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What is CAN bus and how is it used in Vehicle & Industrial Systems?

CAN bus
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Foundation of CAN bus in IoT

CAN bus is a robust vehicle bus standard originally designed in 1983 by Bosch to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other in applications without a host computer. It is known for its high reliability, simple implementation, and efficient communication protocol, making it an ideal choice for automotive applications. However, its utility in the IoT ecosystem stems from these very attributes, as it facilitates the seamless integration and communication of various IoT devices.

Types of Devices Using CAN Protocol

Devices utilising the CAN protocol include automotive systems such as engine control units, transmission control units, and airbag systems. Additionally, industrial automation equipment, medical devices, and even some household appliances can also rely on CAN protocol for communication. The versatility and reliability of the CAN protocol make it a popular choice across a wide range of industries:

Automotive Applications: 

The most common use of the CAN protocol is in the automotive industry, where it enables communication between various electronic control units (ECUs) within vehicles. This includes systems for engine management, transmission control, active safety systems (such as ABS and airbags), body control modules, and infotainment systems.

Industrial Automation: 

CAN is used in industrial environments for machine control, automation, and sensor network applications. It facilitates reliable communication in harsh conditions and over long distances.

Medical Equipment: 

Some medical devices, especially those requiring multiple sensors and actuators to work coordinated, use CAN for internal communications. Examples include advanced diagnostic machines and patient monitoring systems.

Aerospace and Aviation: 

Within aircraft and aerospace vehicles, CAN is used for monitoring and control systems, including engine monitoring, flight control systems, and other critical avionics.

Marine Electronics: 

In boats and ships, CAN is employed for navigation systems, engine control units, and communication between various electronic devices.

Agricultural Machinery: 

Modern agricultural machines, such as tractors and harvesters, use CAN bus systems for controlling and monitoring engines, navigation, and machinery operations.

Building Automation: 

CAN is also used in building automation for controlling lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), as well as for security and access control systems.

Example: How is the CAN bus Protocol Used in Vehicle Systems?

The CAN bus protocol has revolutionised the way vehicle systems communicate with each other, enabling seamless integration of various vehicle components. By using a standardised messaging protocol, vehicles can transmit data quickly and efficiently, allowing for real-time monitoring and control. This not only enhances the overall performance of the vehicle but also improves safety and reliability on the road. The CAN bus protocol has become an essential technology in modern vehicles, enabling advanced features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and autonomous driving. CAN bus is, therefore, a resilient vehicle communication standard, enabling microcontrollers and devices to connect without a central computer in automotive and industrial settings. Key uses include:

Vehicle Diagnostics: 

CAN bus allows for the diagnosis of vehicle problems and monitoring of the health of various systems within the vehicle. It enables the exchange of diagnostic information and error messages between the different vehicle components.


CAN bus facilitates the control of vehicle systems such as engine management, transmission, anti-lock braking system (ABS), airbags, lighting control, and much more. This control is achieved through the exchange of control messages between each of the devices controlling these systems.

Sensor Communication: 

Sensors within a vehicle, such as temperature sensors, pressure sensors, speed sensors, and others, use CAN bus to communicate their readings to the vehicle’s control systems, allowing for real-time monitoring and adjustments as required.

Actuator Operation: 

CAN bus is used to operate actuators based on commands from the vehicle’s control systems. This includes components like engine fuel injectors, electric motors for windows and mirrors, and other actuated parts.


CAN bus provides a method for networking and communication between multiple microcontrollers within the vehicle. This reduces the need for extensive wiring, as a single CAN bus can be used to connect multiple components.

Real-time Operation: 

Due to its high-speed communication capabilities, CAN bus is ideal for real-time operation requirements in vehicles and industrial applications, ensuring timely responses for safety-critical functions.

Overall, therefore, CAN bus enhances vehicle safety, efficiency, and reliability by enabling sophisticated communication and control among various vehicle systems.

Example: How is the CAN Bus Protocol Used to Control Vehicle Systems?

One primary use of CAN bus in both vehicles and industrial environments is for device and control. It facilitates the control of various systems such as engine management, transmission, anti-lock braking system (ABS), and automated production lines, by enabling the exchange of control messages between devices and systems. This allows for precise and coordinated operations, enhancing efficiency, safety, and reliability in both automotive and industrial applications.

CAN bus enhances efficiency, safety, and reliability in automotive and industrial applications through several key features that exist within its communication standards:

Efficiency of Design

  • Reduced Wiring: CAN bus reduces the need for extensive wiring harnesses by allowing multiple electronic control units (ECUs) to communicate over a single or dual-wire network. This simplification leads to lower manufacturing costs, easier installation, and less weight, which can contribute to improved vehicle fuel efficiency.
  • Real-time Communication: It enables real-time communication between devices. This is crucial for systems that require immediate response and synchronisation, such as engine control units, leading to more efficient operation of machinery and vehicles.

Safety Systems

  • Error Detection and Handling: CAN bus has built-in error detection mechanisms such as frame check, acknowledgment, and error signalling for detected errors. This ensures that data integrity is maintained, and any faults in communication are quickly identified and dealt with, enhancing the overall safety of the system.
  • Priority-based Messaging: The protocol allows for priority-based message transmission. Critical safety messages, such as those from the brake system or emergency stops in industrial environments, are given higher priority over less critical messages. This ensures that vital commands are processed first, enhancing the safety of both passengers and operations.


  • Robust in Harsh Environments: CAN bus is designed to operate reliably in harsh environmental conditions, including high levels of electrical noise, vibrations, and extreme temperatures. This robustness is essential for both automotive applications, where the network must operate reliably under various driving conditions, and industrial environments, which can be dusty, hot, or otherwise challenging.
  • Distributed Control: By allowing devices to communicate directly without a central computer, CAN bus enables a distributed control architecture. This reduces the system’s vulnerability to a single point of failure, increasing the reliability of vehicle functions and industrial processes.


In summary, CAN bus enhances efficiency by reducing wiring complexity and enabling real-time communication, improves safety through advanced error handling and priority messaging, and increases reliability by being robust against environmental challenges and reducing single points of failure.

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