Automotive Microcontrollers with Multi-core computing in Engine Management Systems

March 15, 2019

Cherry K Mathews, Project Manager @ Cycloides Inc.

In the recent 10 years, the Microcontroller single CPU technology from the time of inception into the Automotive world has reached its limits in increasing clock speed to meet the performance, industries demand. More and more features and innovations in the Car industry are based on electronics and then finally on the firmware. Continuously rising demand for computing power can be met by either adding more Electronic Control Units (ECUs) or increasing the computational power of the existing ECUs in the system. Adding multiple ECUs and their supporting electrical wiring harnesses would mean an increase in weight and miles of wiring to the vehicle. Clearly, this will not result in efficiency. The main reason for introducing multiple-core computing power to the Automotive industry is to increase the computing power without having to have a higher clock speed. A faster clock speed with increased core count will result in higher power consumption and having to deal with heat which will in turn, to re-look at the heat dissipation tolerances. Growing customer demands in Engine and Transmission Controls is the main motivation for such an innovative need among all the big car giants. The performance thus gained will maintain the growth with the increasing complexity of Engine Management Systems, Transmission controls and its sub systems. Adding to this with stringent safety standards, ever growing demands for feature, automotive suppliers will drive the imminent technology improvement in this area.

In this context, reusing previous software generations and configurations becomes a major concern for automotive suppliers and manufacturers as implementing changes on the basic architecture or platform can become a highly costly affair in the multiple departments of an organization. This is also due to the fact that companies will have existing and much evolved platforms or ECU generations that cater to the major share in their portion of the market. In the process of migrating to a multi-core technology from single core, Automotive system with software engineering, and including all the Platform architectures will go through a major and complex overhaul. Migrating legacy powertrain software requires a bottom-up approach which will add complexity to the process. The existing software interfaces in ECU generations or platforms have to be formalized and then modified to pitch-in with the new standards which will be required in multi-core architecture. Legacy code will create problems in our source code when we use modern tools based on the current technology. Clearly, we have to set new benchmarks and performance metrics. The fruit of all this hard work leads to powerful parallel computing and easier to do upgrades especially in safety. With most of the major suppliers in the automotive industry having a model based approach on code development, multi-core would help bring even better potentials to parallel processing in Automotive systems. However even when all the milestones are reached in terms of Platform development, adapting the new architecture into customer's systems and its engineering have great challenges ahead. Cost of these changes in the customer platform, time duration and adaptability to the customer engine systems in today's 'fast to market' world will go through some hurdles while heading to series production.

The functional complexity and levels of integration of real-time safety-critical applications in EMS will continue to increase exponentially as long as Diesel and Gasoline vehicles exist. However, with all these challenges ahead and with innovation being key growth factor in the auto industry, multi-core Microcontrollers will be the driving factor to the future EMS ECUs. But how long Diesel and Gasoline vehicles will be in the market? Do we still need the same high end multi computing on Electric Vehicles too? Only time will tell the answers to these questions. Less complicated and purely Electric vehicle systems running on Electric Motors will be a total wipeout for the existing EMS systems and we have to wait and watch how multi-core computing will find its place in the new world of Electric vehicles.

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