Image courtesy of Nissan

(Image courtesy of Nissan).

An Antenna That Tethers Cars to Their Surroundings

Ethertronics has taken a well-thumbed page from the wireless industry’s playbook.

On Thursday, the chipmaker announced that it would start selling an antenna that tethers cars wirelessly to things like traffic lights and other vehicles, recycling technology it first created for threading wireless signals inside and out of smartphones.

The San Diego-based company says it has shipped around 1.4 billion antennas for linking smartphones and myriad other devices to cellular networks. But yesterday’s announcement pushes it deeper into the hot market for automotive chips. New systems are being developed to upload driving data to the cloud and send automatic software updates to cars.

Over the last few years, wireless companies like Ethertronics have enshrined automotive electronics as the next big thing. Qualcomm and Skyworks Solutions, who blossomed making the intestines of smartphones, have also repurposed their wireless chips for cars.

The new antenna, which debuted at the Electronica trade show in Munich, Germany, is capable of what is called active steering. It plots out multiple paths over which information can travel. An algorithm samples and switches between them, picking the fastest and most reliable one out of the bunch.

It is designed for vehicle-to-everything – also known as V2X – communication devices that give cars a more detailed and instantaneous view of their surroundings. The hardware allows cars to broadcast their position and speed to almost everything, like construction equipment and smartphones in pockets of people walking on the sidewalk, and vice-versa.

That includes connecting cars with other vehicles on the road. Such systems could allow vehicles to detect cars around corners or hidden in a snowstorm that a human driver would not see. V2X is considered a vital part of autonomous cars, which depends on a combination of cameras, lasers, and radar sensors to drive without human intervention.

Ethertronics said that its antennas can cycle between wireless signals every few milliseconds, eliminating blind spots in coverage and better navigating crowded networks. The technology also helps the antenna hit devices on the fringes of a network or hidden behind walls.

The company has embedded the same technology inside antennas for smartphones, home routers, and sensors. Founded in 2000, the company has signed deals with manufacturers as large as Samsung and as small as Switzerland’s Sirin Labs, the maker of the $17,000 smartphone.

The new antenna is designed to be mounted on the exterior of the vehicle. The EtherDSRC – which nods at the dedicated short range communications being tested for connected cars – exhibits 5dB peak gain and is controlled digitally from a single radio cable.

It is capable of transmitting data over the spectrum that the United States and Europe reserved for V2X devices. The company has also developed an embedded version of the chip, which operates over the same frequency bands and features a 4dB maximum gain. 

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