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Telematics microprocessor rolls for automobiles

Posted: 25 May 2007  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:telematics SoC  car microprocessors  automotive telematics 

Freescale Semiconductor Inc. has unveiled a microprocessor that aims to integrate all the control electronics for an automobile cockpit into a single low-power device. The company introduced the flagship model of its new microprocessor family for automotive applications, the MPC5121e, along with a telematics microprocessor road map extending to 2015, at the Microprocessor Forum on May 21. Freescale called the microprocessor its "telematics SoC."

"Electronics is making up an increasingly larger piece of the automotive pie—today's electronics is about 25 percent of the BOMs for an automobile, and by 2015 it will make up about 35 percent," said Phil Magney, principal analyst at the Telematics Research Group Inc.

"Freescale is capitalizing on that trend with its telematics microprocessor road map," said Magney. "The automobile has become a digital machine—it stores algorithms in digital memories, it uses networks to communicate that data throughout the vehicle, it's got cameras, it's got sensors and the typical vehicle today has as many as 60 microprocessors. But telematics will be the glue that pulls all these diverse systems together into an integrated digital engine on wheels."

Telematics—by definition is the two-way flow of wireless information—will be standard equipment on all General Motors vehicles in 2008. As a result, GM's OnStar, powered by Freescale Semiconductor Inc.'s Power Architecture-based microprocessors, has become the first family of automotive telematics. According to TRG, following close behind is Mercedes Benz's Tele Aid and BMW's Assist. Ford's Sync will debut in 2008 and Chrysler's Hughes Telematics Inc. system is slated for release in 2010.

At the lower end of the vehicle spectrum, automakers including Toyota and Nissan as well the dozen or so others in the sector plan to have integrated telematics systems in place by 2015.

"Today, Freescale's microprocessors for telematics have by far the largest market share," said Magney. "Renesas Technology Corp. is probably second for its navigational systems and Infineon is third by virtue of its lower-end microprocessors. Then there are all the third-tier plays, including Samsung Electronics, ARM, ST Microelectronics and Texas Instruments."

Many automakers today offer piecemeal telematics options, such as navigational assistants, hands-free telephony or GPS support. But the trend, according to TRG, is to integrate all these functions into a common subsystem, so that costs can be driven down far enough to enable telematics to become standard equipment in all autos.

"Originally the radio system, the navigation system and the entertainment systems were all separate systems, but the trend today is to architect all telematics systems into a platform that can leverage their common elements to lower overall costs," said Magney. "This trend lends itself to Freescale's microprocessor architecture, which includes all the pieces required to allow vehicle makers to centralize telematics functions, including GPS, navigation, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and all kinds of audio and video processing controlled by the same microprocessor." Freescale's MPC5121e will interface to the other microprocessors in an automobile, fielding their inputs from the power train, body, chassis and safety sensors and display their results on the dashboard.

The microprocessor will also handle more traditional telematics functions such as GPS communications and in-dashboard maps that display navigational information. It will process real-time audio and video multimedia data streams and provide plug-and-play support for Bluetooth, Ethernet and Wi-Fi peripherals.

Extended family
According to Freescale's road map, next year the company will expand its telematics microprocessor family to include driver assistance functions such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, pedestrian and collision avoidance systems and heads-up displays. In 2010 Freescale promises a low-cost telematics microprocessor that will be cheap enough to become standard equipment on even low-end vehicles. Finally in 2011, Freescale pledges a next-generation flagship version for an extended telematics microprocessor family that will take vehicle makers out to 2015.

The MobileGT Alliance will provide software for the MPC5121e, which is source code-compatible with Freescale's existing MGT5100 and MPC5200 microprocessors. The MobileGT Alliance is a partnership between independent software tool kit providers for automotive applications. It includes Freescale, Motorola, IBM, QNX Software Systems, Wind River and Green Hills Software as well as the Virtual Prototypes Division of Engenuity Technologies and others.

Based on the QNX real-time operating system and integrated with VisualAge Micro Edition Java application tools from IBM, OEMs can develop their applications using the CodeWarrior Development Studio or the Linux Board Support Package. Applications can be deployed with the J9 virtual machine and OEM-defined graphical user interfaces from Engenuity.

"OEMs can just present a laundry list of functions to Mobile GT, from GPS to navigation to voice recognition for Bluetooth phones, and get a whole package of integrated software modules with relatively little development effort," said Magney.

Highly integrated
Freescale's telematics microprocessor is fabricated in a 90nm low-power CMOS technology, measures 27-by-27mm and is packaged in a 1mm-pitch 516-pin plastic BGA. MPC5121e combines three heterogeneous processor cores, semiconductor and mass-memory interfaces, plus controllers for dozens of types of peripherals. The three cores are a 400MHz e300 Power Architecture core executing 760MIPS over a 64bit processor bus, a 32bit RISC-based accelerator core running at 200MHz with a fully programmable scheduler for servicing real-time applications like multimedia infotainment, and a third 3D PowerVR graphics core. The graphics core, which is licensed from Imagination Technologies Ltd, supports Open VG, OpenGL, texturing, shading, sample rate conversion, noise reduction and acoustic echo cancellation with its own vector-processing unit.

A 32bit industrial protocol bus handles communications among 64 DMA channels. The part features four controller-area network channels to communicate with sensors and other microprocessors, two USB On-The-Go ports, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and a PCI controller. It also includes a general-purpose input/output controller, a residence-time controller and eight timers plus a watchdog timer. In addition, the microprocessor includes a J1850 automotive bus controller parallel CPU interface, a secure digital high-capacity interface, a Sony/Philips digital interface and three multimaster serial computer bus interfaces (using Phillips' Inter-Integrated Circuit, I²C). Also on board are 12 position-regulated speed controllers and an on-chip temperature sensor to shut down the system in the event of overheating.

"There are no other telematics microprocessors in the market today that are as highly integrated as ours," said Freescale's architect of the new microprocessor family, Jeff McGuire. "And certainly not at our low price points."

In addition, the MPC5121e has an on-chip display controller to support 1,280 x 720pixel LCD displays using 24bit three-plane color graphics for acceleration of audio and video. The three-processor cores share 128k of SRAM, which is supplemented by external memory buses to 16- or 32bit DDR-I or -II DRAMs or MobileDDR, an 8- or 16bit NAND flash controller and a low-pin-count interface to NOR flash, ROM or RAM.

For mass storage, the MPC5121e has both serial and parallel ATA interfaces for hard disks. And a 32bit Advanced Microprocessor Bus Architecture high-speed bus handles memory mapping to the DRAM from the USB, the serial ATA and Ethernet via the DMA channels.

Freescale has been dropping the price of its existing automotive microprocessors in anticipation of the introduction of its new telematics microprocessor family and will introduce the new chips at the same price as its old models were two years ago. The venerable MGT5100 and even its current MPC5200 will then be phased out of production in favor of the MPC-512X microprocessors.

In addition to automotive applications, Freescale claims the MPC5121e is suitable for use in medical electronics, consumer devices, and military and industrial applications. The microprocessor also targets industrial control and security/surveillance applications, networked patient monitoring systems, gaming consoles and digital home appliances such as media gateways and set-top boxes.

MPC5121e has been qualified to the reliability requirements of the AEC-Q100 standard and TS14969 specifications, which enable it to withstand very harsh environmental conditions.

Samples of the processor will be available to customers in June.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times




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