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The powertrain evolution rolls on as CPUs develop

Automotive design is changing, to meet environmental, performance and consumer demands. Richard York, Vice President of Embedded ARM, tells Caroline Hayes how the company is meeting the powertrain evolution and if electrification has a future.

Powertrain is the term to describe the mechanical system in a vehicle that produces energy to drive the vehicle. Typical powertrain parts are the engine, motor, the transmission system and the drive shaft.

CH: There has been a lot of news over the past year around new climate agreements, emissions controls (and scandals!). Does this have an impact on the automotive powertrain market?

RY: Yes it does, for two reasons. The first is that tightening emissions puts an increased load on the electronic control unit (ECU) in the engine. For example, as more and more petrol engines move to direct injection to improve efficiency, the precise timing and complex algorithms need the microcontroller (MCU) to be upgraded significantly.

Secondly, the electrification of cars is accelerating as the pressure increases on emissions and air quality in our cities. Adding a “helper” electric motor, in the form of a mild hybrid, can give some very useful benefits, without the cost of a fully electric powertrain.

CH: Does the evolution of this market have an impact in the type and amount of processing required in the vehicle powertrain?

RY: Yes, because in almost every area of powertrain evolution (direct injection, electric motor control, regenerative braking, enhanced battery management and monitoring, and so on), the ECUs need to meet increased performance demands. In addition, many of the new algorithms for engine control are maths-based, rather than relying on pre-determined tables of data to control the engines and the motors.

CH: Do these changes have any implications for the supply chain of powertrain microcontrollers?

Figure 2-ARMv8-R

Figure 1: The ARMv8-R architecture can be used in powertrain systems to mix software modules from multiple vendors and speed time-to-market.

RY: Powertrain is one of the last remaining markets where proprietary central processing unit (CPU) architectures are still in widespread use. However, as performance demands increase, with no reduction in cost pressure, ARM’s CPUs will become more and more appealing. STMicroelectronics has publically announced that it will adopt the new ARMv8-R architecture for its next generation of powertrain MCUs. The development of those CPUs is now very advanced.

The v8-R architecture introduces a “bare metal” hypervisor mode, whereby programmers can combine operating systems (OS), applications and real-time tasks on a single processor while maintaining isolation. Benefits of this approach include software consolidation and re-use, which in turn, accelerate time-to-market and reduce development costs.

CH: How is the ARM ecosystem positioned to meet these evolving requirements?

RY: The ecosystem is one of the reasons why we are starting to see success in this market. One of the key steps was to identify the main partners to work with, and to prepare the ground for v8-R CPUs. For example, for more than two years, we have been working with Green Hills, as one of the key suppliers of compilers to the market. ARM has also been working with companies, such as ETAS and Open Synergy, on real-time hypervisor technology, again to enable the power of ARMv8-R to be fully exploited.

CH: Are there technical challenges to entering the powertrain market today?

RY: Powertrain is certainly a demanding market and that’s why ARM has spent more than five years preparing for the new v8-R-based CPUs. ARM believes that now is the right time for a transition, not least because the complexity in ECUs continues to rise and real-time virtualisation support offers many opportunities to safely mix software modules, from a variety of sources, and Automotive Safety Integrity Levels (ASIL), reliably and seamlessly.

CH: Electrification is moving fast; are fully electric vehicles (EVs) ever really going to have mass appeal?

RY: It seems that full EVs have been talked about for a long time, but have so far only been niche in terms of volume. There is now a serious increase in bringing these vehicles to market, with mainstream models increasingly appearing in showrooms. Renault and Nissan have been leaders in this space for several years, with vehicles like the Leaf, which is the highest selling EV ever. Others, like VW and Audi, are committing to introduce a new EV every year. Even Tesla is looking to mass produce cars and has attracted a lot of attention with its new model 3, reporting huge levels of pre-orders. In addition the technology development is feeding into the higher volume hybrid vehicle classes, finally making electrification a mainstream trend.

Richard York was appointed VP of Embedded in July 2014.

Richard is responsible for the segment marketing team focused on the broad embedded market. That includes sub-segments such as automotive, microcontrollers, storage and industrial and also includes developing and promoting the supporting ecosystem. Richard also works closely with licensees and their customers to advise product and market development.

Richard joined ARM in 1994 and has been closely involved in the design of early ARM processors before moving into marketing in 2000. Richard most recently ran the embedded processor marketing team, as VP of Embedded Processors.

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