The connected car requires reliable data transmission between components, like a vehicle’s sensors, cameras, radars, and electronic control units (ECUs).

Such a data link is often provided by copper cable, sending information around the car at rapid speeds.

But more cable means more weight, and perhaps automotive manufacturers would welcome a lighter e-mobility option.

In a live Tech Briefs presentation titled Connectivity Solutions for Robust Data Transmission in Future Vehicle Wiring Systems, a reader asked Christian Rusch from the Switzerland-based datacom technology company TE Connectivity:

“Why not use fiber optics?”

Read Dr. Rusch’s edited response below.

Christian Rusch, Manager R&D Data Connectivity, TE Connectivity: The focus of the webinar was really about copper-based wired connections, and their maximum achievable performance and needed requirements. [Copper], at the moment, is a very hot topic with our customers. That does not mean that optical links are not an interesting solution that can exist in parallel with copper wires in future car architectures, especially as electro-mobility, shielding efficiency, and EMI robustness of the data links is getting more and more important.

Christian Rusch from TE Connectivity
TE Connectivity's Christian Rusch

I can imagine there could be some applications where high data-rate links are close-by to the high-power harness in electric cars and where the required shielding efficiency of copper-based solutions would become very challenging. For these special applications, optical links might be the easier way for implementation, to be honest, but, of course, there’s a big disadvantage with optical links: There is an additional cost caused by the conversion of electrical signals to light.

Therefore, I only see a market chance for optical links when the copper-based system does not work for the target application, or when it gets very expensive due to the high effort that is needed to fulfill all these requirements.

We talked about multi-link cable connection to realize 25 Gbps or even more. That would multiply the cable price, of course, because you need more of these cables. If an alternative solution of optical links can be provided for similar cost factors or can be even cheaper, I see a good chance for market entry for these very high data rates for optical links.

What do you think? What role will fiber optics play in future car architectures? Share your comments and questions below.