S. Sundarajan
Monday, September 1, 2008
A Glimpse into the World of Car Electronics
Automotive electronics has indeed come a long way since the times of ignition electronics in the 1970s. Today, an in-car embedded system is typically divided into several functional domains. Before we look at the trends in the market, let’s first take a look at those key domains within the car electronics industry.

First, the ‘engine and power train domain’ deals with the prime mover of the car – its engine and transmission control, emission control, fuel optimization, and safe operation of the car. Next, the ‘chassis domain’ deals with the motion of the car on the road including anti-lock brake system, rollover detection, electronic power steering, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, and active suspension. The ‘body domain’ deals with comfort of the passengers and the driver, covering keyless access, car security, and door control. The ‘in-vehicle networking domain’ allows these distributed controls to work in harmony to ensure safe operating parameters and ease of driving. The ‘infotainment domain’ includes analog radio, digital radio, car audio, video, gaming, navigation, content sharing, and connectivity of multiple media players. Finally, the ‘safety domain’ is an emerging domain concerned with the safety of the occupant - collision detection and avoidance, airbag systems, and so on.

Underlying Technologies – Status and Trends
Under the hood of the car, there are many micro-machined silicon products that function as intelligent sensors and actuators, augmenting the mechanical systems, implemented in ASICs that are now being replaced by ASSPs (Application Specific Standard Products). These are then co-ordinated by DSP-based or microcontroller-based engine control units (ECUs).

In-vehicle networking is organized in four classes. There are many networks in use, but the most popular are CAN (low-speed and high-speed) which may interact with an ECU, MOST (media-operated system transport) for multimedia data, and FlexRay for predictable, fault-tolerant communication used in safety applications. For example, the Volvo XC90 embeds up to 40 ECUs inter-connected by a LIN bus, a MOST bus, a low-speed CAN, and a high-speed CAN. FlexRay is emerging as an important in-vehicle networking standard, and NXP was the first company to produce a FlexRay transceiver and FlexRay v2.1 supported microcontroller.

The infotainment domain is now replete with a host of media players. Audio functionality provides multi-channel sound rendering and handling of multiple sources such as radio, voice prompts, interactive voice commands, and mobile phone conversations. A dominant product within the car audio and radio market is NXP Semiconductors’ EPICS DSP combined with car radio tuners in the DiRaNa line of products. Car radio is going digital with DAB/drm transmitting audio content and services such as weather and traffic reports. This is implemented by NXP with its drop-in coprocessor PNX9525 to its car radio or audio platform such as DiRaNa. In terms of data storage, the media commonly available today ranges from CD, DVD, and Flash memory to USB sticks and hard disk drives. More and more we are seeing portable media players and mobile devices being supported with connectivity interfaces such as USB and bluetooth. Some automotive manufacturers are in the process of testing Internet protocol for reliability, so that we will soon see Wi-Fi connectivity bringing Internet access to the car environment. In addition to in-car TV, which is becoming more popular, DLNA combined with UPnP enables streaming of pre-recorded audio and video content from a device such as a media server to a media renderer embedded in the car.

From the point of view of the content providers, protection of their content using DRM technology is an integral part of any discussion about multimedia today; particularly as we move to a digital environment in which access to content is more convenient. One new area for consideration is the possibility of content downloading into the car at gas stations using RFID-based communication and payment techniques.

Navigation is currently an add-on function that relies upon GPS signals and acceleration sensors to calculate the location with reference to pre-loaded maps. Another promising application of GPS is the Mayday system in which the speed, direction, route, and location status of the vehicle, as calculated by processing GPS signals, are fed to a remote control center on a regular basis and particularly in the event of alarm or theft.

Some Engineering Considerations
The primary challenge of engineering automotive products lies in designing for a wide variety of operating temperatures (-40°C to 85°C) and humidity (0% to 100%), and an expected operating life of 15 years and a 10 ppm per year failure rate for ECUs. Electronic modules distributed across a car are vulnerable to high levels of EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) and ESD (Electrostatic Discharge). With issues of reputation and safety to consider, the cost of non-quality products is very high, and for some of the domains mentioned above the consequences for the suppliers can be severe. There is a high level of reliance on conformance to standards of design and validation for end products. Below are a few examples of these:

The ISO/TS16949 is a standard that defines the quality system for all automotive players. For software, the ISO 9126 defines the product quality metrics that need to be deployed. A Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is used at the hardware, software, and system levels to ensure quality.

The IEC 65108 standard for safety-critical applications is currently being considered for wider adoption in the industry. At the software coding level, the MISRA C coding guidelines are mandatory. AUTOSAR has specified architectural standards for software components to comply with.

Automotive Electronics in India
The Indian automotive electronics industry is yet to mature, with regulations yet to be defined and the relatively low penetration of automobiles. Given the trend seen in India for a high growth rate in the new car market year-on-year, the expanding export business, and the changes in legislation for emissions and safety, the market is expected to pick up by 2010. NXP’s keyless entry product and a single-chip access key including radio transceiver, microcontroller, and immobilizer are interesting trend setters in the field of car security and access using RFID technology.
Shape of Things to Come As integration of semiconductor functionalities becomes more prevalent, networking and connectivity improves in reliability and multimedia content increases in the car, many interesting use cases become feasible, adding to the complexity of the hardware and software.

For more complex functions like the infotainment host and integrated engine and power train controls, 32-bit microcontrollers and media processing architectures like NXP’s Trimedia DSP may be preferred. The figure below shows an example portfolio of NXP in the automotive infotainment space. In the near future, it is likely that a bus dedicated to occupant safety systems such as the ‘safe-by-wire plus’ will be added. For portable devices, the wireless USB standard is expected to become dominant.

Software stacks will become more modular and will conform to open industry standards, allowing for as much as 30 percent of the components to be bought off the shelf. Because of this trend, the development cycle will be dominated by integration process and validation activities more than ever.

Indeed, car electronics promises to remain a multi-faceted and exciting world!

Author is Director- Mobile Multimedia Connectivity Cluster, NXP Semiconductors India
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