The unabated growth of electronic controls in automobiles is prompting design engineers to employ a new technology—digital signal processing (DSP). Radio, the one application that has used DSPs for a while, will gain steam as they change while DSP will be at the heart of new application areas such as drive by wire.
Though DSP chips have been used in many industries for motion control for years, the technology has been seldom used in the mathematical applications in autos such as engine control. DSP auto usage will be a little more than $200 million this year, according to Forward Concepts of Tempe, AZ, a small piece of $8 billion expected for total DSP revenues this year. But automotive should see rapid growth, says president Will Strauss.
More of the small motors used for seat positioning and window control come under microprocessor control, and engineers are using a single DSP to control multiple nodes. DSPs will play an even greater role in electric motors control steering and braking, a changeover that's expected in the next few years.
"I think usage will really accelerate as we get to drive by wire for steering and braking," says Scott Lynch, operations manager of the DSP Standard Products Operation at Freescale Semiconductor's Transportation & Standard Products Group in Austin, TX.
Meanwhile, automakers are looking at replacing hydraulic power steering systems with electric motors. This will save space and reduce the energy needed to power hydraulic lines even when the vehicle is cruising down the highway or stopped at a light.
"To do electronic power steering, you need closed-loop control of the electric motor, which requires a lot of performance. You can't do that with a microprocessor," said Matthias Poppel, worldwide marketing manager at TI's AEC Automotive Group.
It's not just chipmakers who are predicting expanded usage of the technology. Automakers also see fairly rapid adoption. But at General Motors, there won't be much of a market for standalone DSP chips. "We're looking mainly at integrating DSP into the microprocessor, that's the lowest-cost approach," says Dennis Bogden, director of electronic engineering for GM Powertrain in Detroit.
All-In-One: DSP chips are expected
to tackle many roles in tomorrow's cars in addition to steering and