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A Brief History of the Controller Area Network (CAN)

by Jason Block and Rob Lodesky | Feb 09, 2018


The availability of low cost and high-performance microelectronic components allowed the automotive industry to introduce autonomous electronic control units (ECUs) for different functional areas, such as ignition, transmission control, or antilock braking systems.

It quickly became apparent that for further functional improvements – and thus a significant improvement in driver experience– the synchronization of all processes distributed on the various control devices were necessary via a controlled data exchange between the devices. 

In the automotive area, the key aim of a digital communication system is to reduce the amount/length of wiring or mitigate cabling points, such as the grommet from the inside of the car to the front doors.

The introduction of digital communication systems in the automotive industry also was driven by the growing number of components for the body and convenience electronics which needed to be connected, such as:

  • Climate control
  • Locking mechanisms
  • Seat and mirror adjustment
  • Electric windows
  • Anti-theft systems
  • Central light


Figure 1: Automobile with CAN

To meet the needs of the automotive market, the Controller Area Network (CAN) was created in 1983 by Robert Bosch GmbH. This satisfied the need to provide synchronous communication between processors in automobile systems and ultimately led to the manufacturing of safer and more efficient automobiles.

The benefits that CAN networks brought to automobile technology were easily applied to automated machinery as well. Much like the automobile manufacturers, machine builders were being required to supply safer and more efficient systems.

To fit the needs of the machine builder market, CAN was used as a base network for the creation of new, open industrial fieldbus standards such as CANopen and DeviceNet. As with automobiles, this has significantly simplified machine wiring and unlocked a great amount of machine data, allowing better performing equipment and better manufacturing intelligence.


Learn more about HMS’ Solutions for CAN:

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