The Miniaturized Future: Trends in Automotive Electronics

Connectivity is everywhere. Most people carry a smartphone that keeps them connected not just to friends and family but to news and entertainment. As the Internet of Things expands to include a host of devices, consumers have increasing expectations of connectivity and functionality from the world around them – especially from their vehicles.

A World of Electronics

To keep up with consumer demands, auto manufacturers are adding new electronic devices into each new generation of vehicles. Infotainment options have expanded to satisfy customer demands, including wireless smartphone integration and higher-speed cellular network access. Devices like wireless chargers improve convenience on the road. Safety systems are growing ever more connected and capable as expectations of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) grow.

All this functionality depends on high-speed connectivity within the vehicle between the main computer, electronic control units (ECUs) and devices. Today’s vehicle is a data center on wheels, and the wiring and electronics architecture necessary to keep it humming reliably through a range of environmental challenges is critical to the driver’s satisfaction with the vehicle itself.

Vehicle electronics design has a greater effect on the overall design of the vehicle than ever before. The growing number of devices and increasing functionality leads to more wiring, heavier wire harnesses, and more space and weight devoted to vehicle electronics. This can have a significant impact on vehicle efficiency. With more copper wire and electronic devices adding to the vehicle’s weight, efficiency goes down, either in the form of lower gas mileage or shorter battery range. In addition to the weight, the size of the electronic devices and the wiring to connect them affects vehicle design. Accommodating numerous ECUs and bulky wire harnesses poses a serious challenge to vehicle designers.

Electronics Miniaturization: Bigger Is Not Better

Manufacturers recognize that to accommodate demands for increased functionality in their vehicles without seeing an unsustainable increase in size and weight, it is necessary to miniaturize the electronics.

Miniaturized components — such as Molex Mini50 Connectors that achieve 50% space savings over traditional connectors — make an enormous difference in vehicle design and efficiency. These connectors provide more flexibility for designing and placing ECUs in the vehicle. Smaller connectors offer better wiring design options, enabling designers to route wiring into spaces that were not previously usable. As a result, ECUs can be located closer to the mechanisms they control.

Miniaturized connectors can also enable zonal architecture, which connects devices to control units based on location within the vehicle rather than by domain. This offers enormous potential for reducing weight, size and manufacturing costs while supporting the increasing number of cameras, sensors and other devices needed for ADAS and autonomous driving functions.

Seemingly at odds with the need for miniaturization is the need for excellent reliability and dependable performance. Today’s high-speed electronics require consistent connectivity and signal integrity, particularly for safety systems where communication is critical. Traditional thinking implies that smaller components will naturally be more fragile and less dependable than big, bulky components.

But the latest electronics designs are disproving this myth. Miniaturized connectors designed from the start for rugged dependability are incorporating data-driven features that ensure high reliability over the entire lifecycle of the vehicle. These designs deliver the high-speed, high-performance connectivity needed for today’s electronic devices.

Designing for the Future

Automotive designers are seeing a major shift in electronics architecture. Long-term trends such as electrification, autonomous driving and shared mobility are leading to an increase in the connectivity and data processing requirements of vehicles. The vehicle of the future will have more functionality than ever before, and that means more wiring and devices. Making electrical connectors smaller and lighter, yet more rugged and dependable, is vital to keeping vehicle weight down, efficiency high and customers satisfied.

Molex is at the forefront of these efforts, collaborating with manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers to create breakthrough solutions like the rugged Mini50 Connector. These solutions offer increased reliability, flexible configuration options and easier servicing and maintenance than the electrical connectors of the past. They are helping make advancements like zonal architecture, ADAS and autonomous driving possible.

Discover more about the latest miniaturized connectivity innovations


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