While a protracted economic slump has devastated much of the electronics industry, automotive executives have continued to march ahead on the microcontroller front, despite the fact that they've all felt the pinch of the sluggish economy. For them, the proof is all in the numbers: Whereas an average vehicle employed approximately 20 microcontrollers three years ago, an average vehicle today incorporates between 40 and 60. Moreover, automotive engineers are still looking for performance gains in their chips.
"There's always an appetite for more performance," said Hank Pawlowicz, product-marketing manager for Renesas Technology America Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). "We're always assured that the new devices will be swallowed up if the price is right." To quench that insatiable appetite, device manufacturers have rolled out an array of automotive 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit microcontrollers, most of which offer incremental performance gains.
The newest entry in the automotive microcontroller lineup will be launched today, when Microchip Technology Inc. (Chandler, Ariz.) expands its controller-area network (CAN) product portfolio with a generation of 48-kbyte and 64-kbyte PICmicro flash microcontrollers. The microcontrollers feature the company's new ECAN module, which is a CAN 2.0B interface. Known as the PIC18F8680/6680 and PIC18F8585/6585, the devices respond to a growing need in the automotive industry for on-board flash by featuring up to 64 kbytes of self-programmable flash memory.
"Any device on a CAN bus that can be accessed externally is moving toward becoming a flash node," Greg Robinson, product-marketing manager for PIC18F microcontrollers at Microchip, said. "If a company uses a flash-based device, they can install it in a door and program it right on the factory line, or they can update it in the field."
With the integration of the company's ECAN module, the microcontrollers also fulfill a need for automakers that are employing more CAN nodes throughout their vehicles. The ECAN module supports standard Bosch CAN specifications, and provides hardware support for DeviceNet protocols. Prices for the new microcontrollers range from $7.16 for the PIC18F6585 to $7.85 for the PIC18F8680 in lots of 10,000.
STMicroelectronics (Lexington, Mass.) has also rolled out a series of microcontrollers with CAN bus interfaces. The devices, part of the ST9 controller family and designed for applications in body-and power train control, support the CAN 2.0B active protocol. One version, the ST92F150JDV1, includes 128 kbytes of flash, on-chip emulated E2PROM and two bxCAN interfaces. The other, known as the ST92F250, includes 256 kbytes of flash and one bxCAN. In quantities of 10,000, prices for the ST9 devices range from $6.49 to $8.49 each.
The need for higher performance is also answered by another microcontroller that was introduced last month by Motorola Inc. (Austin, Texas). Known as the MPC5200, the new 32-bit microcontroller is aimed at automakers and tier-one suppliers that are trying to reduce the number of processors in their designs, while providing ample headroom for product upgrades. Based on the PowerPC 603e core, the 400-MHz MPC5200 delivers 760 Mips while consuming less than 850 milliwatts of power. It is manufactured in a 0.13-micron process and housed in a 272-pin package. Automotive applications for the MPC5200 include gateways, telematics equipment and global-positioning systems, among others. Production quantities of the device will be available late in 2003, with a suggested retail price of $22.50 in 10,000-piece quantities.
Pushing the envelope
Similarly, Renesas Technology America pushed the state of the art with the recent introduction of the M32C/81 Group, H8/36057 and H8/36037 microcontrollers. The M32C/81 Group is a new high-end 16-bit microcontroller family that combines 40-MHz performance with a 20-MHz analog-to-digital conversion rate, advanced CAN functionality and a wide operating temperature range.
"The high-speed A/D converter is important for airbag safety systems," noted Mike Weseloh of the product-marketing group at Renesas for the M16C and M32C product lines. "It allows the chip to react very quickly and to deploy the air-bag faster."
The company said that the microcontroller can be used in applications in need of 32-bit math functions, high-end 16-bit peripheral performance, low noise and a wide temperature range. A M32C/81 chip with 40-MHz clock speed, 128k ROM and 10k to 12k RAM sells for $12.50.
Renesas also recently introduced the H8/36057 and H8/36037 microcontrollers targeted at 8-bit applications that need an upward performance nudge. The low-pin-count, small-package, single-chip 16-bit microcontrollers offer CAN and local-interconnect-network (LIN) interfaces, making them strong candidates for door modules, airbag controllers, shock absorber controllers, anti-theft devices and other modules for auto safety and body control.
Renesas engineers said that the higher performance of their new devices is needed in many automotive applications, especially as networking grows more complex. "In the average car right now, we're seeing between 40 and 60 microcontrollers, and most automakers are looking for more performance," said Ritesh Tyagi, a product manager for Renesas' H8 line. "These 16-bit devices will provide much greater performance than the current 8-bit versions." The price for an H8/36057 with 56 kbytes of flash is $5.10. For a 36037 with 32 kbytes of flash, the price is $4.80 each.
Renesas isn't alone in its rollout of LIN-compatible microcontrollers. The LIN protocol, which was announced three years ago, has begun to gain momentum among automakers because it serves as a low-cost data bus for simple systems and offers the potential to eliminate up to 50 pounds of wiring per car. Automakers have begun heavy implementation of microcontrollers using the LIN protocol in door, seat and window modules, and some experts predict the use of such modules will reach a billion units over the next decade.
Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) recently introduced two microcontrollers addressing LIN compatibility when it rolled out the MB89210 series of controllers. The MB89210 line, which supports both LIN and CAN, offers a minimum instruction execution time of 0.32 microsecond at 12.5 MHz, and includes a full complement of timers and A/D converters.
Pricing for the Fujitsu devices starts at $1.50 in lots of 10,000.
To meet the needs of LIN, Motorola has also rolled out a series of LIN-compatible microcontrollers. The electronics giant recently unveiled six new 8-bit microcontrollers based on the 68HC08 architecture. The devices incorporate from 1.5 kbytes to 4 kbytes of reprogrammable flash memory and a number of on-chip peripherals, including a two-channel, 16-bit timer system and a four-channel, 8-bit analog-to-digital converter.
Motorola expects LIN-compatible microcontrollers to play a key role in automotive applications in the next few years. "Mainstream cars will have dozens of LIN nodes," said Brian Reid, global automotive operations manager for Motorola's 8- and 16-bit products division. "And we're probably only a year away from that happening." Pricing for the 68HC908QT1, 68HC908QT2, 68HC908QT4, 68HC908-QY1, 68HC908QY2 and 68HC908QY4 devices starts at 70 cents in quantities of 10,000.
In June, Motorola also rolled out CAN-compatible additions to its 8-bit HC08 family. The 68HC908GZ8 and the 68HC-908GZ16 microcontrollers feature CAN modules with 8 kbytes and 16 kbytes of flash memory, respectively. The modules are also suitable for LIN connectivity. Retail prices for the devices start at $3.40 for a 32-lead package and $3.60 for 48 leads.
Motorola engineers said that the emergence of subnetworks in vehicles is creating a thriving market for 8-bit microcontrollers, even while much of the engineering development work continues to move to 16-bit devices and beyond.
"Eight bit is still a massive market for automotive," Reid said. "We have more than a dozen 8-bit products in the design and qualification stages now. It continues to be one of our strongest focus areas."
Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc.
Microchip Technology Inc.
Renesas Technology America Inc.