FPGAs Get Behind The Wheel Of In-Cabin Automotive Systems

Oct. 9, 2008
Programmable logic devices (PLDs) are gaining favor in the automotive in-cabin systems market due to their inherent flexibility and ability to be modified at the point of manufacturing— and ultimately at the point of sale. Targeting automotive

Programmable logic devices (PLDs) are gaining favor in the automotive in-cabin systems market due to their inherent flexibility and ability to be modified at the point of manufacturing— and ultimately at the point of sale. Targeting automotive systems that include driver assistance, infotainment, and communications, programmable logic is well suited to let designers meet the ever changing tastes and needs of consumers.

Automotive production volumes and price sensitivity might lead many designers to belive the PLD is too costly. But the reality is that PLDs provide an efficient and economical solution to designers seeking a platform that can scale from highend vehicles to vehicles built for the masses.

A LUXURIOUS INTERIOR A closer look at the various systems shows why the automotive industry is finding favor in the in-cabin market sector. As the price of fuel increases, the era of horsepower and performance product positioning is being replaced by in-cabin creature comforts. Almost without exception, OEMs are introducing consumer electronic solutions integrated into the vehicle.

The volume of the market for these solutions is as varied as the vehicles they’re placed in. They range from full-featured infotainment and navigation solutions to radios with newly added displays. The issue is not the price of the components, but the rate at which consumers’ tastes change.

The total system price, including the hardware, is made up including costs associated with developing the equipment platform as well as the software. In addition, testing the system and maintaining multiple platforms significantly contributes to the cost of these embedded solutions.

The effort of developing and testing software is rising exponentially with the increasing diversity of functions. To keep these costs under control, the established operating systems available to the automotive market have acquired more and more standard functions, providing a wide spectrum of applications available to developers. Yet this makes it increasingly difficult for tier one suppliers to support a variety of platforms where they are often based on platforms unique to the OEM.

The fast-paced evolution/obsolescence trend of semiconductors is becoming a significant consideration as logistics managers review vendor lists for future designs. PLDs make second-sourcing, inventory flexibility, and redeployment of software on new scalable platforms easily realized.

With an ever-increasing number of applications taking advantage of embedded microprocessors, soft-core processors offer an ideal solution for designs where software applications may need to be ported reliably to subsequent generations of PLDs. Additionally, PLD vendors are known for their prolonged product life cycles and stable product offerings.

In the final analysis, these costs do affect the system price, and the car manufacturer then passes those costs on to the consumer. The obvious way to resist price and functionality pressure from the traditional electronics sector in the long term is an open, standardized architecture. However, the obstacles are high-priced processors with chip sets that consume significant amounts of power.

DESIGN CHECKLIST The ideal architecture for future in-cabin systems must meet some basic requirements. First, the command set of the processor and the basic architecture must be open and freely available, so more than one manufacturer can be selected as a supplier. Second, the semiconductors must meet the stringent requirements of the automotive sector.

The performance and functionality of the processor must be scalable over a wide range as well. Entry-level and premium units must be covered by the processor architecture so the same software can run on any unit. Finally, the system architecture must ensure strict separation of vehicle-specific and other specific data processing to prevent the in-cabin systems from influencing other vehicle characteristics.

Future automotive in-cabin systems will be based on an architecture that is open, scalable, flexible, and secure while offering an attractive price-performance ratio. The in-system reprogrammability of PLDs will allow designers to flexibly adapt in-cabin systems to changing standards, use a single device to target multiple platform variations and feature sets, and make in-field revisions and corrections without having to replace components.

In the connected auto of the future, the potential may exist to alter device configuration remotely to upgrade features, firmware, and even hardware without a trip to the service department at the dealership. This feature will be of great interest to automobile manufactures and consumers alike.

For OEMs, this will provide a prolonged revenue stream long after the vehicle has left the showroom. For consumers, it will extend the versatility of the vehicle. As needs and personal tastes evolve, the vehicle systems will be able to keep up with consumer demands.


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