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Mon, 12 Mar 2018
Communication on a FlexRay bus

FlexRay is an automotive bus system which is not as common as the CAN bus, but is used in several car brands, e.g. BMW, Mercedes and Audi. I won't go into the details of FlexRay, there are several good introductions elsewhere.

What is needed to read the data on a FlexRay bus, or even better, actively participate in the communication (send your own data)? Compared to the CAN bus a FlexRay bus is complicated:

  • Sending and receiving on a CAN bus is simple, similar to serial (UART) communication: You basically only need to know the bus speed and you are done.
  • For a FlexRay bus you have to know about 50 more or less important parameters which define things like the length and number of the frames in the static segment or the frames in the dynamic segment.

If you are only interested in seeing the data on the FlexRay bus, than it is actually pretty simple, knowing the communication speed (typically 10 Mbit/s is enough). There are several oscilloscopes and logic analyzers which can decode the FlexRay protocol. Such a decoder is simple, I use a few lines of AWK script to process the exported CSV file from a cheap logic analyzer to do so (AWK just to show how simple it is).

However if you also want to send data, you need to know nearly all the parameters, otherwise you would most certainly just disturb the bus communication. There are several (expensive) FlexRay analyzers available, which can help to solve this problem.

I wanted to find out if it is also possible to get this done with a relatively cheap (around 100 EUR) development board with a FlexRay interface. While I won't go into the details (maybe this is topic for an upcoming talk), I will just present my experimental setup:

I started with two ECUs (gateway and engine ECU) from a BMW with FlexRay. Those two ECUs are enough for a properly running FlexRay bus (each of those ECUs is a so called coldstart node, you need at least two of them to get the FlexRay bus up and running). To get the development board running with this setup you could start with coarse communication parameters (maybe from measurements with an oscilloscope) and fine-tune them until you can communicate (receive and send frames) without errors. This actually worked quite well.

The next setup were several ECUs from an Audi with FlexRay: I had the gateway, ACC radar and front camera. However only the gateway is a coldstart node, so the FlexRay bus would not start with only those ECUs. I could have bought a second coldstart node ECU (either ABS or airbag), however those ECUs for this specific car are rather expensive. Additionally I wanted to see if it is possible to program the development board as a coldstart node, so I decided to go this way. The problem now is that you don't have a running FlexRay bus to get your first estimation of the communication parameters: the single coldstart node trying to start the bus will only give you a few of them (basically you only have one frame from the static segment). The communication parameters from the BMW won't help also, Audi uses something else (only the 10 Mbit/s bus speed and the 5 ms cycle time are the same). Again I skip the details, but all problems could be resolved and the development board acts as a coldstart node to get the bus running and of course can also properly communicate on the bus.

Lessons learned: You don't necessarily need expensive tools to solve a problem which seems complicated on the first look. If you are willing to spend some time, you can succeed with rather cheap equipment. The additional benefit is that you learn a lot from such an approach.

[ /automotive | permanent link ]