How powerful processors are helping to advance vehicle architectures

How powerful processors are helping to advance vehicle architectures

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

OEMs face significant challenges in their complex vehicle architectures. Some of the high-end vehicles these days have over 100 processors, and these are all driving their own network and networking requirements, with combinations of CAN, LIN, FlexRay, Ethernet, and Gigabit Ethernet. All this networking requires kilometers of wire inside the car, ending up with a very complex harness that is costly and can weigh as much as two passengers. OEMs want to simplify the topology of vehicle architectures to reduce complexity and BOM cost. They also want to have faster innovation cycles. By developing vehicles that are more software-defined, rather than today’s hardware-centric approach with incremental, fixed-function electronic control units (ECUs), OEMs can be more agile and support intelligent upgrades in the future.

The road to domain and zonal architectures

To overcome these challenges and meet the goals, OEMs worldwide are shifting to new architectures that consolidate ECU functionality into more powerful multi-core processors that support software isolation and upgradability. This consolidation is happening both logically and physically, and in some cases, with a combination of both in the same vehicle E/E architecture. Logical consolidation organizes functions into domains, while physical consolidation organizes functions based on their location within the vehicle into zones.

Logical consolidation is happening in the vehicle dynamics, vehicle networking, and body and comfort functional domains. The vehicle dynamics domain organizes all of the functionality around how a car moves and includes the powertrain, braking, steering, suspension, and chassis management. With the rapid move to electric vehicles (EVs), this domain handles complex battery and energy management and controls electric motor inverters. Consolidation of this functionality is creating new Propulsion Domain Controllers.

The vehicle networking domain securely manages the flow of vehicle data as a central gateway with connectivity to the cloud and provides more centralized compute for vehicle services. Consolidation of this functionality is driving more powerful Service-oriented Gateways.

The third domain is body and comfort, which is the broad interface of how the vehicle reacts to passengers: crash detection, airbags, motor control, pumps and switches, HVAC, and interior and exterior lighting. Consolidation of this functionality is creating Body Domain Controllers

Physical consolidation into zones is typically implemented as Zonal Controllers at the four corners of the vehicle addressing cross-domain functionality with each corner with a redundant Ethernet backbone connected to a centralized Vehicle Computer providing centralized vehicle services and control. The zonal controllers may need a combination of real-time and applications processing to provide the required cross-domain functions like lighting, sensor handling (tires, radar, imaging), suspension, inverter control, braking, steering and more within a zone of the vehicle. Zonal controllers typically require more multi-core, real-time processing. In contrast, the vehicle computer would require more multi-core applications processing. However, a combination of real-time and application cores may be used depending on the OEM approach. 

OEMs need to address modularity and flexibility to realize the benefits of these new vehicle architectural approaches. Modularity offers commonality between system elements by using the same hardware for different tasks, with the operation of these devices being defined by software. Flexibility allows the vehicle systems to be updated over time through over-the-air (OTA) updates to address software defects, enhance vehicle features or add new ones. Consolidated, software-defined ECUs that can be updated over time allow automakers to support their vehicles more effectively.

The key takeaway, regardless of the architectural approach of domain, zonal or a hybrid of the two, is that future vehicle E/E architectures are fundamentally requiring new vehicle processors. Vehicle processors need to support multi-core real-time and applications processing to move multiple physical ECUs into software-integrated virtual ECUs. Shifting from hardware-centric to software-defined vehicles simplifes upgrades over the vehicle’s life. Five years ago, NXP recognized that the evolution of software and networking requirements would outpace traditional MCUs and responded with the development of the S32 automotive processing platform to meet the challenge.

Consolidation with S32G vehicle processors

As part of NXP’s S32 platform, the S32G family of processors offers a consistent and scalable architecture that supports processing consolidation across vehicles. With pin-compatible chips ranging from a multi-core microcontroller to a combination of multi-core microcontrollers and microprocessors, S32G processors enable service-oriented gateways, domain controllers, safety processors and vehicle computers, amongst other vehicle functions. The processors support multiple applications in parallel with hardware isolation. Each processor core can only access its own hardware-protected memory and peripherals but has an efficient mechanism for data sharing as needed with other processors.

S32G processors combine safe and secure, real-time and application processing, with embedded hardware security, network acceleration and heterogeneous vehicle network interfaces. High-performance, multi-core Arm® MCU and MPU processors with application-specific, network hardware acceleration that offloads processors to provide valued services with deterministic network performance are needed by OEMs for the complex real-time environment of the modern vehicle. Embedded, high-performance hardware security acceleration, along with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) support for trusted key management, is enabled by its Hardware Security Engine (HSE).  The firewalled HSE is the root of trust supporting secure boot, providing system security services, and protecting against side-channel attacks.

ASIL D capabilities, including lockstep Arm Cortex-M7 microcontroller cores, and an industry-first ability to lockstep clusters of Arm Cortex-A53 applications cores, allow automotive safety to support new levels of performance with high-level operating systems and larger memory support.

The value of processing scalability has been seen with the popular S32G2 series of four compatible devices launched to production in 2Q 2021, as OEMs have leveraged them in several key areas of the vehicle with varying levels of processing needs. The S32G234M with three dual-core lockstep Cortex-M7 cores is available for consolidated real-time applications. For applications that require applications processing in addition to real-time processing, the S32G233A, S32G254A and S32G274A provide higher levels of performance with up to four Cortex-A53 cores to provide consolidation of vehicle applications and services.

Paving the way for software-defined vehicles

The shift to software-defined vehicles requires faster and more capable processors. Helping the automotive industry evolve at speed, NXP has extended its S32G family with the introduction of the S32G3 series with four initial devices that provide more performance, memory and networking capabilities. Software and pin-compatible with the S32G2 series, these devices provide 1.33x more real-time processing, 2.6x more applications processing, 2.5x more Ethernet bandwidth on two ports, 2x more isolation domains, 2x more L2 cache, and 2.5x more on-chip memory, than the current highest-performance S32G2 device, the S32G274A. The S32G family now has a broad range of 8 compatible processors that span an order of magnitude in processing. Being footprint compatible, OEMs can design a consolidation platform that can scale with the modularity and flexibility needed for the new vehicle E/E architectures. The S32G3 series helps designers realize further ECU consolidation with virtual ECUs for software-defined vehicles.

Addressing future vehicle architectures today

The S32G portfolio of processors helps support the transition from conventional vehicle architectures to domain and zonal architectures used by OEMs to address challenges and enable software-defined vehicles. By having this scalable portfolio with software and package pinout compatibility, the S32G offers OEMs many reuse opportunities and flexibility in developing software and where to place their application at different vehicle locations.  

S32G processors are supported with  evaluation and reference design boards, along with ruggedized GoldBox platforms for in-vehicle integration.  A wide range of enablement software, including the S32G Vehicle Integration Platform (GoldVIP), accelerate customer evaluation, development, proof-of-concept, and time-to-market. In addition, NXP also has a broad and growing ecosystem of partners, offering operating systems, virtualization, execution environments, applications software, boards, software tools, engineering services, deep-dive training, and cloud services.

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This guest article is authored by Brian Carlson, Director, Global Product and Solutions Marketing at NXP Semiconductors.


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