SAN FRANCISCO—Ask any car OEM. Enabling over-the-air (OTA) software upgrades is on the top of the OEM “to-do” list in 2016 and beyond.
There are, of course, other pressing matters to worry about down the road — like advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) and the development of self-driving cars.
But when Tesla last year launched new autopilot features, such as lane keeping and self-parking, via OTA software upgrades, the rest of the auto industry woke up. Practically every automaker understands now that Elon Musk is tour guide to the future.
For consumers, making your car behave like a smartphone, via software update, is obviously “cool.” But for auto manufacturers, it means dollars and cents. With OTA updates, carmakers see the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of updating vehicle software.
In short, while it’s no longer necessary for consumers to make a service appointment or schedule routine maintenance, automakers will have a way to efficiently react to bugs and security breaches.
This, of course, is easier said than done, unless your vehicle is something like Tesla — a powerful computer on wheels.
Cypress Semiconductor Corp. has announced Tuesday (Jan. 12) the first series of its microcontroller (MCU) family — branded as Traveo — with embedded flash on the 40nm process technology node.
Traveo is designed for higher performance and more cost-efficient implementation of instrument clusters and body electronics, according to the company.
Most notable is that the new 40nm MCUs are designed to enable mid-range to mass-market cars to implement OTA software updates. Sven Natus, Cypress’ head of Automotive Business Unit Americas, explained that Traveo is the first automotive MCU designed to allow carmakers to do OTA firmware updates “in the background” with “no down time.”
Cypress achieved that claim by designing an MCU capable of talking to two separate, external flash memory units over a single HyperBus integrated in the MCU.
(Source: Cypress Semiconductor)
While one flash memory unit retains the previous version of software, another will store new updates. If something goes wrong, you can always “roll back to the previous version,” said Natus.
Indeed, in an interview with EE Times prior to CES, Amrit Vivekanand, vice president of automotive business for Renesas Electronics America, singled out “OTA software upgrades” as one of the biggest industry challenges. At that time, Vivekanand said, “There is no consensus on how to achieve necessary levels of security, memory, processors and gateways” for software upgradeable cars.
In particular, he worried about, “What if the upgrades don’t work?” He raised questions such as how you undo changes, and whether your car can revert to its pre-upgrade state.
At least, Cypress, with its new Traveo MCU, is showing one answer by adding another bank of memory that can store the original state before the upgrade.
Do automakers who hate spending even a penny more mind adding more flash memory? Cyrpess’ Natus said, “Yes, this costs them money, but in the long run, car OEMs will be saving a lot of money enabling OTA software updates.”
Nauto said Cypress is currently engaged in discussions with at least three car OEMs considering the new MCU as a solution for OTA software updates. “So far, we’re getting good feedback,” he added.
But carmakers are aware that they must prevent connectivity used for such OTA updates from becoming yet another attack surface. Cypress pointed out enhanced secure hardware extension (eSHE) integrated into the MCU for “robust security.” Further, flash memories for software updates are not inside the MCU but externally located, communicating with the MCU via HyberBus interface.
Cypress said that the new 40nm Traveo series is based on the ARM Cortex-R5 processor with 240-MHz performance and supports the Controller Area Network-Flexible Data (CAN-FD) automotive communication protocol for increased data bandwidth for faster networking.
The MCUs integrate up to 4MB of internal flash for application storage, eSHE, and the HyperBus interface that enables seamless connections with HyperFlash and HyperRAM memories.
The 40nm MCUs are fabricated by UMC in Taiwan, and are available now, according to Cypress.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times