TText, blog, or twitter hands-free while driving. Access your car’s iPod media player to change tracks and adjust the volume without lifting a finger. Even host a three-way telephone call via a Bluetooth device without your hands leaving the steering wheel. No longer content with standard features for low-end and mid-range cars, drivers expect satellite navigation, multizone climate control, satellite radio, and even beverage refrigeration as standard items.
We’re no doubt in the age of automotive infotainment (AI). Those old dashboards with manual AM/FM radios and CD players are disappearing, morphing into AI centers that include MP3 and DVD players, a GPS navigation system, hands-free mobilephone access, and wireless Internet browsing.
To lure customers who salivate over cutting-edge audio and video, car makers look to create entertainment centers on wheels. These systems are enabled by the latest microprocessors, memories, sensors, displays, microcontroller units (MCUs), graphics controllers, programmable logic devices (PLDs) like field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and network interface controllers.
A major trend among AI systems is voice activation, with many products and services recently arriving on the market. Dial2Do Inc. offers voice-activated calling with a single phone number. While drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, they can access their e-mail, send text messages, use their phones, and accomplish other communications tasks.
Drivers can get their music on the go with another device from Innotech Systems that permits voice activation while the iPod is in the driver’s pocket. With the Accenda Voice Control, users merely plug in their existing earbuds or headphones. A cable connects the Accenda Voice Control to the iPod’s dock connector, so drivers can tell the media player what to do via voice commands.
The Sierra Wireless 595W, 880W, and 881W AirLink MP modems now have 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi hotspot and full routing capabilities to simplify installation and communication between a car and peripheral equipment. Users can access their mobile broadband coverage while outside their vehicle, enabling the sending of large image and video files.
The ATX Group, a telematics service provider, launched an initiative to wirelessly connect embedded and nomadic devices in vehicles to the Internet. Together with the Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA), it’s trying to form an international working group to push this initiative.
BIG DEMAND FOR ICs
The demand for AI semiconductor ICs like application-specific standard products (ASSPs) and PLDs is expected to drive their sales by 8.5% this year after last year’s 18.5% growth, according to iSuppli Corp. Two key driving forces, according to the market research firm, are the addition of extra intelligence to infotainment headsets and the push by OEMs to have tier-one electronicsystem suppliers lower their product costs.
“About 25% of the cost to an automobile manufacturer, particularly in high-end cars, is taken up by electronics,” says Tony Armstrong, product marketing manager for Linear Technology Corp., which supplies power ICs to the AI market. Some market pundits push that cost figure up to 40%. Obviously, it’s a good market for semiconductor IC manufacturers.
According to iSuppli, the two largest AI chip suppliers are STMicroelectronics and NXP Semiconductors, which grab 25% of the market share. However, Freescale Semiconductor and Infineon Technologies have the largest global share of the overall automotive electronics IC market. Combined global OEM and aftermarket revenue for AI systems is predicted to rise to $39.8 billion by the end of this year, up 7.9% from last year’s $36.98 billion, and up another $14 billion by 2014 (Fig. 1a).
At the same time, OEM AI system suppliers like Continental (formerly Siemens VDO), Blaupunkt, Delphi, and Visteon are coming under pressure from product makers to satisfy very competitive high-performance and low-cost system needs. These four companies, according to Strategy Analytics, occupy 57% of the OEM market (Fig. 1b).
The massive volume of data coming from AI systems requires automotive-grade storage media like hard-disk drives (HDDs). Toshiba Storage Systems Division’s HDDs, such as the 80-Gbyte MK8050GAC and the 60-Gbyte MK6050GAC, are the most widely used disk storage media in automotive systems. Designed to withstand rugged auto environments, they operate from –30°C to 85°C. Each device has low-profile dimensions of 69.85 by 100 by 9.5 mm.
Of all the ICs that can be found in today’s cars, FPGAs and complex PLDs (CPLDs) are the most common. Their reprogrammable flexibility allows electronic-system suppliers to keep pace with changing AI market demands. Also, they’re now replacing application-specific ICs (ASICs) and ASSPs.
Actel, Altera, Lattice Semiconductor, and Xilinx are some of the major players in this arena. They’ve been delivering automotive- grade FPGAs, CPLDs, and structured ASICs with the lowpower and wide-bandwidth features needed for AI systems.
