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MCU cluster

For sophisticated HMIs

The i.MX8 series of multi-core processors features three CAN FD on-chip modules. They are dedicated for automotive cockpits, but also suitable for industrial human machine (HMI) interfaces.

The i.MX8 series comprise three models: Quad, QuadPlus, and QuadMax (Photo: NXP)

The multi-core MCU family by NXP is based on up to six 64-bit ARM-A processors plus four Cortex-A53 and one Cortex-A72 cores. Of course, a powerful Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) on chip is also included. The chip designed for sophisticated display applications provides a lot of communication options including three CAN FD modules (FlexCAN originally developed by Freescale, which has been acquired recently by NXP). FlexCAN now complies with ISO 11898-1:2015 (ISO CAN FD). Other interfaces are audio video bridging (AVB), Gigabit-Ethernet, USB, and many other serial ports. Besides automotive dashboards such as instrument clusters, infotainment, heads-up displays, and rear-sear screens, the MCU cluster can be used in industrial applications driving up to four HD displays.

The i.MX8 family provides functional safety capability (ASIL-B) and supports up to 16 hardware-based firewall domains engineered to isolate crashes, external attacks and other system level issues. In addition, the Safe Assure Fail-Over capable display controllers monitor the system's graphics pipeline and if a failure is detected automatically fail-over to a fully isolated display path. Users continue to see critical information on every display, even if the processor is rebooted. In addition, the processor cluster incorporates security technologies and standards, including encrypted boot, elliptical curve cryptography, secure key storage, as well as support for AES (Advances Encryption Standard), SHE (Secure Hardware Extension), and other automotive security standards.

The different models allow scalability. Customers can design a single PCB platform, single system software build, and utilize different i.MX 8 processors to address a broad spectrum of specifications and requirements. The product is supported by several operating systems ranging from Android via QNX to Linux.

The chips are available in commercial (-20 °C to +105 °C), industrial (-40 °C to +105 °C), and automotive (-40 °C to +125 °C) versions. Shipping will start in spring 2017. Evaluation kits are already available. They include a processor board, an expansion board, and up to eight camera inputs for 360-degree vision. Possibly the i.MX8 products will be sold soon by Qualcomm, who continues to bid for NXP.

Qualcomm has designed its own Snapdragon-based connected car reference platform but it is said that this is far behind the performance of Nvidia’s Tegra processor. The NXP multi-core MCU seems to have a higher performance than Nvidia’s solution. Accordingly, it would make sense for Qualcomm to acquire NXP to catch up and get a piece of the future car cake.