Electronic Design

Auto Electronics Revs Up For "Greener" Pastures

Safety, environmental concerns, fuel efficiency, and greater passenger comfort and convenience spur innovation in today’s cars.

The automobile and electronics industries are struggling mightily through this economic tumult. Straddling these two giants, however, is a shining beacon—auto electronics.

At last year’s Convergence Conference, a panel of experts from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, and BMW suggested that the cost of electronics in a car will increase beyond the oft-quoted 20% figure and climb to 40% to 50%.

Getting more extreme, Honda senior chief engineer Toyohei Nakajima says electronic content could rise dramatically as automakers gravitate toward hybrid and fuel-cell cars. He emphasized that “90% of a fuel-cell vehicle’s cost could be electrical or electronic, depending on how you define it.”

“Fuel economy and mass management are paramount right now and we cannot turn away from developing technology for this in the present economic downturn,” says Chris Thibodeau, GM’s director of global technology engineering for electrical/electronic products.

Government mandates for electronic stability control (ESC) will propel sales in certain automotive segments, according to iSuppli Corp. Typically, an ESC system consists of three sensors—a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a pressure sensor—all of which can be made on a microelectromechanical-system (MEMS) process. MEMS pressure sensors are used to modulate the braking of individual wheels to realize changes in trajectory computed by the ESC’s motion sensors.

Other directives will also influence the use of MEMS sensors. The European Parliament, for example, just passed a proposal that will make tire-pressure sensors for new cars mandatory after November 1, 2011. This is bound to boost the applications of tire-pressure monitoring systems (TPMSs).

The proposal aims to reduce car carbon-dioxide emissions by keeping tire pressures within an optimum range. Although TPMS regulation has been in place in the U.S. and gives auto manufacturers leeway on how to enact TPMSs via indirect methods, the European initiative may lead to new approaches due to tougher requirements.

The underlying fundamentals of the automotive electronics industry are arguably stronger than they have ever been, with increased electronics penetration the only realistic way of meeting future environmental and safety requirements, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics. Beyond this year’s market, which the researchers believe has shrunk, Strategy Analytics forecasts automotive electronics to grow to $203 billion by 2013, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5% from 2008 to 2013.

Safety features like adaptive braking will boost the demand for semiconductor ICs, according to market research firm Semico. Its researchers foresee triple-digit growth rates over the next five years for semiconductors. Strategy Analytics sees growth in ICs thanks to innovations in automotive infotainment systems, with a 50% increase in demand for semiconductor ICs between 2008 and 2015.

Keith Obenyiya, C2000 microcontroller unit (MCU) product line marketing manager for Texas Instruments, also anticipates growth areas. “Power control and conversion in hybrid and electric vehicles will be major challenges and will require higher-performance MCUs,” he says. “There will be many MCUs required in vehicles, although the number may not be as high as the typical 35 to 40 we’ve come to typically expect in cars due to the availability of higher-performance modern floating-point MCUs.” He also expects vision and infotainment systems with heads-up displays to merge and LED headlights in wider use in a few years.

Making automobiles safer through the use of electronics has been a continuing trend for many years. Higher-performance image sensors and processors are key contributors.

OmniVision’s 0.25-in. format OV7960 and OV7962 CMOS system-on-a-chip (SoC) sensors feature less than 0.01-lux low-light performance in a 62-pin lead-free package, which the company claims is 50% smaller than competitive units. They’re designed to meet the growing demand for driver-assistance systems. The OV7960 is optimized for interlaced NTSC/PAL signals formats, while the OV7962 is meant for digital progressive and analog applications.

Such CMOS image sensors will continue to take over tasks that once were the domain of charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensors, as CMOS image sensors drop in price and increase their performance levels. According to Techno Systems Research, the percentage of CMOS image sensors in cars will ramp up from about 20% in 2008 to nearly 70% in 2012.

Smarter processors are the brains behind many automotive vision systems. The STMicroelectronics Mobileye vision system, which incorporates the company’s second-generation EyeQ2 image processor, is deployed in many high-end European cars for greater driver awareness. It’s also available as an aftermarket feature for drivers in Southern California.

The EyeQ2, which can make decisions based on visual information, has six times the processing power of the first-generation EyeQ1. It also adds a pedestrian-detection feature besides the lane-departure warning, adaptive headlight control, traffic-sign recognition, collision- avoidance, and forward collision-warning features found on the EyeQ1.

