Freescale's New Automotive MCU Is Designed for Software Engineers

Charles Murray

July 21, 2015

2 Min Read
Freescale's New Automotive MCU Is Designed for Software Engineers

A new family of ARM Cortex-based microcontrollers (MCUs) promises to help designers speed and simplify the creation of automotive products ranging from power seats and door locks to touch interfaces and chassis controls.

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Known as the S32K, the new MCU family is said to be the first such product designed specifically for software engineers. “We’re trying to shift the discussion from bits and bytes at the silicon level to the platform level, and help our customers be more efficient with their software,” noted Matt Johnson, vice president and general manager of automotive MCUs for Freescale Semiconductor, maker of the new MCU family.

To meet those software needs, the new product family includes an automotive-grade software development kit, which provides middleware for the S32K’s drivers. Equally important, it incorporates a development platform called the S32 Design Studio that includes software and design tools.

The new family is targeted mostly at automotive applications connected to a vehicle’s CAN or LIN bus, such as seat motors, window lifts, power door locks, sun roofs, climate controls and infotainment, as well as chassis-based systems. It is not aimed at applications connected to Ethernet or safety-critical FlexRay data buses.

Freescale engineers hope that the new product family will help serve as a remedy to the growing software complexity that now captures the majority of design time in automotive electronics. At the recent Freescale Technology Forum, the company’s engineers said that today’s average vehicle now incorporates a stunning 100 million lines of software code on board. “It’s more than Windows, more than OS X and more than the Space Shuttle,” Johnson said. “As a rule, our customers only update what they absolutely have to, because R&D is often constrained by the software.”

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Freescale hopes to solve that problem by introducing a scalable portfolio of devices that maximizes re-use of the hardware and simplifies software updates. “We have 8KB to 2MB in flash, with re-use of the core, re-use of the peripherals and re-usable pin configurations, as well,” Johnson said. “That’s a big deal because these are the things that use the greatest amount of software and require the most re-work for our customers.”

Up to now, applications on the CAN and LIN buses have been served by an incongruous mix of 8-, 16-, and 32-bit MCUs. Freescale hopes the 32-bit S32K will change that by combining ARM Cortex-M4 performance with DSP functionality and a high reusability factor.

”Whether it’s prototyping, production or next-generation platforms, customers can get more re-use, which translates to faster time to market,” Johnson said.

S32K sample devices and software development kit will be available in the third quarter of 2015, Freescale said.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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