Issue: Jan 2006

Programmable cars - infotainment, driver assistance systems, comfort and convenience

With vehicles rapidly becoming mobile computers, there is increasing focus on making full use of the flexibility of programmable components.

by Lenny Case

With vehicles rapidly becoming mobile computers, there is increasing focus on making full use of the flexibility of programmable components.

The up-front work of designing and verifying fixed logic devices involves substantial "non-recurring engineering" costs, according to David Gamba, Senior Marketing Manager for the Strategic Solutions Marketing Group at Xilinx. These costs can run from a few hundred thousand to several million dollars. "With programmable logic devices, designers avoid all this by using inexpensive software tools to quickly develop, simulate, and test their designs. Then, a design can be quickly programmed into a device, and immediately tested in a live circuit. The device that is used for this prototyping is the exact same device that will be used in the final production of a piece of end equipment, such as an automotive navigation system," he says.

Automotive Industries (AI): Why is it important to have re-programmable chips?

Gamba: Re-programmable devices offer the OEMs and component suppliers two key benefits - product design flexibility and faster time to market. The devices also have the ability to program in flexible automotive intellectual property such as CAN, LIN, MOST or FlexRay networking interfaces and can be changed at any time to perform any number of functions. With non-re-programmable devices, if the device does not work properly, or if the requirements change, a new design must be developed.

AI: Will they add to or reduce the complexity of servicing and repairing the vehicle?

Gamba: PLDs will reduce the complexity of servicing and repairing the vehicle. A key benefit of using these devices is that during the design phase customers can change the circuitry as often as they want until the design operates to their satisfaction. That's because PLDs are based on re-writable memory technology - to change the design, the device is simply reprogrammed. Once the design is final, customers can go into immediate production by simply programming as many PLDs as they need with the final software design file. Also, once the design is deployed in the vehicle, the servicing and repairing of that vehicle is greatly simplified because technicians can now change both the software and PLD hardware on the vehicle. This flexibility increases the functional life of the components given that the devices can easily be changed even after deployment. Also, these devices can be used to support multiple platforms for vehicles by enabling or disabling features as appropriate.

AI: Are they susceptible to hacking or viruses?

Gamba: The Xilinx PLDs are not susceptible to viruses and can be easily protected from hacking by using a variety of different configuration schemes.

AI: How robust is your equipment - there is ongoing concern about the stability and durability of electronics in the hostile environment of the motor car.

Gamba: The vehicular environment can be a very harsh environment for electronic components. Because of this, the automotive manufacturers have adopted specific guidelines such as the AEC-Q100 qualification flow and the TS-16949 certification standard that semiconductor components should satisfy. To meet the industry's stability and durability requirements, Xilinx has introduced Xilinx Automotive (XA) devices that follow the AEC-Q100 qualification flow and the company itself has achieved ISO-TS16949 compliance.

AI: Where do you see the application of electronics in the car of the future? There are some concerns that too high a degree of automation leads to a reduction in reliability. Also, many owners do not use or care about many of the functions that are provided in modern vehicles.

Gamba: While the concerns about too much automation may be true for some device suppliers, Xilinx is seeing widespread adoption and acceptance of the applications that are serviced by PLDs. Xilinx devices are used for infotainment, driver assistance systems, comfort and convenience and for in-vehicle networking such as gateway systems

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