Earlier this year, Altera introduced a number of MAX CPLDs, Cyclone FPGAs, and HardCopy structured ASICs designed with scalable hardware/software architectures. “Our approach mitigates the massive amount of redevelopment costs normally needed for keeping up with changing automotive electronics requirements,” says Dave Elliot, Altera’s automotive marketing manager.
OEMs can port their designs into a production-qualified FPGA or migrate to a low-cost, high-performance HardCopy structured ASIC. Available IP cores include Altera’s Nios II and ARM’s M1 Cortex embedded processors, as well as DSP and video and imaging IP suites. They support the latest automotive networking standards, such as CAN, MOST, LIN, and FlexRay.
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The foundation for Altera’s automotive strategy is its programmable architecture integrated system (PARIS) development platform. With the PARIS development kit and a Nios II Embedded Evaluation Kit (NEEK), OEM designers can choose the type of device they need to develop for a scalable infotainment controller and try their system before it gets inserted into the car (Fig. 2).
A reference design from Xilinx simplifies flexible connectivity to in-vehicle infotainment designs. The company’s integrated Xilinx Automotive (XA) low-power Spartan3E FPGA and IP solution targets headset designs. Combined with Intel’s low-voltage Atom processor, it gives system designers improved levels of performance, scalability, and flexibility when developing open AI platforms.
High-end 32-bit microcontrollers and DSPs are also being used more frequently for AI applications, as well as control tasks. For instance, Renesas Technology’s Super-H 32-bit, 144-MHz SH7262/64 MCUs are highly integrated devices optimized for digital audio systems, MP3 accessories, and graphical dashboards. Over a dozen 32-bit V850ES/Fx3-L MCUs from NEC Electronics power in-vehicle comfort and safety systems in today’s cars. And, Analog Devices uses its Sharc processors in the new Audi A5 car to define what the company calls “a new level of incar luxury entertainment.”
The buildup of AI features in cars requires careful consideration of how to use and manage the finite amount of power available, usually from the car’s 12-V battery. Such batteries are being stretched to their load limits. While 42-V batteries are available, they’re not in wide use yet, and they have their own challenges of isolation and electromagnetic-interference (EMI) protection due to the higher voltages.
It’s not enough for an automobile to be able to handle a large load when everything in the car is on and is “cold cranking.” A car’s so-called sleep mode, with everything in it turned off, must not drain too much current and kill the battery after a long period of inactivity. Today’s batteries can handle drains of only a few tens of microwatts in this mode.
That’s why intelligent power devices like voltage and switching regulators, solid- state relays, motor and display drivers, power-management ICs, and smart-power H-bridges are appearing in modern cars. “Unlike other applications, however, these ICs must operate in significantly harsher environments than consumer notebook and laptop products. Voltage and temperature extremes are much more demanding, as are dealing with EMI challenges,” says LTC’s Tony Armstrong. He also points out the need to satisfy a slew of different operating voltages in automotive electronics.
Any switching regulator needs to work over a wide input voltage range of 3 to 60 V to handle a car’s cold crank and load dump conditions. With these factors in mind, Linear Technology released a pair of triple-output, step-down, dc-dc converter ICs, the LT3507 and the LTC3545.
Designed for the U.S. and European market, the current-mode, 2.5-MHz, 36-V LT3507 has three internal 36-V power switches. One channel continuously delivers 2.4 A and the other two deliver 1.5 A, all from a 38-lead, 5- by 7-mm quad flat no-lead (QFN) package. The LTC3545 is a current-mode, 2.25-MHz synchronous buck regulator IC designed for the Japanese market. Each of its three channels delivers 800 mA, all from a 3- by 3-mm QFN package.
The human-machine interface (HMI) between drivers and the car must continually improve as TFT-driven (thin-film transistor) color displays with more sophisticated graphics become the norm. Digital Dash uses Ostar-Projection LED light-source modules and infrared Dragon emitters from Osram Opto Semiconductors in a prototype reconfigurable control and display interface. According to the company, it’s the first multitouch interface to incorporate physical controls with a curved display surface (Fig. 3).
Resistive touch panels designed for extended-temperaturerange and bright-light environments are available from Fujitsu Components America. The 6.5-in. N010-0514-T003, the 6.5-in. N010-0514-T005, and the 7-in. NO-0514-T101 panels with index-matching coatings operate from –30°C to 85°C and feature transmissivity levels of 82%, 88%, and 82%, respectively.
Touchscreen designs also can be implemented through capacitive- sensing approaches. While most HMI interactions take place along the automobile’s center stack, designers can enhance the driver’s experience via touch-button controls. Applications include keyless entry, power seats, side-mirror control, and occupant detection.
