What OEMs Need to Know About Microcontrollers - Introducing Cypress Amber

As the automotive industry speeds forward, OEMs are realizing at an increasing rate how important it is to keep up with the digital wave. Switching to user-centric designs with a human-machine interface (HMI) that meets the needs of modern consumers is crucial to survival. And as car manufacturers become technology companies – as you either embrace digitalization or get left behind in the dust – cutting costs is becoming more important than ever for these highly complex and computer-like vehicles.

So how do we combat the trend of increasing prices for modern cars? One way is through integrating cost-effective microcontrollers.

Low-End Microcontrollers Help Lower Your Expenses

Microcontrollers (MCUs) power an increasingly wide range of automotive applications, from motor control to infotainment systems. And MCUs for automotive instrument clusters or headunits range from low- to high-end.

High-end MCUs, like ones by Intel or Nvidia, are quite easy to get an HMI framework to run on, since they typically support all standardized OpenGL ES-based 3D rendering solutions. But of course, they come with a steep monetary cost, which many OEMs begrudgingly pay.

On the other hand, there are low-end MCUs, which are much more cost-effective – making them a logical alternative for automakers. However, low-end MCUs do have some restrictions that make it difficult for many HMI solutions to support them, including:

  • Little RAM, flash and video memory
  • Little CPU power
  • Dynamic memory allocation may not be possible
  • Non-standard OS
  • Scarce expertise in configuring and bringing up the system correctly (e.g. LVDS output)

In addition, low-end MCUs are equipped with non-standard graphics APIs, which makes support particularly difficult due to unique specifications. Support for special target-optimized image formats, backgrounds and animation layers (as well as for running multiple layers at the same time), and having the ability to copy graphics to the display directly from flash memory (as opposed to video memory) are all necessary to make it all work.

…But none of that stops Luxoft.

Cypress Amber and Populus

At the recent Car HMi Europe event in Berlin, I demonstrated the capabilities of our Cypress Traveo Amber platform live, which we recently added support for. Here it is working with Populus, our complete tool chain for rapid HMI design, development and deployment:

402139_CO_Auto Blog post to be published ASAP_2.jpg

Using Cypress Amber with Populus creates an end-to-end solution that benefits both carmakers and consumers.

A chip of the Cypress Traveo MCU family, Cypress Amber is considered a low-end MCU. It’s also a highly integrated MCU for the automotive bus system, CAN, and for stepper motor controls (such as RPM and the speed needle) – both already included to save further costs.

Populus replaces traditional analogue- and mechanical-based instrument clusters with fully digital (LCD) or hybrid clusters (which contain mechanical functions and a LCD display). Populus also enables fast turnaround for development cycles by making prototyping available on a “normal” PC via its Windows simulation – and supports development all the way to the end of production. As for reliability, Populus has already been successfully integrated into small platforms that are currently on the road (e.g. with Renesas V850).

Pairing Cypress Amber and Populus together creates a stunning and invaluable experience for users, with bolder animations, appealing layout choices (such as modern or classic styles), and the ability to automatically switch display modes while driving (such as sport mode).

402139_CO_Auto Blog post to be published ASAP_1.jpg

Embracing Digital - Together with Luxoft

Luxoft’s industry-specific expertise combined with technological know-how makes us the perfect fit to support cars of the future. Even if others consider low-end MCUs “difficult”, we don’t shy away from potential cost savings – we even support other low-end platforms, such as Renesas D1Mx.

Our experts in Luxoft Automotive have the necessary 2D imaging knowledge and skills – including integrating content into background and foreground layers, applying special MCU compression techniques, and being able to directly draw from flash memory – to bring your vehicles to the next level. We are also very knowledgeable in system architecture – such as how much memory, flash and bandwidth is necessary for optimal visuals – and have porting expertise to create the smallest memory consumption footprint with very little RAM usage.

Our relationship with trusted partners like Renesas, Cypress and Greenhills keep us going strong, and we’re excited to extend our capabilities to solve your business challenges.

Be sure to contact us here to learn more.

Related content