MCUs, SoCs and More
From advanced audio and video to sophisticated safety features, today’s cars have become highly-networked systems—both internally and externally. Chip vendors are keeping pace with new MCU, SoC and other solutions serving connected car designs.
There’s no doubt that the automotive systems designs of today and tomorrow have become highly connected systems. Internally, cars are linking HD cameras and touchscreen displays both for safety and infotainment. Externally, cars are linking with wireless gateways for driver assistance capabilities and rich service functionalities.
To feed the embedded systems design demands of these next-gen cars, over the last several months microcontroller (MCU) vendors have been rolling out rich chip-level solutions—including MCUs, system-on-chips (SoCs), dedicated controller ICs and more. By using these innovations, automotive system developers have the building blocks to bring next-gen connected cars onto the design table and into production.
AUTOMOTIVE MCUs FOR NEW CARS
Automotive MCUs must continually evolve each and every year to keep pace with new demands in automotive features. With that in mind, in June STMicroelectronics (ST) announced that it began delivering the first Stellar SR6 automotive microcontrollers MCUs for automotive-industry leaders to realize the next generation of advanced vehicle electronics that deliver new levels of performance and safety.
The Stellar SR6 scalable MCU family, targeting auto production in 2024, is architected for high performing and efficient vehicle platforms (Figure 1). The MCUs are particularly suited to domain and zone controllers that simplify vehicle wiring, enable migration to software-defined platforms and increase system reliability.
Stellar SR6 MCUs leverage ST’s FD-SOI process technology, which has high Soft Error Rate (SER) immunity to ensure high system reliability and availability for ISO 26262 functional-safety applications up to ASIL-D. The devices feature hardware-based virtualization, which allows multiple software applications to coexist safely while preserving performance and ensuring real-time determinism. This enhances flexibility for designers by allowing multiple independent applications or virtual electronic control units (ECUs) in the same physical MCU.
The first Stellar SR6 P and G series MCUs have up to 20MB of phase-change memory (PCM), which ensures high performance and data retention and is compliant with AEC-Q100 Grade 0. Stellar’s dual-image storage enables efficient over-the-air (OTA) reprogramming with major savings in memory size through an ST innovation that supports configuring the PCM cell structure to double the memory size during OTA updates, up to 2x 20MB. PCM access time is also faster than other non-volatile memories such as 1T (single-transistor) NOR Flash.
The Stellar SR6 MCU family contains two series, P and G, based on the same platform. The Stellar P Integration MCU series is designed to meet the demands of next-generation drivetrain and electrification integration/domain systems, delivering real-time performance and determinism for better driving experiences and safety.
Stellar G Integration MCUs feature efficient accelerators for secure data routing via CAN, LIN, and Ethernet networks and deliver a large set of communication interfaces. With their flexible low-power modes supporting low quiescent current and an intelligent monitoring subsystem, Stellar G MCUs ensure the best overall power efficiency, says ST. Each is tailored for the intended domain to offer optimized solutions for next-generation vehicle needs.
CONNECTED CAR SoCs
Because of the large volumes inherent in the automotive market, dedicated MCUs for automotive applications are nothing new in the industry. But, over the years, those MCUs have evolved into sophisticated SoCs geared for the challenging needs of modern connected cars. Along just those lines, in July Renesas Electronics added a new family to its series of R-Car system-on-chips (SoCs) with the R-Car Gen3e. Featuring six new members, the new R-Car Gen3e series of SoCs offers a scalable lineup for entry- to mid-range automotive applications that require high-quality graphics rendering, such as integrated cockpit domain controllers, in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), digital instrument cluster, driver monitoring systems and LED matrix light (Figure 2).
The new devices extend the R-Car Gen3 SoC products with increased CPU performance up to 50k DMIPS and 2GHz speeds to help carmakers navigate demands for continuous user experience, security and safety improvements. Renesas provides “Winning Combination” solutions featuring the R-Car Gen3e devices to shorten development time and reduce bill of materials (BOM) costs. System developers can combine the R-Car Gen3e devices with Renesas’ high-accuracy timing ICs, power management products.
R-Car Gen3e SoCs provide increased CPU performance—up to 2GHz for the R-Car M3Ne, R-Car M3e and R-Car H3e devices. An on-chip real-time Arm Cortex R7 CPU on the devices eliminates the need for an external vehicle controller combined with a Renesas PMIC, reducing overall BOM costs. System developers can enjoy reduced development times with reference solutions for fast boot, HMI and functional safety. Board support packages are updated with the latest versions of the Linux and Android operating systems.
