In next-generation vehicles, the instrument cluster will be replaced by a graphical display, enabling car designers to provide situation-sensitive information to the drivers. At Embedded World in Nuremberg, Fujitsu showed a number of integrated circuits which could provide the base for the design of these virtual dashboards.
The flexibility of electronic dashboards can be increased if it is implemented completely virtual and the Central Information Display, today mainly used for navigation and multimedia functions is fully merged with the dashboard, explained Mark Ellins, Director Common Technologies and Functions at Fujitsu Semiconductor Europe. In the scope of such concepts, the virtual display will be the primary interface with the driver, replacing most traditional control elements such as pointer instruments, knobs and buttons. From the systems perspective, it is desirable that the same device can serve multiple purposes, calling for a high degree of intelligence and software in these application fields.
The centerpiece of Fujitsu's dashboard devices is the Emerald P. As a world's first, the device supports the APIX2 interface for high-bandwidth display connections, developed by Inova Semiconductors. The Emerald P combines an ARM Cortex-A9 processor core and a programmable shader Graphics Processor Unit (GPU). The device offers four video inputs that can run in parallel and support various camera-based automotive applications including "bird's view" representations of the vehicle's ambient.
The Emerald P contains three independent display controllers, enabling designers to implement a 'virtual dashboard' display, a center display and a head-up display, all driven by one single chip. The device also generates images in up to eight graphical layers, allowing flexible and prioritized graphic rendering of the data presented to the user when changing from one operational scene to another. On top of that, the Emerald P embraces a number of automotive standard resources and communication protocols such as CAN interface, Media Local Bus and Ethernet, all implemented in hardware.
Also designed to support automotive dashboard solutions but aiming to more conventional designs is Fujitus's Indigo L, a sprite-based graphics controller optimized to support a Central Information Displays (CID) and an additional Head-up display (HUD. The device connects to display panels by means of the APIX technology.
Besides purely graphics functions, the Indigo L also incorporates additional peripheral drivers typically found in automotive dashboard systems, such as stepper motor controllers (for electronically controlled pointer instruments) as well as circuitry required to generate the related signals. Thus the chip integrates pulse width modulators, ADCs, I2C and a sound generator. These function blocks allow the Indigo L to control dashboard gauges, backlight circuits, LEDs, sensors and on-board communications.
Requiring no external memory devices, the Indigo L helps to keep the bill of materials (BoM) low. Graphics processing in the Indigo L is based on a line-buffer principle which eliminates the need for expensive frame-buffer memory. Another feature that helps to keep the system cost low is that a TCON unit (Timer/Counter Control Register) allows the Indigo L to drive panels without the need for further driver control logic.
The Indigo L makes use of graphic elements, so-called sprites. Sprites include fonts, bitmap objects and other reusable graphic elements. These elements are stored in the integrated flash memory; external devices are not required. Direct displays can be connected via RSDS (reduced swing differential signal) or RGB line. 5 V automotive interfaces and an analog front end for the APIX link are integrated equally.
The internal graphics engine generates up to 512 sprites at sizes of up to 512 x 512 pixels. The sprites can be animated and stored in a variety of color modes; when the graphics engine is controlled by a command list, even alpha-blending is possible. Thus, pre-loaded sequences sequences of actions can be triggered automatically. The device can drive display panels with resolutions between 320 x 160 and 1280 x 480 pixels. A signature unit for security and dither as well as gamma units for picture quality optimization are also available, as well as layer blending and automatic fade-in/out features.
In Fujitsu's data sheets, the Emerald P bears the (much less intuitive) part number MB86R12; the Indigo L is obtainable as MB88F333. While the Indigo L is available from Q1 2011, the Emerald P is scheduled for roll-out in Q3, both devices along with the associated software development environments.
This article originally appeared on EE Times Europe.