Thursday, December 23, 2010

25 years in the CAN!

February 1986, the CAN protocol was presented the first time to the public at the SAE conference in Detroit. Bosch presented its serial bus system dedicated for embedded networking in passenger cars. One year later, Intel introduced the first CAN stand-alone controller followed by Philips Semiconductors in 1988. In the meantime, the CAN protocol has become one of the mainstream communication technologies. The success as in-vehicle networks is unique in the automotive history.

All early competitors are gone. And more: CAN has penetrated many markets, what was not intended by the fathers of the CAN protocol.

Holger Zeltwanger
According to the CAN in Automation (CiA) nonprofit users and manufacturers group, there have been sold in the 25 years more than two and a half billion CAN modules. And the automotive industry is still hungry on CAN chips. Even low-end vehicles are going to use CAN technology – this includes also light electrical vehicles (LEV) such as Pedelecs and E-bikes.

Also in many other industries CAN networks are in use. This includes industrial automation, machine control, medical devices, public transportation, maritime electronics, laboratory automation and even extreme applications such as sub-sea instrumentation, mining machines, and satellites. “In any system, in which more than three micro-controllers need to communicate, CAN is an opportunity,” said Holger Zeltwanger, CiA Managing Director

Even if the CAN protocol is 25 years old, there are still some developments on the physical layer and the implementation. Recently, CAN transceiver with integrated galvanic isolation have been introduced, and a CAN transceiver with selective wake-up capability has been submitted for international standardization. CiA has also received requests for an acoustic CAN transmission to be used in underwater applications. But the CAN protocol is still the same. It has not been changed. “This is one of the reasons of the success,” explained Holger Zeltwanger. “In particular, for mission-critical applications and systems with long life-times a stable communication protocol is essential.”

More than 50 companies offer CAN protocol implementations. Nowadays, nearly all micro-controller families include members with CAN module on chip. The broad variety of CAN implementations satisfies very different requirements: High-end dashboards with gateway functionality and high-performed industrial controllers on the one side, and low-end sensors and other simple cost-sensitive devices on the other end.

The future for CAN looks quite good. New application fields are just emerging: For example communication between battery and charger for e-mobility, battery-powered service robots, and very small motors with integrated controller for diverse applications including domestic appliances and laboratory automation. Especially for safety-critical systems, CAN is due its robustness and reliability the only choice. And the chips are available for outdoor conditions. It is not necessary to stress the reasonable prices for the CAN chips.

“On behalf of the CiA community I like to thank the inventers of the CAN protocol and the developers of the CAN implementations,” said Holger Zeltwanger. “You have done a great job, even if it was not intended in the beginning to satisfy so many different applications.”

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