Easy Rider: The Chrysler 300C offers
electronic stability by using sensors and micros to smooth the ride, which
was made possible by the declining cost of
Semiconductors continue to provide much of the product differentiation for
cars and trucks, a factor that's sparking increased development by IC companies.
This year, one of many focus areas is on body and vehicle control.
Ride stability is one growing application. The decline in chip prices is helping automotive designers justify using more electronic technologies. These declines extend to solid state sensors. "Sensors were very expensive, but costs have come down. We'll see a lot more electronic stability systems," says Bill Mattingly, vice president at Chrysler Group's Electrical/Electronics Engineering Core.
Continued price erosion will also make it possible for automotive engineers to move from analog filtering to digital processing, which can improve performance by better managing the power train. "There are several filtering functions in the power train that should be done with DSPs. Once you get them into the DSP domain, you can do sophisticated filtering," says Jack Morgan, automotive marketing director for Philips North America. As costs decline for DSPs and hybrid micros that have DSP cores, this transition will occur on new designs, he adds.
Philips is rolling out new system basis chips (SBCs) that include both CAN and LIN (local interconnect network) interfaces. The chips include a fail safe system controller with diagnostics. One spotlight area is to turn off networks that draw power when the vehicle is turned off, a problem that has led to dead batteries. By including both CAN and LIN, the chips are applicable in simple door and window nodes to complex engine management and dashboard modules.
Power control is also a focus in a new line of 8-bit microcontrollers from Microchip Technology Inc. of Tempe, AZ. Its PIC18F line employs what's called nanowatt technology, which provides multiple power management modes. The line also includes long-life Flash memory, which continues to be growing.
Exterior lighting is another area of change. Mimicking the failed Tucker auto of the 1940s, designers are starting to offer headlights that turn as the vehicle turns. The headlights, motors, and steering data are shared over a LIN. Chipmakers are merging the critical components onto a single chip. "We're offering motor controllers with LIN for headlamp bending and for door and window control," says Bob Klosterboer, senior vice president at AMI Semiconductor in Pocatello, ID.
For tail lights, LEDs are attractive in part because of reduced power consumption. They also provide longer lifetimes and smaller size.
"High side current measurement lets us see if LEDs are out. A PWM controls brightness for the tail lights," says Charles Whiting, Senior Applications Engineer for Analog Devices Automotive Systems.