NEC Electronics Corp. offers second-generation IMPCAR scalable automotive image processors that can execute up to 270 GOPS. They’re useful for detecting nearby objects such as other vehicles and lane markers in real time, enabling the development of automotive safety systems that require intensive computing.

Obstacle detection systems are core components of future intelligent transportation systems (ITSs) under development worldwide. Here, the focus is on integrated traffic-management systems that feature vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Also, autonomous, radar-based, obstacle-detection systems are being tested. In fact, Toyota plans to roll out such a system this year.

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Successful tests have been conducted on different communications protocols. In Japan, the dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) protocol is being developed. ERTICO ITS Europe is a public-private partnership organization for the development and deployment of ITSs across Europe using the CAR 2 CAR protocol. In the U.S., the Department of Transportation is pursuing the IntelliDriveSM project. These programs are expected to be fully deployed over the next few years.

Funded by the European Commission, a consortium of European research institutes, software companies, vehicle manufacturers, and parts suppliers has developed the DySCAS (dynamically self-configuring automotive system) software architecture for intelligent cars. This fundamental building block can reconfigure and update itself autonomously, as well as communicate with other devices, such as a driver’s mobile phone or PDA (Fig. 1).

DySCAS automatically downloads software patches and improvements whenever a vehicle is in range of an accessible wireless hotspot, whether it’s in the owner’s garage or a service station. It can be used to download new maps for navigation systems, update infotainment systems to play new music formats, or even adjust the engine’s timing parameters based on more efficient fuel settings supplied by the car’s manufacturer.

STMicroelectronics partnered with Navteq to develop a system that combines digital roadmap information with positioning data to enhance driver safety and convenience in all vehicles. The map positioning engine (MPE) integrates STMicroelectronics Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and Navteq’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) road geometry, topology, and additional attributes like the number of lanes or speed limits.

Analog Devices and Infineon Technologies are collaborating on next-generation automotive airbag systems that use MEMS accelerometers. They will look to accelerate the development of advanced airbag systems and provide automotive-safety system suppliers and OEMs access to a complete design platform that will deliver a reliable, cost-efficient, and easy-to-use advanced airbag solution.

Ultrasonic transducers and radar-based sensing are propelling the growth of parking assistance systems in cars and lending a helping hand in object detection and parking assistance. Such systems are becoming more common on many cars. Radar systems are used more in long-range applications, while passive ultrasonic sensing, which is dominant in parking assistance and less expensive to implement, is being used for shorter-range applications.

Ultrasonic parking-assistance systems are expected to grow to 35.7 million units by 2014, up from 10.8 million in 2007, according to iSuppli (Fig. 2). By then, they’ll be available on 51% of U.S. and Japanese cars and 67% of German automobiles.

Tier 1 supplier Hella uses a dual-beam 24-GHz radar module with a 50-m range for sensing side objects. Delphi’s second-generation Back-Up Aid (BUA) also uses dual-beam 24-GHz radar modules for parking assistance, covering an area of 5 by 2.1 m behind the car. Many of these cars employ high-performance floating-point processors like TI’s C2834x, which more than doubles the computational bandwidths of conventional processors.

Radar-based parking assistance is also found on many Ford cars. Ford’s Active Park Assist system comes as an option on the Ford 2010 Ford Escape, making parallel parking a breeze (Fig. 3). Yet the adoption of radar-based systems beyond parking assistance is the goal of many auto companies. Many of them, including Nissan, aim to provide 360° sensing coverage around a car’s perimeter to detect any object.

No matter where electronics technology is employed on a car, energy efficiency is paramount. This is particularly true in more automotive infotainment systems, which are fast becoming key differentiators on the market. Intel’s 1-V Atom processor has set the tone for low-power dissipation.

Harman Becker Automotive Systems is huddling with Intel on energy-efficient infotainment systems that use the new Intel Atom Z520PT with a 1.3-GHz clock. At about 2.2 W of power dissipation, the processor draws 25% less power than other processors while providing higher processing performance, even in the harsh automotive temperature range of 40°C to 85°C.

One reason behind the improved performance at lower power levels is the Atom’s 45-nm manufacturing process. The Atom operates on the Moblin platform, an open-source Linux software stack and technology framework that delivers a visually rich Internet and media experience. Moblin is attracting more software support from companies like Novell and MontaVista.

The Moblin initiative has gone further with this year’s launch of the Genivi open-source in-vehicle infotainment reference platform, which is supported by an alliance of leading automobile and hardware and software suppliers (see “Alliance Launches Open-Source In-Vehicle Infotainment Development Platform). The alliance will act as a driving force for driving in-vehicle infotainment innovations.

