The popularity of automotive infotainment systems continues to explode. Modern technological advancements such as satellite radio, touch screens, navigation systems, Bluetooth, HDTV, integrated cell phones, media players and video game systems have enhanced the driving experience. With over 50 million cars produced each year worldwide, the majority have some type of integrated infotainment system. From a power supply perspective, a basic infotainment console may require several low voltage power supply rails with several Amps of total current, and a premium console may require even more. Traditionally, these voltage rails and current levels have been supplied by a multitude of discrete power regulator ICs or large overly-integrated power management integrated circuits (PMICs). However, these large PMICs often have more rails than are needed, require a large circuit footprint and are usually under-powered for some of the rails. As a result, there is a need for a multi-output IC that can provide a small solution footprint with a configurable number of moderately powered rails. Furthermore, wouldn’t there be further benefit if this same IC could be configured a variety of different ways to accommodate changes in power requirements that might arise during the development process? Thanks to innovative circuit design, this type of IC is now a reality.
Infotainment power system design challenges
Electronic systems design for automotive applications is challenging for many reasons: space is highly restricted, the operating temperature range must be wide, noise must be minimized, battery transients must be tolerated and quality levels must be high. Since integration levels must be high, this in turn creates a need for power-efficient components. With today’s car dashboards so crowded with electronic systems, when combined with high ambient operating conditions it makes temperature monitoring a critical requirement, particularly when it comes to the operating temperature of the power management components. Alerting the system controller to an overtemperature condition allows software to mitigate an overheating problem by turning off less critical functions or reducing performance in processors and other high power functions such as displays and network communication.
Today’s car dashboards are often crowded with lots of noise sources and temperature-sensitive sources such as radios, Bluetooth, GPS and cell phone-based network connections. Therefore, it is critical that all circuits in this environment, including the power supplies, do not produce excessive heat or EMI. In many cases, there are strict Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) requirements, covering radiated and conducted emissions, radiated and conducted immunity or susceptibility and Electrostatic Discharge (ESD). Conforming to all of these requirements affects many performance aspects of a potential PMIC design. Some are straightforward, such as requiring that the DC-DC switching regulators operate at a fixed frequency outside of the AM radio band. However, others are more difficult to address, such as adjusting the slew rate of internal power FETs to minimize radiated emissions due to a DC-DC converter’s switch node transitions.
Furthermore, many of today’s embedded systems and advanced processors require controlled and choreographed sequencing as power supplies are started and applied to various circuits. Allowing for system flexibility and a simple approach to sequencing not only makes the system design easier, but it also ensures system reliability and allows for a single PMIC to handle a broader range of the system than just a specific processor’s requirements.
“Feature creep”, or the changing of product specifications such as input & output voltages, and output currents as the development cycle marches on, can wreak havoc on the selection of ICs and associated discrete components. In a best-case scenario, when a system specification is changed after the board layout is set, perhaps a voltage can be tweaked by swapping a few resistors on an adjustable output converter. In the worst case, perhaps a number of ICs need to be replaced with non-pinout compatible ICs because the new output current level requirements exceed the switch current rating of the incumbent ones. This will result in a bevy of increased costs and delays due to a redesign and re-layout of the board. A highly specialized, high performance configurable power management IC is needed to properly manage the power block to ensure that all of the performance benefits of the system can be realized and allow flexibility for inevitable power block system changes. Until now, there has not been a single IC that could accomplish this task.
In summary, the main IC design challenges facing an automotive infotainment system architect include the following:
• Changes in design requirements (voltage & current levels) over the project development time
• Many systems need numerous <5V rails
• The current requirements for each rail are frequently unknown until the end of development (e.g. FPGA’s have software dependent Icc)
• Similar applications can have big differences in DC/DC current requirements from revision to revision
• ISO26262 specification, aimed at reducing risks associated with software for safety functions in automobiles
• Balancing power dissipation with the high level of integration of multiple switching regulators
• Immunity to harsh voltage changes from transients and cold crank conditions
• Monitoring power supply IC die temperature
• Minimizing solution size and footprint
• Minimizing EMI and noise emissions