Global Sources
EE Times-India
EE Times-India > EDA/IP

FPGAs suit powertrain, safety apps in car

Posted: 16 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fuel cell-powered cars  hybrid vehicles  FPGAs  telematics  MCUs 

Actel Corp., in a bid to compete with its larger competitors, is pioneering new markets for FPGAs in automobiles, including design slots in control systems that can work in hybrids, electric vehicles or fuel cell-powered cars.

According to Gartner Dataquest, the total worldwide automotive semiconductor market is projected to be Rs.81,301.06 crore ($20.1 billion) in 2007 and to grow to Rs.104,761.07 crore ($25.9 billion) by 2010. Of that, FPGAs currently command approximately Rs.376.17 crore ($93 million) and are expected to grow to Rs.1,261.99 crore ($312 million) over the next three years.

At this time, the vast majority of FPGAs in automobiles are found in infotainment/aftermarket and telematics/body electronics applications. The larger FPGA vendors, such as Xilinx Inc. and Altera Corp., have tended to focus their efforts on those "glamorous" applications. To compete, smaller FPGA vendors like Actel must look elsewhere.

One focus is the powertrain a design that has remained static for decades but is poised for change. The emergence of hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, fuel cells, E85 (85 percent ethanol) fuels and sophisticated diesel engines has automotive manufacturers scrambling to develop electronic systems that are equal to the task of powertrain control.

Similarly, markets are opening up for safety applications such as collision-avoidance systems, blind-spot detection and alert systems, and rear-view cameras. Along with quick time-to-market and the flexibility to accommodate late-stage design changes, designers of powertrain and safety systems require electronics that are highly reliable, consume little power and can survive the harshest automotive environments.

Most conventional electronic components are not well suited to such applications. ASICs suffer from high NRE and qualification costs, long design cycles, lack of flexibility and high risk. MCUs provide flexibility but consume relatively large amounts of power, and they cannot satisfy the extreme response-time requirements of applications such as control units for state-of-the-art diesel engines. (Those closed-loop control units must be able to monitor and adjust fuel injection on a cycle-by-cycle basis in real-time.)

Complex PLDs (CPLDs) have found some use in these markets. But CPLDs offer only modest logic density, are typically implemented in older process technologies, and have limited features and I/O capabilities. SRAM-based FPGAs, by contrast, offer high densities and a host of features but are susceptible to firm errors. Moreover, the relatively high power consumption associated with SRAM-based FPGAs can cause self-heating, which limits the larger devices to a maximum operating temperature of around 100°C.

All of this serves to explain why Actel has expanded its ProASIC3 family with what it says are the industry's first FPGAs qualified to Grade 1 of AEC-Q100, the Automotive Electronics Council's stress-test qualification for automotive ICs.

The low-power, single-chip, flash-based devices are live at power-up and are immune to firm errors. They are feature-rich and flexible, and they offer the high-temperature support demanded by extreme automotive applications (125°C ambient temperatures and 135°C junction temperatures).

Implemented using Infineon Technologies AG's high-performance CMOS-plus-flash 130nm automotive process, the devices feature a thicker oxide layer, which supports higher operating temperatures while reducing leakage. The use of a purely flash-based configuration (as opposed to SRAM or hybrid flash/SRAM) provides firm-error immunity and enables the parts to consume very little power and generate very little heat. Those attributes, in turn, enhance the devices' ability to operate in extreme-temperature environments.

Automotive applications that are opening up to FPGA-based solutions.

In addition to the AEC spec, the devices support such industry standards as the PPAP (Production Part Approval Process) documentation required by some automakers and the TS16949 quality management specs. Actel said the parts have already been incorporated into applications ranging from a backup vision system (in which the camera, FPGA and other equipment had to fit into a 1-inch cube) to next-generation controllers for the heavy-duty diesel engines used in tractors and mining equipment.

The ProASIC3 ranges from 60k to 1 million system gates. The 1 million-gate AEC-Q100-qualified A3P1000 is available now at less than Rs.808.97 ($20) each in quantities of 250k, with the remaining members of the family coming online by year-end.

Engineering samples of the A3P060, A3P125 and A3P250 are available now. "Being a smaller FPGA vendor, Actel has to focus on differentiating itself," said Gartner Dataquest analyst Bryan Lewis. "This is a solid niche for them."

Gartner Dataquest currently tracks FPGA use in automotive infotainment and telematics but not does account for FPGAs in the powertrain and safety systems. "That's about to change," however, said Lewis, "based on the announcement from Actel."

- Clive Maxfield
Programmable Logic DesignLine

Comment on "FPGAs suit powertrain, safety apps i..."
*  You can enter [0] more charecters.
*Verify code:


Visit Asia Webinars to learn about the latest in technology and get practical design tips.


Go to top             Connect on Facebook      Follow us on Twitter      Follow us on Orkut

Back to Top