An important development that cuts the Atom processor’s power consumption is the first of a new family of power-management ICs from Dialog Semiconductor. The DA6001 provides all power supplies, power management, and clock signals in one chip.

Want an automotive PC the size of a hardcover book? Try Stealth’s LPC 450M Little PC with a form factor of 5.7 by 9.9 by 1.65 in. Designed specifically for in-vehicle, mobile, and embedded applications, it uses Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor and operates from a 10- to 16-V dc input (Fig. 4). It also features 500 Gbytes of storage space.

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Energy efficiency and environmental considerations are driving the acceleration of hybrid and electric vehicle development. Although such vehicles are common in Europe and Asia, they haven’t found widespread use in the U.S., save a few Japanese models from Toyota and Honda, and U.S. models from Ford and Chrysler. But the U.S. automakers aren’t waiting much longer and look to catch up with their foreign counterparts, who are equally anxious to increase their presence in this area.

GM announced plans to introduce hybrid and electric vehicles. Ford has hybrids on the market, with more in the works. Chrysler also offers hybrid vehicles. Last fall, it showed off prototypes for production next year and beyond.

One of the most interesting electric cars is GM’s Chevy Volt. Built on GM’s E-Flex (now called Voltec) platform for electric-motor propulsion, it’s powered by a T-shaped 16-kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery whose cells are provided by LG-Chem (Fig. 5). The battery consists of more than 200 5- by 7-in. cells that are less than 0.25 in. thick, each weighing less than a pound. Each cell also includes a carbon anode, a manganese-based cathode, and a reinforced separator. The battery is assembled by GM.

The Volt’s battery can be plugged into a 120- or 220-V ac outlet for charging. GM estimates that electricity costs would be about 40 to 80 cents per charge (usually overnight when rates are lower). The Volt is designed for a 40-mile range operating from the battery alone. When it exceeds that range, the gasoline engine kicks in to go farther, but it only charges the battery. It doesn’t provide any propulsion.

“The design of the Volt was based on the fact that the gasoline engine is taken out of the picture when it comes to car propulsion,” says Bob Boniface, director of GM’s Voltec systems. “There is a misunderstanding when comparing the Volt to other hybrid vehicles, all of which use the gasoline engine as well as the battery for propulsion. The Volt’s engine does not do that. It only charges the battery when needed beyond the 40-mile range it is designed for.”

Pushing its electrically driven technology even further, GM unveiled the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (PUMA) prototype it co-developed with Segway (Fig. 6). The two-passenger, torque-steered, all-electric, two-wheeled vehicle is powered by a 4-kWh Li-ion battery that takes about four hours to recharge by plugging into a 120- or 220-V ac outlet. It has a top speed of about 25 to 35 mph and a range of up to 35 miles between recharges.

“This vehicle is designed for city travel and is designed to reduce traffic congestion and has zero emissions for a cleaner environment. With a weight of about 800 lb, it is lighter than a conventional vehicle,” says Christopher Borroni- Bird, GM’s director of advanced technology vehicle concepts. “The cost to operate it is four to five times less than an average midsize car.”

The compact PUMA features 360° vision, collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, dynamic stabilization, autonomous driving and parking, lane keeping, and wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications. GM says the vehicle is in production.

The need to conserve energy and be environmentally friendly has extended to the powertrain. Adura Systems Inc., operating for a couple of years in “stealth” mode, just introduced the first electric powertrain with a range of up to 100 miles. The Modular, Electronic, Scalable Architecture (MESA) targets all-electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell-based vehicles. It will initially be deployed in China.

Levant Power Corp., formed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is capitalizing on a shock-absorber design they developed called GenShock. It harvests wasted energy from a vehicle’s shock absorbers to boost fuel economy by as much as 10%, ultimately contributing to a greener environment. GenShock absorbers compress hydraulic fluid as they damp the vertical motion of the shock, generating up to 1 kW per shock. An active suspension system then combines hydraulic pressure from all shocks into electricity, using a centralized generator.

Belgium’s Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) is developing MEMS-based piezoelectric energy harvesters that can be used in a car’s TPMS for energy scavenging and improving fuel consumption, taking advantage of a car’s continuous vibrations (Fig. 7). Although current devices only produce tens of microwatts of output power from mechanical motion, IMEC’s researchers are confident that much higher levels are possible for automotive healthmonitoring as well as medical applications.

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