The continued expansion of semiconductors in automobiles continues to drive major developments by IC suppliers. Motorola is unveiling a new automotive line of 32-bit PowerPC chips, Philips is preparing to enter the CPU market with a line based on the ARM core, and Texas Instruments is increasing the power of its DSP chips.
The moves come as the electronics content of vehicles continues to grow and carmakers add more functions such as airbags. Additionally, automakers are making greater use of networked schemes that centralize processing power, using 32-bit chips to control many functions.
"The trends in automotive have triggered us to enter the market with a 32-bit processor," says Michael Schneider, global system marketing manager for Global Automotive Marketing & Sales at Philips Semiconductors (www.semiconductors.philips.com). He explains that Philips is developing an automotive chip based on the ARM 7 core, targeting body and vehicle control applications.
It will make extensive use of Philips' solid base in automotive networking. Networking is expanding beyond CAN to include Flexray for drive by wire, Safe By Wire for airbags, and the Local Interconnect Network (LIN) for sensors and other simple controllers.
Previously, many of the nodes now being linked on these buses would have had individual processors, but using one powerful chip to handle many nodes is a popular direction today. "There's a strong trend towards centralization of certain modules, especially in body control electronics," Schneider says.
Besides these network control applications, new features such as lane departure warning and collision warning use input from cameras, so there's a need for 32-bit chips with video processing power. Philips expects to formally announce its plans late this year or early next year when first silicon is ready.
Speed Needed: Motorola's new processor
employs a crossbar switch so communications can occur faster, with three
lines working simultaneously without impacting
Motorola's new chip
Motorola (www.motorola.com/automotive) is unveiling a new 32-bit line, the MPC5500, which leverages both the company's PowerPC processor and its strong presence in the powertrain control field. The line increases processing speed to 150 MHz, more than doubling its predecessor's capabilities.
In addition to the PowerPC core, the IC has two microcode engines that offload repetitive, time-critical tasks such as synchronizing tasks occurring in the engine. These small processing engines can be programmed using C code.
It also provides substantially improved data transfer rates. "We employ a crossbar switch that lets up to three masters talk to each other without using up all the bandwidth," says Ray Cornyn, Transportation Business Operations Manager for Motorola's 32-Bit Embedded Controller Division, based in Austin, TX. For example, the CPU can be transferring both analog and digital data while processing data, he adds.
Flash capacity is increased to 2 Mbytes, with 10-second programming time for the full array. It's also being upgraded with error correction.
Texas Instruments is addressing the automotive market with a line that increases processing power while reducing cost. The TMS 320F2801 cores have more than 100 MIPS processing capability, along with pricing down to $5. That translates to 20 MIPS per dollar, 50% more than the 13 MIPS per dollar rating of the closest competitor.