Renesas offers a rich set of reference design solutions for the R-Car Gen3e. Pre-integrated software enables higher application integration, for example for 2D/3D cluster HMI, welcome animation, rear-view camera and surround view applications. VirtIO technology allows developers to easily add the reference solutions to existing applications without changing the existing Linux or Android application.
The R-Car Gen3e supports ASIL-B system safety requirements for applications such as telltale monitoring and camera freeze detection, as well as for true hardware separation in non-hypervisor cockpits. The R-Car Consortium (RCC) partner ecosystem includes system integrators, middleware/application developers, and operating system and tools vendors, providing solutions for the connected car, ADAS and gateway markets that enable customers to reduce development time and accelerate time to market for new products.
CAR CHIPS ON 16nm SEMIS
For its part NXP is throwing advanced semiconductor process capabilities at its automotive market solutions. For example, in June NXP Semiconductors announced the release of NXP’s S32G2 vehicle network processors and the S32R294 radar processor into volume production on TSMC’s advanced 16nm FinFET process technology (Figure 3).
The milestone exhibits the migration of NXP’s S32 family of processors to increasingly advanced process nodes as automobiles continue to evolve into powerful computing platforms, says NXP. The S32 family is aimed at helping carmakers simplify vehicle architecture and deliver the fully connected and configurable cars.
The S32G2 vehicle networking processors enable service-oriented gateways for secure cloud connectivity and OTA updates that will unlock a multitude of data-driven services such as usage-based insurance and vehicle health management. S32G2 processors also serve as domain and zone controllers to enable next-generation vehicle architectures and as high-performance ASIL D safety processors in advanced driver assistance and autonomous drive systems. The move to TSMC’s 16nm technology has allowed S32G2 to consolidate multiple devices into one, creating an SoC that reduces the processor’s footprint.
The S32R294 radar processor’s implementation in 16nm provides the performance carmakers need to enable scalable solutions for NCAP and advanced corner radar as well as long-range front radar and advanced multi-mode use cases like simultaneous blind-spot detection, lane change assistance and elevation sensing, says NXP.
According to NXP, TSMC’s 16nm technology enables NXP’s automotive processors to harness the power of advanced FinFET transistors for the first time, combining improved performance and rigorous automotive process qualifications to deliver safe next generation computing power. Backed by TSMC’s extensive roadmap for automotive processes, NXP’s 16nm automotive processors pave the way for a wider migration to TSMC’s 5nm process for the NXP S32 family of vehicle processors. NXP’s S32R294 radar processors and S32G2 secure gateway processors started volume production in Q2 this year and are available now.
For its part, Infineon Technologies offers a solutioned aimed at in-cabin monitoring systems (ICMS) in cars. The solution is comprised of the company’s XENSIV BGT60ATR24C AEC-Q100 radar sensors, AURIX MCUs and OPTIREG PMICs. The devices support the use of new signal processing techniques enabling robustness and a good compromise between computational costs, the degree of information as well as the power consumption of the system
According to Infineon, ICMS designs are reshaping the concept of passenger safety in cars (Figure 4). Various applications such as left-behind child detection, driver well-being or occupancy sensing increase road safety and the protection in vehicles. Radar in particular is a promising technology to address these applications due to its ability to detect micro-motions and vital signs.
The XENSIV BGT60ATR24C radar sensor is a cognitive sensing solution with multiple transmit/receive for virtual array configurations, a highly agile modulation generation mechanism, automatic power mode configurability as well as simplified interfaces between RF and the processing side. Furthermore, the AURIX TC3xx MCU family combines performance with a powerful safety architecture. The family integrates a fast radar signal processing unit and enhanced security with the second-generation of the hardware security module (HSM). This includes asymmetric cryptography accelerators and full EVITA support.
HD CAMERA SOLUTION
Today’s connected cars pack in a lot of video technology—both video going in and going out. HD cameras are part of the video input story, but the trick is connecting such cameras without adding huge costs for connectors and cabling. Addressing precisely this issue, in July Renesas Electronics introduced its new Automotive HD Link (AHL) technology that enables automotive manufacturers to deliver HD video over low-cost cables and connectors that currently support standard-definition video (Figure 5).
HD video is increasingly important in car safety systems for object recognition functionality, says Renesas. AHL can be paired with other Renesas products, such as the R-Car Automotive SoCs, RH850 MCUs, automotive PMICs and analog components to cost-effectively implement numerous safety features in virtually any vehicle.
