Chip makers are hoping a new breed of microcontrollers (MCUs) will begin laying the foundation for a solution to one of the auto industry’s most vexing design problems -- electronic complexity.
Using more cores, bandwidth, Flash memory, and onboard intelligence, the new MCUs could begin to chip away at the complexity issue, which is growing worse, even as suppliers struggle to make in-roads. ”It’s out of control,” Brad Loane, auto body microcontroller product manager for Freescale Semiconductor, told Design News. “There’s so much more lighting, so many new user interfaces, so many more sensors and actuators. It’s getting so complex that it’s driving up the weight and the cost.”
Indeed, automotive electronics are now so pervasive that they account for at least 30 percent of the overall cost of a vehicle -- and some experts suggest that’s a conservative figure. For hybrids, it could be as high as 45 percent. And, in a few years, hybrids could reach as high as 80 percent.
Freescale’s Qorivva MPC5748G uses two main cores operating at 160 MHz and a smaller I/O core running at 80 MHz, to help with the division of electronic tasks.
(Source: Freescale Semiconductor)
The high costs are a product of additional hardware, software, and engineering. Today’s high-end vehicles typically incorporate more than 100 onboard MCUs, 150 pounds of wiring, and tens of millions of lines of software code. But even as those numbers rise, engineers continue to face the task of adding more features for infotainment and safety, and enabling all those new and old MCUs to talk to each other.
Those growing concerns have led semiconductor suppliers to develop solutions to the problem. Freescale recently rolled out two product portfolios that will almost certainly inspire other suppliers. The first, a family of multicore MCUs, is targeted at body control modules and network gateways. The second, a family of mixed-signal MCUs, is aimed at adding intelligence to end nodes in the vehicle, such as door lock and seat control modules.
Both will perform specific chores in an effort to clean up the electronic mess. The multicore family, known as the Qorivva MPC5748G, will ultimately help automakers reduce the number of body control modules, which serve as electronic hubs for the end nodes. The keys are the Qorivva’s multicore architecture, high bandwidth, and onboard Flash memory. Using two main cores operating at 160 MHz and a smaller I/O core running at 80 MHz, the MCUs help with the division of tasks. That functionality, in turn, is augmented by the presence of up to 6 MB of memory, which helps eliminate messaging bottlenecks between modules and nodes, Freescale says.
The ultimate goal is to enable the body control modules to take on more communication tasks. By making those modules smarter and faster, suppliers and automakers hope to cut the number of the modules by more than half. Whereas a high-end vehicle today might have 25 modules that talk to 100 microcontrollers, the hope is that future vehicles could have 10 or fewer modules. ”There’s a massive amount of data that needs to be processed and handled,” Loane told us.