How standardization and the use of the CAN BUS will enable electric soft mobility to go to scale ?

Since 2013, the year of the democratization of the electric bicycle, the bicycle has seen real technological advances. Then came the era of urban electric mobility, introducing new means of transport on our roads and in our city centres: electrically assisted bicycles (EAB), scooters, electric scooters, skateboards, etc…

The increasing equipment of these vehicles therefore encourages the major manufacturers to renew themselves and thus to develop new industrial and product strategies. Through this article, we will see how to apply one of the most widely used technologies on the automotive, aeronautics and industrial market as a whole to these new modes of transport.

Context and issues

Since 2016, electric soft urban mobility has been growing rapidly. It should be noted that the sale of electrically assisted bicycles in 2018 saw an increase of 21% compared to the previous year, with 338,000 units sold (for 2.7 million bicycles sold) in France. In Europe, the annual growth rate for electric bicycles is on average 20%.

Growth of electric bicycles in Europe in thousands of units. source Statistica

The same applies to the electric scooter market, whose growth varies from one country to another, ranging from +50% per year to +100% per year. This difference is mainly due to the fact that the regulations are not yet well determined on these new means of transport which have a different use from that of the bicycle.

There are different ranges of electric bikes and scooters, but the basic trend is towards the high-end market. Both private and business customers (fleet managers of vehicles for long-term rental, free-floating and docking) all want vehicles that are durable and reliable over time. This was much less the case 3 years ago.

In order to make vehicles durable over time, industrialists and OEMs are beginning to make adjustments to make vehicles maintainable and equipment increasingly interoperable, i.e. working together to share information. This has forced the urban mobility industry to formulate industrial and product strategies that take into account not only price, autonomy, equipment level and customer support, but also maintenance over several years, securing supplies of spare parts for more than 3 years and valuing the durability of equipment in its price.

In addition to the durability of equipment, maintenance is also a key issue for the soft urban mobility industry. Currently, if an engine, controller or battery in an electric bicycle or scooter breaks down, the vehicle is immobilized for several weeks or even months. This process is very unpleasant for the user and very expensive for the fleet manager or the manufacturer. So how can we make maintenance easy and inexpensive by reducing vehicle downtime?

Finally, the safety of users is one of the main concerns of manufacturers and government agencies. Technological innovation is ongoing and regulations change from country to country to ensure user safety. Therefore, how can users be allowed to get new safety equipment on their bikes or scooters while making them compatible with a bike purchased several years ago?

electric bike can bus

Qu’est-ce que le protocole de communication CAN ?

Communication via the CAN protocol (Controller Area Network) has been implemented for the automotive industry in order to reduce the amount of cables and to make the different sensors or actuators in the car interoperable.

Contrary to the serial communication protocol UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter) which is the component allowing the connection between different equipments, the CAN bus allows to make these equipments communicate more easily and in a more secure way. Thus, it makes it possible to make the vehicle more reliable and to equip it with safety equipment (powerful intelligent headlights, electric brakes, dual batteries, connectivity, etc.) without increasing the difficulties of integrating the connectivity. It also makes it possible to make certain devices interoperable (replacement of the Generation 1 battery by Generation 3 without engineering costs).

In the automotive sector, communication is carried out at two speeds, one is 250 kbits/sec (for computing units and security equipment) and the other is 125 kbits/sec. In the case of electric bicycles and scooters, the higher speed of the two is preferred, as these vehicles are not yet sufficiently equipped with the technology to use both frequencies.

This protocol is new to the urban soft mobility industry, it is increasingly used for electric bicycles, but still very little for scooters. It is becoming more and more necessary for vehicles to become connected, in order to geolocate them, perform remote maintenance and make them safer for users.

electric bike can bus

How will CAN contribute to the growth of the soft electric mobility market?

The use of the CAN communication protocol on these vehicles is a first response to the various issues presented in the first paragraph. This use has the following advantages:

Facilitate integration by connecting different equipment on the same communication line. The integration of the cables in the vehicle is more industrial, it reduces the complexity of maintenance, facilitates the assembly of the vehicle and limits costs (the more equipment there is, the more wiring and assembly costs increase).

To make equipment interoperable with each other if they use the same communication language. Indeed, the CAN protocol is standardised, but the equipment (motors, lamps, electric brakes, connectivity, etc.) must interpret the language in the same way. For example, some engine manufacturers have developed their own language on the CAN communication protocol and it is not yet compatible with that of the suppliers of batteries, lighting, ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) and connectivity. One of the big challenges for this industry will therefore be to succeed in bringing the equipment manufacturers together to develop a common language and thus make the equipment fully interoperable.

Secure vehicles and users by integrating new equipment requiring more bandwidth on communication buses. This is the case of connectivity, which makes it possible to lock and unlock the vehicle, to geolocate it in the event of theft and to trigger an audible alarm, but also to carry out remote self-diagnostics for the purpose of preventive maintenance.

Thanks to these three advantages, the CAN can face the three challenges of urban mobility which are: sustainability, maintenance and safety of both vehicles and users.

Thus, bicycles, scooters and other soft means of transport used in urban areas will become real modes of transport capable of adapting to the needs of customers, whether professionals or individuals, while offering an adapted and constantly evolving level of service, as legislation progresses.

To initiate exchanges or collaboration

The CAN BUS is a major response to current and future soft mobility issues. If you would like to learn more about this subject or to study a possible application on your vehicles, please contact our team of experts.

Pierre Régnier

President of Velco

If you are interested in this subject, I invite you to discuss it to deepen it together.