The new RAA279971 AHL encoder and RAA279972 decoder use a modulated analog signal to transmit the video, enabling transmission rates 10 times less than required to transmit HD signals digitally. The lower transmission rate means that traditional twisted pair cables and standard connectors can be used, as can existing analog video cables and connectors. On the other hand, digital links such as SerDes require heavily shielded cables and high-end connectors that cost significantly more than those for AHL, may require replacement after 5-7 years and are difficult to route due to bending radius limitations.
AHL is robust against noise and has a bi-directional control channel that operates independent of the video data and can initialize, program and monitor the camera module. A key AHL performance and cost reducing feature is the ability to control the camera simultaneously over the same pair of wires (UTP) during video transmission. Another safety benefit of AHL is its performance in comparison to a digital link.
In a rear-view camera application, a digital link will degrade due to a failure in the cable harness or connector assembly, as weak signals can cause macroblocks to appear, hiding large portions of the viewing area. Using the same cable under the same conditions for comparison, the AHL link will present a slight change in video color or contrast, but all pixels will appear on the screen, and the image will precisely identify an object or person behind the vehicle.
AHL supports resolutions from VGA up to 720p/60Hz or 1080p/30Hz for flexibility to implement non-standard vertical resolutions—not just the TV video standard 16:9 resolutions. MIPI-CSI2, BT656 and DVP inputs and outputs provide flexible interface to support old and new image sensors. AHL requires only a 27MHz crystal clock, with internal PLLs able to generate the necessary clock frequencies for higher resolutions.
AUDIO VIDEO BRIDGING
According to Microchip Technology, connected vehicles increasingly rely on Ethernet for network connectivity. Smart technology is helping developers to streamline infotainment system development and quickly adapt to manufacturers’ evolving requirements. With that in mind, in February Microchip announced what it claims is the first hardware-based audio endpoint solution for audio video bridging (AVB): the LAN9360, a single chip Ethernet controller with embedded protocols (Figure 6).
Microchip’s LAN9360 audio endpoint controller interconnects vehicles’ infotainment devices including speakers, amplifiers, microphones, navigation systems, radio tuners and smart headrests with Ethernet AVB. The LAN9360 bridges audio between Ethernet AVB and Inter-IC Sound (I2S), Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) and Pulse Density Modulation (PDM) local audio interfaces. It completely supports audio transmission over Ethernet AVB, including generalized Precision Time Protocol (gPTP), timestamping, transport protocols and content protection with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).
The device also supports secure boot and secure remote updates over Ethernet. Unlike other Ethernet bridging networking solutions requiring SoCs or MCUs plus third-party software stacks, the LAN9360 endpoint device requires no software integration, enabling designers to configure the device simply and quickly to manufacturers’ unique audio and networking requirements.
Microchip’s LAN9360 audio endpoint controller has been validated to industry standards for Ethernet interoperability for AVB protocols. The device is validated to the IEEE 802.1BA-2011, IEEE 802.1AS, IEEE1722 and IEEE1733 specifications for Ethernet networks and is certified to the standards for AVB interoperability and reliability established by the Avnu Alliance consortium.
A development board and Microchip’s MPLAB Network Creator are available for configuring the LAN9360 using an intuitive GUI. MPLAB Network Creator, a free graphical configuration environment, allows developers to generate configuration files quickly and intuitively for the LAN9360 AVB audio endpoint and perform full firmware or configuration updates to the LAN9360 devices remotely over Ethernet.
SATNAV DESIGN WIN
Built-in satellite navigation systems have become a fixture in many of today’s modern cars. Along such lines, in June Infineon Technologies announced that TomTom is leveraging Infineon’s AIROC CYW43455 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo chip (Figure 7-left) for its GO Discover satnav device. The AIROC wireless solution combines Wi-Fi 5 (802.11 ac) and Bluetooth 5.0 on a single chip and adds fast and robust wireless connectivity that is critical to the navigation device, says Infineon.
The TomTom GO Discover downloads map updates three times faster than other navigation devices, powered by the integrated 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency band (Figure 7b-right). Furthermore, with the integrated Bluetooth interface, the TomTom GO Discover can also be connected to the smartphone, making both real-time traffic information and TomTom’s premium live services available at all times. This includes up-to-date information on fuel prices, parking availability and the localization of charging points for electric vehicles.
