Doing More with Less Wiring: Mission-Critical and Intelligent Communication Protocols for Future Vehicles Using Power Lines

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Informatics


With the emerging automated tasks in vehicle domain, the development of in-vehicle communications is increasingly important and subjected to new applications. Although both wired and wireless communications have been largely used for supporting diverse applications, most of in-vehicle applications with mission-critical nature, such as brake and engine controls, still prefer dedicated wired networks for reliable and secure transmission.
One of the key challenges for data wiring is to facilitate the interconnectivity of increasing devices, e.g., sensors and electronic control units (ECU), effectively creating an in-vehicle network with low response latency, improved reliability and less complexity. The space requirement, weight, and installation costs for these wires can become significant, especially in future vehicles, which are highly sophisticated electronic systems.

Given that vehicle components, sensors and ECUs are already connected to power wires, we apply vehicle power lines, which have recently been utilized for in-vehicle communications at the physical layer, to in-vehicle networks in this proposal. Taking mass air flow sensor as an example, it has one power wire and two signal wires, it will be efficient to use power line communications to replace the current signal wires, so 66% of wiring can be reduced. The advancement of vehicular power line communications (VPLC) can provide a very low complexity and free platform for in-vehicle networks, which is ideal for the increasing demand of applications in particular with future vehicles. However, the emerging VPLC is constrained by lack of protocol support, which pose significant challenges to deploy it in practise and ensure mission-critical communications. The following example illustrates the motivation of this proposal.

An example for the motivation: A future vehicle is equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) which can be connected with multiple sensors and ECUs to provide safety monitoring and control. An important demand of this scenario is that the systems, viewed as sources, should have stable connections with all ECUs, or network destinations. And it is also important that such in-vehicle networks must guarantee ultra-low latency for emerging control services since any seconds of delay may cause fatal accident. Therefore, an effective protocol design is crucial for VPLC to support future applications with mission-critical and high-bandwidth demands.

The aim of the project is to improve the reliability of the network and guarantee stringent mission-critical requirements of in-vehicle applications in vehicular power line communications. We will partner with automotive specialists and construct the project to develop innovative and intelligent in-vehicle communication protocols. The solution this proposal is seeking is two fold. One is to pursue new design of intelligent access and congestion control solutions by fully exploring the practical and theoretical analysis, dynamic nature of channels/traffic patterns and self-learning techniques, which provides the theoretic aspect of the proposal. Then, the second step is from the practical aspect, where the proposed power line method shall be able to coexist and cooperate with existing state-of-the-art solutions, and its performance will be validated by practical in-vehicle traffic data. Obviously the two are inseparable not just because the ultimate goal of reliable communication for in-vehicle networks is only possible with the accomplishment of the both two parts, but also because the interaction between the two parts is the key for effective system design.

Planned Impact

The proposed work has clear impacts on the emerging communications and automotive technology in both academia and industry. It also fits within EPSRC's Information and communication technologies (ICT) schemes in manufacturing the future intelligent vehicles and accelerating digital economy in transport, and strategic plan to develop a low carbon future.


In the short term, communications research community working on communication systems and protocols for both vehicles and infrastructure will benefit from the alternative power line communication technology to increase networks reliability and guarantee stringent transmission delay requirements of mission-critical applications. Automotive engineering community will also benefit from such a low cost and efficient technology by providing a new lightweight and low complexity system design which is reliable and suitable for deployment in the future vehicles.

Industry impact

The interest of industry frequently align with academia. So in the long term, the in-vehicle power line communications proposed will be of direct relevance to automotive and industrial automation engineers in the communication system sector. The scientific knowledge gained from the proposed study of new communication technology, will help car manufactures build more robust and reliable in-vehicle systems, which underpins the UK leading automotive industry in developing connected and autonomous vehicles. Furthermore, given the fact that the weight of a wire harness makes up the third heaviest and costliest component in a car, it shows a huge environmental benefit and market potential for using less materials and reducing car manufacture cost. Moreover, the proposed solution can further help car manufactures to explore emerging new markets, such as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) where a more flexible connectivity between grid networks and cars can be built, etc.

Specifically, the proposed solution and its results will be of interest to Toyota and NXP, and their network research division in providing complementary information to inform automotive engineers, and thus will benefit their global car manufacturing.

