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ST car MCU shifts gears from Power to ARM

Posted: 01 Oct 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:STMicroelectronics  ARM  MCU  smart driving  automotive 

STMicroelectronics has licensed the ARMv8-R processor technology, ARM's first full-blown automotive MCU core, and has revealed that it will deploy the technology in 32bit MCUs aimed at real-time safety-related smart driving applications and in industrial applications.

With an eye toward becoming the world's third largest automotive MCU supplier by the end of the decade, ST is staking its automotive future on ARM's 32bit ARMv8-R technology.

Partners with Freescale since 2006 to design high-performance, cost-effective 32bit MCUs based on Power architecture for automotive applications, ST is now switching gears to go all in with ARM for the automotive market.

ST will continue to support its Power Architecture-based MCUs, but transition to the ARM architecture has begun. Martin Duncan, business unit director responsible for ADAS and MCUs at ST, said ST will sample in mid-2017 its first product based on the ARMv8-R, which is expected to be fully qualified by mid-2019. ST's ARMv8-R-based MCUs will be designed into cars to be launched in 2020-2021, he added.

According to ARM, ST is the first publicly announced licensee of the v8-R. ARM noted that there are other licensees, but they are not public at this time.

Asked what drove ST to go with ARMv8-R, Duncan cited the sky-rocketing 'cost of development cores.'

"At ST, we've always looked for partners, and our collaboration with Freescale established in 2006 was very successful." But looking at the automotive business in the next 15 years, ST needed a good, long, stable core. "I have a suspicion that proprietary cores will have a tough time to go forward."

Duncan said, "Before, people used to say that no engineers got fired by going with Motorola's MCU core. Now that's being replaced by ARM. It's ubiquitous."

Martin Duncan

Martin Duncan

What did ST like about ARMv8-R?

Duncan said, "ARM has a lean architecture. Its throughput is very high. The benchmark has shown an extremely high performance level that I haven't seen anywhere else."

Further, ST liked ARMv8-R's roadmap. Asked what's in the roadmap, Duncan said, "I can't say. But we've found other cores in that roadmap which look interesting."

Among features being added to new cars, Duncan worries most about security in connected cars. As ST tends to do security in hardware, Duncan said it will be adding its own security firmware onto ARM core.

ST has high hopes to expand its automotive MCU market share in the next several years. Duncan, during the interview, explained that ST has sockets with a number of auto customers. "We think we are a major contender to become the number three automotive MCU vendor by the end of this decade."

According to automotive MCU rankings taken from IHS' Automotive Competitive Landscaping Analysis, ST was ranked at the 6th in 3Q14, after Renesas, Freescale, Infineon, Texas Instruments and Spansion.

In Duncan's view, the higher cost of development is building a bigger barrier for newcomers to the automotive MCU market. In parallel, the rising cost of development is also triggering a shakeout among established players, who can no longer afford to keep developing so many MCU variants for automotive.

Freescale, in contrast, maintains a broad portfolio of automotive microcontrollers. The company's automotive MCU product line includes everything from 32-bit MCUs based on Power Architecture to "S32V (designed for ADAS) and S32K MCUs (designed for general-purpose auto), based around ARM A and M type cores, respectively," said a Freescale spokesman.

Asked about ARMv8-R processor, he cautiously noted, "We have not realised an intersection point where the R capability matches or out-performs our current proprietary architecture (PPC) for safety or powertrain applications."

Nonetheless, he added, "We do see longer-term opportunities as the future R CPUs move up the performance and capability curve."

- Junko Yoshida
  EE Times

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