Aurix – an inconspicuous processor comes of age

Aurix – an inconspicuous processor comes of age

Interviews |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

In every clique, there is an inconspicuous person who is never in the limelight. But, as one realizes with astonishment in hindsight, he was part of the action everywhere. In automotive electronics, too, there is such an inconspicuous but ubiquitous chip: the Aurix from Infineon. What makes this processor so special? eeNews Europe discussed the matter with Thomas Böhm, SVP Automotive Microcontroller at Infineon.

Infineon has the Aurix in its product line since 2012. Originally designed exclusively for applications in the powertrain, the Aurix has now left its old limits far behind. The technical basis is the company’s TriCore architecture, which has been in circulation since 1999. The name TriCore is due to the fact that the architecture combines the instruction sets of three processor cores, namely a “normal” 32-bit microcontroller as well as a RISC processor and a DSP. The current TriCore version 1.8 also contains a Parallel Processing Unit (PPU), a 256-bit wide vector unit with a computing power of up to 48 GOPS. In addition, there is the SPU3, a radar Signal Processing Unit and a Data Routing Engine for CAN and Ethernet communication and thus for the two infrastructure families for data communication that are predominant in current vehicles.

The outstanding feature of the Aurix family members is their special suitability for functional safety applications. And for many years, this was also the primary marketing track for the Aurix chips.

In the age of Software Defined Vehicles, another demand driver has emerged: Cybersecurity. Starting with the upcoming TC4x version, the Aurixes will therefore be equipped with an integrated crypto-security module with a private CPU, which is designed to meet the requirements of ISO 21434 “Road vehicles – Cybersecurity engineering”. Virtualization of the hardware and thus unleashing of the software has also been implemented as a key feature – the current TriCore architecture supports up to eight virtual machines per core and hypervisor.

New application fields in sight

This opens up application areas for the Aurix family that go well beyond the original limitations, such as use in data fusion platforms in conjunction with the powerful computing platforms of the “usual suspects” among the processor manufacturers such as Nvidia, Qualcomm or Mobileye “whereby we are responsible for functional safety, security and connectivity in this context,” explains Thomas Böhm. Another area of application for the Aurix architecture is the processing of radar signals and their analysis, and in some cases the downstream decision-making path up to the control of emergency braking actions.

What’s next, what does the future hold? In any case, the software in the vehicle has gained significantly in importance, Böhm states. This has resulted in a changed requirements profile for OEMs and tier ones. Customers in the automotive value chain are looking to standardize their collection of building blocks and need scalable platforms. “It needs platforms with a high degree of reuse,” says Böhm. Security algorithms are one example, because “they are application-agnostic to a high degree.” Against this background, it is safe to assume that the application focus will shift significantly during the generation change from the Aurix TC3x currently in production to the TC4x generation.

Future trends are closer than they appear

Böhm sees three trends for the development of E/E architectures in vehicles:

– Sensors and actuators will become more intelligent – they will increasingly install “endpoint” CPUs in the future. Here, for example, the development toward higher-resolution radar sensors is likely to play into the Aurix marketers’ cards.

– Zone computers. A high proportion of OEMs envisage these zone computers in their future plans. Powerful microprocessors designed and produced according to criteria such as high availability are used for this purpose. “This is where the Aurix is used as a dependable computing solution,” Böhm describes the distribution of tasks.

– Central computer or “main car computer”. This approach requires high-performance platforms with massive computing power. High-profile providers such as Nvidia, Mobileye and Co. are found on these boards. “High-end processors and GPUs are not part of our strategy,” says Böhm, delimiting Infineon’s position vis-à-vis the performance behemoths. But Infineon is in the game nonetheless – the Munich-based company is providing Aurix MCUs as companion chip for car computer solutions and support customers with software integration.

And then there is a fourth future trend from which Aurix could well benefit: Vehicles increasingly need an instance that controls data traffic in the car. With their routing accelerator running in hardware, Aurix processors can play the role of a connectivity computer. However, not in functions where data traffic between the car and the backend or cloud is involved, Böhm cautions. 

Car manufacturers are replacing distributed task-specific ECUs with higher-performance and increasingly centralized computing platforms. After all, Infineon still anticipates a need for 45 to 60 MCUs for smart sensor and actuator applications, despite the concentration of computing power on zone and central architectures that everyone is striving for. “This is exactly what the Aurix TC3x and TC4x was designed for,” Böhm affirms.

On the semiconductor level, Infineon will increasingly focus on the integration of embedded non-volatile memories in the future. “For semiconductor structures at 28 nanometers and below, Flash technology is no more the right approach,” Böhm explains. When it comes to nonvolatile memory technologies, Infineon has opted for embedded RRAM (resistive RAM). According to industry experts, this technology scales down to geometries of about 12 to 14 nm.

Against the background of this development, it is clear that the demand for computing power in cars will increase massively. Of course, manufacturers of powerful processors for high-performance compute platforms are likely to profit from this. But we will also have to reckon with the Aurix, the inconspicuous processor that is everywhere. Let’s look half a decade into the future. Where will the Aurix be found then?

Böhm has a confident answer: “In five years, Aurix will serve as the central technology powering vehicle control, sensing, and communication units. This will encompass both conventional safety-critical features such as power steering, braking, and airbags, as well as experiencing substantial expansion through radar, data fusion platforms, and gateway solutions,” Böhm says. “The emergence of novel E/E architectures and vehicle electrification will unlock further opportunities and design successes in zone controllers, inverters, power conversion systems, and battery management.”

Related articles:

Infineon’s new Aurix Generation expands application areas

Infineon tweaks Aurix for performance, security

Aurix software environment gets retread for Autosar

Continental, Infineon team for vehicle Zone Control computer

Infineon makes Rust available for its automotive MCU lines

Infineon, TSMC to introduce RRAM for automotive

Automotive embedded OS and hypervisor for Aurix TC4x MCUs


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