Software vendors and automotive, OEM, and semiconductor IC manufacturers are collaborating and building platforms to strengthen their positions in the AI marketplace. NXP Semiconductors partnered with Visteon to push the envelope in AI using NXP’s Nexperia PNX9520 multimedia processor. With their multiscreen display technology, two different multimedia sources can be played in the car at the same time, providing standalone content for two different rear-seat passengers.
Continental is providing a multimedia platform based on Microsoft’s Auto software. The first system is scheduled to go into production as early as next year. Also, the Ford Motor Company uses Freescale Semiconductor’s i.MX31L multimedia processor in its Sync AI system. Sync and General Motors’ OnStar, the two most prominent telematics systems, are slated to become standard on U.S. vehicles by 2011.
One of the biggest platform announcements comes from Intel, a supplier of automotive ICs for more than 20 years. It’s supporting the Moblin In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) community (www.moblin.org), whose aim is to share software technologies, ideas, projects, code, and applications for creating open infotainment platforms (OIPs) that can be deployed across a variety of IVI systems.
With these platforms, the automotive industry can create one common hardware and software architecture that can scale across product lines and generations. One of the more recent supporters of the IVI reference design, Xilinx, provides automotive- grade low-power FPGAs.
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“Multimedia will become more predominant in cars and Intel will support this with a low-power open platform that seamlessly connects all types of AI products from different vendors,” says Staci Palmer, director of in-vehicle infotainment for Intel’s low-power products division. “A platform architecture is needed that can accommodate continuing electronic innovations and is compatible with longer automobile design cycles.”
The Atom processor is part of Intel’s strategy of making available low-power ICs for such platforms. Based on the Intel Architecture (IA) and fabricated using 45-nm design rules, the CMOS processor can operate at up to 2 GHz at 1 V, yet it dissipates very little power (from 0.6 to 2 W) (Fig. 4). Intel and Wind River Systems are collaborating on an open-source Linux platform for AI systems. The BMW Group, Bosch GmbH, Delphi, and Magneti Marcelli actively support Linux for AI applications, too.
Altera selected the Media Local Bus (MediaLB) IP core from Standard Microsystems (SMSC) for its PARIS AI development platform. The MediaLB interchip communication technology efficiently transports multimedia data through SMSC’s intelligent network-interface controllers (INICs) and onto SMSC’s Media Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) network.
Furthermore, SMSC’s INIC eLITE technology eliminates extra wiring and the added cost of transmitters, receivers, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), and digital-to-analog converters (DACs) in networks like MOST. It makes it easier for a designer to add additional nodes on a network with minimal cost.
SOFTWARE AND OTHER CHALLENGES
As AI system hardware increases, software takes on a bigger role. “We’re seeing 32-bit microprocessors with memory management units for networking in AI systems, many running under Unix,” says Andrew Poliak, worldwide automotive sales director for QNX Software. He also notes that tier-one suppliers and OEMs are looking for more middleware products to enhance their offerings more cost-effectively and to improve the user-AI voice interface.
That’s the reason why QNX released its Aviage acoustic processing kit, which the company says reduces the cost and improves the quality of hands-free systems. “Removing voice and echo cancellation in voice communication is a trend in AI systems, and enhancements in this area will continue,” explains Poliak. “As you make voice communication clearer and more intelligible to the driver, it decreases the driver’s inattention and distraction and thus increases driving safety.”
One challenge is creating a safe environment for drivers who want to download entertainment and business information from the Internet and into the car via a mobile phone. Future AI systems will need more intelligence as the automobile interacts further with the Internet, gains communications capabilities, and automatically executes more functions. For example, navigation systems will provide up-to-date traffic and roadway conditions, in addition to assessing the driving route and suggesting alternatives.
Software-defined radio (SDR), which has been around for many years, will play a larger role in AI systems. SDR will enable designers to reconfigure the same hardware for different communications protocols, standards, and applications via innovative RF algorithms implemented in CMOS technology. The True Software Radio technology from Terocelo Inc. targets such applications.
As part of the company’s Lycon line, these chips are designed to dramatically improve the way wireless signals are transmitted and received. True SDR chips make it possible for software commands to fully control and reconfigure wireless transmitters and receivers, as well as radio signal processing. They replace the analog front end, intermediate frequency (IF) processing, analog-to-digital conversion, and digital filtering sections of today’s conventional radio transmitters and receivers.