security design and quality control process, automakers, parts suppliers, and various stakeholders have collaborated in order to examine the up-and-coming vehicle cyber security threats (Kassakian & Perreault 2001, p. 15). Currently, there are not readily-available automobile cyber security standards. However, NTHSA has made various recommendations on design improvement that could address some of the threats (2015, p. 16). These improvements include encryption and/or authorisation on the automobile’s communication networks.

NHTSA (2015, p. 17) also recommends the use of various communication approaches, network architectures/protocols. Moreover, it is also advisable to segment or isolate safety-critical system control protocols. Other design improvement recommendations include strong authentication controls for remote accessibility vectors to automobiles, as well as gateway controls and firewalls to separate vehicle networks (NHTSA 2015, p. 18). Furthermore, the vehicle architecture could be developed in a way that it takes various actions to stop cyber attacks such as through momentarily or permanently terminating the communication networks; informing the driver; as well as recording and sending the data for the attack in order to inform counter measures (NHTSA 2015, p. 19).


This review has examined the evolution of the field of automotive electronics. Existing research from different resources has pointed out to the rapid developments witnessed in this segment especially in the last 4 decades. Most of these innovations have been driven by regulation. However, in-car electronics of the future will be driven more by consumer preferences for comfort and connection with various smart devices. Existing literature also points out to various protocols available for automobile electronics, and their advantages and demerits. Moreover, in the area of security threats, a number of studies have examined the growing risk of cyber attacks on automotive electronics. Despite these imminent risks, there is little research on the standards necessary to streamline electronics design to prevent or cur these attacks. Future research should focus on such measures and how they can be implemented.

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