The AIROC wireless connectivity portfolio offers 1×1 Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth, and operates in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency spectrum. The Wi-Fi 5 mode supports 20 MHz, 40MHz and 80MHz channels for data rates up to 433.3Mbps and all rates specified in 802.11a/b/g/n are also supported. This triples the throughput and transmission speed over WLAN and significantly improves scalability.
The high-data transmission speed proves particularly beneficial when streaming media such as HD videos, transferring and storing files, as well as for extending the range of Wi-Fi networks. Furthermore, the Wi-Fi 5 specification helps extend the battery life. Once the Wi-Fi interface has exchanged data at a high rate with its access point, the radio is immediately deactivated and goes back to sleep mode, reducing overall power consumption.
DYNAMIC GESTURE SENSOR
Gesture sensor technology has emerged as a critical technology for ensuring drivers’ eyes remain on the road. Feeding such needs, in June Maxim Integrated introduced the next generation of its infrared-based dynamic optical sensor, able to sense a broader range of gestures at extended distances. The MAX25405 detects a wider proximity of movement and doubles the sensing range to 40cm when compared to earlier generations, all in a quarter of the size and at 10x lower cost than time-of-flight (ToF) camera-based systems in automotive, industrial and consumer applications (Figure 8). These enhancements offer an alternative to voice communications, enabling drivers to focus on the road.
Along with integrated optics and a 6×10 infrared sensor array, the next-generation MAX25405 now includes a glass lens which increases sensitivity and improves the signal-to-noise ratio. The improved performance doubles the proximity and distance of sensing applications to beyond the driver, offering gesture-sensing entertainment displays to the co-driver and rear seat passengers, for example. The MAX25405 features a high level of integration compared to competitive ToF solutions that require three chips and a complicated microprocessor. The MAX25405’s small 20-pin, 4mm × 4mm × 1.35mm quad flat no-lead (QFN) package together with four discrete LEDs measures up to 75% smaller than ToF camera-based solutions.
The MAX25405 senses a wider proximity of movement and doubles the sensing range from 20cm to 40cm when compared to earlier infrared generations. The MAX25405 senses swipe, rotation and other important gestures at a lower cost than ToF cameras. High integration results in a total solution size that is significantly smaller than ToF camera solutions. The MAX25405 recognizes nine gestures, including swipe, rotation, air-click, linger to click and 3×2 proximity zones with minimal lag time. This single chip makes gesture-sensing affordable for multi-range automotive, consumer and industrial applications, including touch-free smart home hubs, thermostats and many more. The MAX25405 gesture sensor IC and associated MAX25405EVKIT# evaluation kit are available now.
CONTROLLER FOR WIDE TOUCHSCREENS
By their nature, connected cars require more screen space for information. This means wider touchscreens tailored for in-car use. Supporting this trend, in April Microchip Technology announced its maXTouch MXT2912TD-UW touchscreen controller. Company says it is the industry’s first automotive-qualified, single-chip solution that addresses display sizes up to 45” with a very wide aspect ratio, supporting liquid-crystal display (LCD) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) display technologies (Figure 9).
In order to meets the need for safe, intuitive and easy-to-use user interfaces within automotive vehicles, designers are continuing to consolidate the vehicle’s cluster, center stack and co-driver displays into very wide screens, says Microchip. Streamlining and simplifying system development for these ultrawide screens often seen in electric vehicles (EVs), advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and premium vehicles,
The MXT2912TD-UW reduces the need for multiple touch controllers within a vehicle’s human machine interface (HMI) display. This single-chip touch controller provides the highest report rate for wide displays and is independent of the display resolution, helping achieve the same smartphone user experience that consumers have come to expect. Also supported by the exceptional signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) intrinsic to maXTouch technology, the MXT2912TD-UW enables detection and tracking of multi-finger touch through thick gloves and a wide variety of overlay materials and thicknesses, even in the presence of moisture.
Driven by the ISO 26262 specification for functional safety in road vehicles, the MXT2912TD-UW contains a variety of safety related features, simplifying the display module system’s path to functional safety certification. These include periodic self-test, touch sensor test, internal flash and RAM tests, full signal data path integrity checks and additional microprocessor core testing. The embedded firmware is developed to Automotive SPICE processes. To support its touchscreen controllers, Microchip also offers complementary devices such as low-dropout regulators (LDOs), 8-, 16- and 32-bit MCUs, controller area network (CAN) and CAN physical layer (PHY) controllers and more.
