FlexRay is a high-speed communication standard devised to let sensors and microprocessors embedded in a car speak to each other. Car manufacturers will likely adopt the protocol for a wide variety of functions: a sensor embedded in a side mirror, for example, could provide information to a microcontroller about cars in the blind spot, and, if a driver tries to move into that lane, the microcontroller will send a warning to the driver.
In the BMW X5, FlexRay is being used to enable AdaptiveDrive. In AdaptiveDrive, sensors gather data on road speed, acceleration, steering angles and other phenomena. The car's microprocessors then absorb this data and use it to control the shock absorbers and swivel motors on the anti-roll bars. The car can drive in the more stiff "sporty" mode or, at the push of a button, drive more like a family car.
BMW is scheduled to release the X5 in North America at the end of November and start shipping it worldwide in spring 2007.
Freescale, the semiconductor spin-off of Motorola, is providing the microcontrollers for the X5. Cars have become one of the major target markets for semiconductor makers that aren't Intel or AMD. Other companies placing heavy emphasis on autos are NXP and Infineon.