Economy and society impact

The UK automotive industry is of strategic importance to the UK. Since 2016, the government has announced £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund to develop the next generation transport, including connected and autonomous vehicles. This project will pave the way for the development and deployment of connected autonomous vehicles in the UK and help the industry address global challenges relating to safety, efficiency and convenience, which signals a major change in the way vehicles will be powered in the future and reaffirms the government's commitment to provide new opportunities for the motor industry to help grow the UK economy and ultimately lead to global export. Moreover, the lighter weight of cars is an important factor for fuel economy and safety performance. A key to the success of the current targets is that they are based in large part on close joint working between regulators and industry. We will contribute our part in ensuring the advanced communication technology is able to deliver its obligations cost-effectively. In this way, in the longer-term, consumers or general public will benefit from connectivity technology as an enabler for safer, efficient and more enjoyable journeys.


The PI will build capacities in developing independent research skills, efficient communication with project partners, and effective project management skills from both training courses offered by the Doctoral Training Centres at Sussex and practice. The PDRA, who will work closely with PI, will benefit from obtaining the cutting-edge knowledge, transferable skills that can be applied in communications/computer/automotive areas, and opportunities to interact with different researchers.


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Description So far, we have developed VPLC protocol based on the state-of-the-art industry HomePlug GP (HPGP) standard, however, the initial finding shows that the standard HPGP solution cannot achieve the communication requirement specified by automotive industry. Hence further innovation design has been contributed to improve the HPGP and make it capable to achieve the worst critical delay requirement of in-vehicle communications. The above finding is corresponding to the first objective and has been published at IEEE Globecom 2017. To further consider connectivity with multiple subsystems, a further design of a time-sensitive traffic shaper for VPLC based on HomePlug has been proposed. What we have shown in this direction is the the new design can further ensure the critical delay performance from end-to-end point of view. Such result is very importance in sense to provide guarantee performance inside the vehicle from any source to any destination. The finding is related to the second objective and has been published at IEEE Transaction on Vehicular Technology 2018. We are currently working on the third objective and also consideration to integrate the previous two designs and further extend to the connectivity with outside vehicles.
Exploitation Route So far what we have perceived is that the proposed reliability mechanism for power line communications can be utilized not only in vehicle environment, but also by other communication industry, such as telecom operator in delivering infrastructure based communications. Some further discussion with industry is underway, which could be promising to extend the application of findings to others.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description The research findings have been made public in the British Science Festival 2017. We have made a series of demonstration and poster session to introduce the latest development in connected vehicle and the proposed in-vehicle communications. The audiences are general public and also majority are non-academics. Many interesting questions have been raised and discussed during the show, including what is the technology/ importance/ and future development of connected and autonomous vehicles as well as intelligent transportation system. A big achievement from this event is that an increasing number of people are aware of the future of trend of automotive development, especially the importance role of communications. Also, many cross-discipline discussions inspire us in the future development of technology and how to serve to people with appealing requirements.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Educational developments for postgraduates courses
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Part of my research findings and related research topics have been incorporated into two of my teaching modules, i.e., advanced networks and real-time embedded systems. The postgraduate get the opportunity to learn more advanced technology trend which will be useful and promising for their future career and research. One of my students graduated last year joined the university of Warwick as a PhD student is currently working on the similar research project.
Description Asa Briggs Visiting Fellowship
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sussex 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 08/2017
Description Royal Society-International exchange scheme
Amount £12,000 (GBP)
Funding ID IE160920 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2019
Description Further collaboration on secure in-vehicle communications and networking 
Organisation NXP Semiconductors was Philips Semiconductor
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of secured in-vehicle network testbed incorporating CAN, LIN, Ethernet and DSRC radios.
Collaborator Contribution The secured automotive gateway, MPC5748G, is given by the NXP.
Impact So far we have submitted two H2020 proposals in the area of 5G automotive and security communications. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, including communications, computing and cryptography.
Start Year 2015
Description British Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact More than 100 people dropped by our booth during the one day event at British Science Festival, which sparked questions and discussion about autonomous and connected vehicles, and how power line communications work in vehicle, what are the key benefits of the technique. Out event is including demo and poster.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description EPSRC UK-Korea workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attended the EPSRC UK-Korea workshop and discussed the potential collaboration, I've presented my research activity of powerline in-vehicle communications. Some colleagues from the UK universities, such as Queen's University Belfast, are extremely interested in my research topic and further discussion is possible.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Talk in school open days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Regular events during the school open days and AVD, primarily give a short talk about the research activity in vehicular communications. The main purpose of the talk is to attract new applicants who might be interested in the related teaching and research in their future study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018