VEHICLE INSURANCE CONNECTIVITY
You might not immediately think of vehicle insurance as part of today’s connected car technology story, but it is. Case in point, in July NXP Semiconductors and Moter Technologies, an “insurtech” (insurance technology) company, announced a secure data exchange platform that links deep data from connected vehicles to the insurance industry to power data science solutions for risk assessment, cost modeling and more. The platform combines NXP’s S32G2 vehicle network processors, offering a new type of vehicle edge compute with the ability to access vehicle-wide data, with Moter data analytics software to help fully monetize vehicle data for new and improved automotive insurance services (Figure 10).
New vehicle insurance policies driven by telematics data, which have reached penetration rates as much as 30% in some insurance companies, represent a market that is expected to grow over 27% annually as insurance providers develop new data-driven insurance products, says NXP. Access to a broader automotive dataset, with more detailed and accurate insights, can enable the development of next-generation analytics tools for actuarial analysis, new mobility product development and claims management.
NXP says that. while connected vehicles can generate terabytes of data per hour, some of which can be leveraged for sophisticated underwriting and multiple business applications, carmakers and insurance companies are impeded from a lack of available, cost-effective data processing platforms with sufficient performance, security and centralized access to vehicle-wide data.
To meet this need, NXP and Moter have integrated their offerings into a platform that targets the needs of the automotive and insurance industries. The Moter platform offers advanced risk algorithms that can be updated over-the-air and combined with an insurance carrier’s or mobility company’s custom insurance algorithms to create marketable driver insights. The Moter platform can be licensed for use with OEM vehicles to facilitate data exchange with insurers and mobility companies who are willing to subscribe and pay for driver insights to enable new vehicle data-driven products, including, but not limited to, usage-based insurance.
NXP’s GoldBox reference design, based on one of the recently launched S32G2 vehicle network processors, is a key enabler for new vehicle data-driven opportunities such as advanced insurance, vehicle health and fleet management services. It provides safe and secure vehicle edge processing, support for Over-the-Air (OTA) services, and connectivity to in-vehicle networks and the cloud required for these next-generation automotive applications. S32G2 processors provide both high-performance real-time and applications processing combined with vehicle network interfaces, network acceleration and hardware security, along with expansion support for machine learning (ML) acceleration, mass storage and wireless connectivity to deliver a powerful service-oriented gateway.
BATTERY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM SOLUTION
Battery power for automotive electric and hybrid electric vehicles is arguably a whole separate topic than connected cars. That said, the power needs of connected car systems will only increase as these cars gain more functionality and features. Serving these needs, Texas Instruments (TI) offers a wireless battery management systems (BMS) featuring an independently assessed functional safety concept.
TI’s solution for wireless BMS empowers automakers to reduce the complexity of their designs, improve reliability and reduce vehicle weight to extend driving range. With the flexibility to scale designs across production models, TI says that automakers can advance to production faster with TI’s comprehensive wireless BMS offering (Figure 11). The BMS solution includes the SimpleLink 2.4GHz CC2662R-Q1 wireless MCU evaluation module, software and functional safety enablers such as a functional safety manual; failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA); diagnostic analysis (FMEDA); TÜV SÜD concept report; and more.
To speed automakers’ development time, TI requested that TÜV SÜD, the industry’s leading functional safety authority, independently evaluate the quantitative and qualitative error-detection performance as well as the feasibility for automakers to achieve ASIL-D, the highest level of ISO 26262 certification, using TI’s wireless BMS functional safety concept.
Using a new wireless protocol, developed specifically for the wireless BMS use case, TI’s wireless BMS functional safety concept addresses communication error detection and security.
The proprietary protocol via the CC2662R-Q1 wireless MCU enables a robust and scalable data exchange between a host system processor and the newly announced BQ79616-Q1 battery monitor and balancer.
Rivaling wired connections, TI’s wireless protocol for BMS via the CC2662R-Q1 wireless MCU offers the industry’s highest network availability of greater than 99.999% and a network restart of 300ms maximum availability. With this wireless MCU, dedicated time slots that provide high throughput and low latency protect data from loss or corruption while enabling multiple battery cells to send voltage and temperature data to the main MCU with ±2mV accuracy and a network packet error rate of less than 10-7.
Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com
Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com
Microchip | www.microchip.com
NXP Semiconductor | www.nxp.com
Renesas Electronics America | www.renesas.com
STMicroelectronics | www.st.com
Texas Instruments | www.ti.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • SEPTEMBER 2021 #374– Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.