13.5. OPTICAL AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS

After years of development, fiber-optic networks are finally starting to appear in luxury automobiles. The first applications are in high-end broadband entertainment and information systems, linking compact-disc (CD) changers, audio systems, and speakers throughout the car, delivering navigation information to the driver, and providing video entertainment to passengers. Also in development are fiber systems that transmit safety-critical control and sensor information throughout the car. The initial versions of both types are based on polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) [7] step-index fiber, but developers are looking at hard-clad silica fiber for future generations [7].

13.5.1. The Evolving Automobile

Automotive engineers began thinking seriously about fiber optics more than two decades ago. Their original goal was to prevent electromagnetic interference from impairing the operation of early electronic systems such as antilock brakes. However, it proved more cost-effective to make the electronic systems less sensitive, so fiber optics remained on the shelf until a new generation of automotive electronics began challenging the capabilities of copper [7].

In the late 1990s, the automotive industry grew enthusiastic about the prospects for "telematics," an often-vague vision of equipping cars with a host of new information and entertainment systems. The tremendous inertia of the auto industry damped the wave of enthusiasm, avoiding the excesses of the ...

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