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A Controller Area Network (CAN bus) is a robust vehicle bus standard designed to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other in applications without a host computer. It is a message-based protocol, designed originally for multiplex electrical wiring within automobiles to save on copper, but is also used in many other contexts.
Development of the CAN bus started in 1983 at Robert Bosch GmbH. The protocol was officially released in 1986 at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) conference in Detroit, Michigan. The first CAN controller chips, produced by Intel and Philips, came on the market in 1987. Released in 1991 the Mercedes-Benz W140 was the first production vehicle to feature a CAN-based multiplex wiring system.
Bosch published several versions of the CAN specification and the latest is CAN 2.0 published in 1991. This specification has two parts; part A is for the standard format with an 11-bit identifier, and part B is for the extended format with a 29-bit identifier. A CAN device that uses 11-bit identifiers is commonly called CAN 2.0A and a CAN device that uses 29-bit identifiers is commonly called CAN 2.0B. These standards are freely available from Bosch along with other specifications and white papers.
In 1993, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the CAN standard ISO 11898 which was later restructured into two parts; ISO 11898-1 which covers the data link layer, and ISO 11898-2 which covers the CAN physical layer for high-speed CAN. ISO 11898-3 was released later and covers the CAN physical layer for low-speed, fault-tolerant CAN. The physical layer standards ISO 11898-2 and ISO 11898-3 are not part of the Bosch CAN 2.0 specification. These standards may be purchased from the ISO.
Bosch is still active in extending the CAN standards. In 2012, Bosch released CAN FD 1.0 or CAN with Flexible Data-Rate. This specification uses a different frame format that allows a different data length as well as optionally switching to a faster bit rate after the arbitration is decided. CAN FD is compatible with existing CAN 2.0 networks so new CAN FD devices can coexist on the same network with existing CAN devices.
CAN bus is one of five protocols used in the on-board diagnostics (OBD)-II vehicle diagnostics standard. The OBD-II standard has been mandatory for all cars and light trucks sold in the United States since 1996. The EOBD standard has been mandatory for all petrol vehicles sold in the European Union since 2001 and all diesel vehicles since 2004.
The modern automobile may have as many as 70 electronic control units (ECU) for various subsystems. Typically the biggest processor is the engine control unit. Others are used for transmission, airbags, antilock braking/ABS, cruise control, electric power steering, audio systems, power windows, doors, mirror adjustment, battery and recharging systems for hybrid/electric cars, etc. Some of these form independent subsystems, but communications among others are essential. A subsystem may need to control actuators or receive feedback from sensors. The CAN standard was devised to fill this need. One key advantage is that interconnection between different vehicle systems can allow a wide range of safety, economy and convenience features to be implemented using software alone - functionality which would add cost and complexity if such features were "hard wired" using traditional automotive electrics. Examples include:
In recent years, the LIN bus standard has been introduced to complement CAN for non-critical subsystems such as air-conditioning and infotainment, where data transmission speed and reliability are less critical.
CAN is a multi-master serial bus standard for connecting Electronic Control Units [ECUs] also known as nodes. Two or more nodes are required on the CAN network to communicate. The complexity of the node can range from a simple I/O device up to an embedded computer with a CAN interface and sophisticated software. The node may also be a gateway allowing a standard computer to communicate over a USB or Ethernet port to the devices on a CAN network.