Microcontroller battles ARM in auto safety

21st February 2013

Fighting off the challenge of 32bit microcontrollers in automotive body applications, Infineon has launched a new version of its popularC166 microcontroller with new peripherals, including a safety block.

The xc2300 uses the same C166 16bit RISC instruction set but adds a state machine that handles CRC for checking data integrity, as well as analogue to digital converters and pulse width modulation blocks. This gives the chip the first SIL safety certification and means the family is aimed at applications such as airbag control and power steering where safety is vital.

The key is not in the controller core particularly, although Infineon has a huge installed base of code, but in the peripherals, says Peter Bauer, head of the Automotive, Industrial and Multimedia (AIM) group and a member of Infineon's board of directors at the launch of the part in Munich.

"The safety segment is the strongest growing automotive application area with about 10 per cent growth for the next five years," he said. "Infineon's combined in-house offering of microcontroller core, sensor and power semiconductors together with our broad system know-how for safety applications make us unique among automotive chip suppliers."

It is these attributes that will keep the XC2300 competitive at around $6 in volume in the face of competition from full 32bit architectures such as ARM's Cortex M3. This is being used by a range of customers for automotive applications, including the latest licensee, Toshiba, announced last week. Toshiba has a very similar mix of products to Infineon with strong and established microcontroller, power semiconductor and memory technologies.

This move to 32bit is being driven by the performance requirements of the AutoSAR and JasPar software standards, says ARM, which is also aiming at the same safety critical applications.

“Our partners are looking to accelerate the delivery of highly competitive, 32-bit ARM processor-based products into the volume automotive and microcontroller markets,” said Graham Budd, executive vice president and general manager of the processor division at ARM. “The Cortex-M3 processor, along with the industry's leading tools ecosystem, makes this transition to higher performance and more safety-critical applications more efficient and cost-effective.”

Toshiba makes the same point on software. “The automotive controller market is deploying increasingly complex applications on microcontrollers while demanding increased safety certification and improved code reuse,” said Yutaka Murao, Senior Fellow in the System LSI Division at Toshiba. “The open nature of the ARM platform and tools, coupled with specific safety-robust IP, enables us to deliver the solutions our customers are demanding for the next generation of vehicles. The performance, interrupt handling, and application security capabilities of the Cortex-M3 processor makes it the ideal platform on the numerous other changing demands of the automotive marketplace.”

But the latest additional peripherals in the XC2300 and the system knowledge that helps tackle the performance issues while keeping the costs down says Bauer at Infineon.

"The peripherals make the requirements of the core less relevant," he said. "It is the management of the memory, sensors, peripherals and power that makes it cost effective and in that area I am willing to take on any other microcontroller."


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