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Networking protocol ensures smarter cars are still energy-efficient

Audi and Volkswagen are among the first automakers expected to include power management technology in future models.

Have you ever wondered how much energy all those "smart" features in your car eat up? And, consequently, how all those gadgets can negatively affect fuel consumption?

That question is the impetus behind something called CAN Partial Networking, an energy efficiency specification being developed for the networks that connect all your in-vehicle gadgets -- from power windows and sunscreens to car seat adjusters and heaters.

Right now, those devices are in a constant state of communication, always seeking an active connection. So, even when your automatic car seat adjuster isn't being used, it is waiting to be used. That process can consume power and even though the amount is pretty small per device, it will add up as vehicle technology becomes more intelligent. Consider that there could easily be more than 100 different modules in your vehicle, depending on the various features you have selected.

CAN Partial Networking addresses this by keeping applications and electronic control units in a low-power mode when they are not actually in use.

As of mid-August 2011, NXP Semiconductors became the first chipmaker to create a NWP ISO 11898-6 and AUTOSAR R3.2.1 compliant solution that offers CAN Partial Networking. (That's the technical jargon for technology that engineers can use to create more energy-aware car networking systems for future vehicles.)

A number of German automakers including Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen have already said they plan to support the specification in future models. Ricky Hudi, managing E/E director at Audi, said:

"CAN Partial Networking is an area where we see great potential for energy savings. In addition, intelligent wake-up concepts improve the lifetime of [electronic control units] and increase the operating reach of electrical vehicles. Audi and Volkswagen corporations have therefore started to introduce Partial Networking into the next generation of car models. Audi estimates a mid-term reduction potential on carbon dioxide emissions of about 2.6 g/km and fuel savings of 0.11 litres/100km, when using CAN Partial Networking."

As cars and all manner of household appliances and buildings get smarter, keeping their energy consumption in check will definitely be key. Next time you are in the market for a new car, you should check into how all the extra affect your energy use and, therefore, your fuel consumption.