The automotive industry is undergoing a major paradigm shift. The autonomous drive revolution is increasing the complexity of electronic systems and shrinking design cycles. With the growing focus on safety and fuel efficiency, hybrids and electric vehicles are gaining traction.

The electronic systems on these vehicles should not only meet the functional requirements, but ensure defect-free and fail-safe operation throughout the life of the car. The components used in these systems must meet or exceed reliability standards, as defined by various industry bodies such as the Automotive Electronic Council (AEC). Safety-critical automotive applications should also be secure from any kind of unauthorized access, tamper, or corruption that can cause changes in the functionality of these systems, leading to catastrophic results including loss of life.

Security: Critical to Automotive Designs

Automotive innovation and technological advancements are driving the need to have security solutions in place to mitigate the associated security threats. Although innovative features including advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), vehicle connectivity, and autonomous driving have made significant contributions to vehicle comfort and safety levels, they’ve also made vehicles susceptible to various security threats like cyberattacks.

For instance, V2V/V2I communication is a feature that enables a vehicle to send and receive safety-related messages to other cars, using a dedicated on-board short range communication system. It’s critical that all V2V/V2I messages originate from a trustworthy source, and there must be safeguards to ensure no messages are modified. There can be serious consequences if a trustworthy and secure communication is not established between vehicles. Increased use of shared information and in-vehicle communication has also made vehicles prone to cyberattacks. Additionally, users are concerned about privacy, requiring assurance that messages don’t divulge driver identity or location data. Anonymous vehicular safety information should only go to pre-authorized vehicles and other entities.

FPGAs with integrated security features like differential power analysis (DPA) protection, cryptographic accelerators, advanced encryption standards (AES), secure hash algorithms (SHA), tamper detectors, physically un-duplicable function (PUF), and so on, can provide security at the hardware, design, and intel levels, enabling implementation of secured automotive solutions.

Safety-critical Automotive Applications

Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS)

ADAS are a category of electronic systems that provide passive and active feedback to improve driver safety and comfort. They are predictive systems that provide early warnings of potential dangers with the aim of preventing accidents. These systems are seeing increased adoption by OEMs due to increased awareness of consumer safety and government legislations. Various features of ADAS include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, collision avoidance, and pedestrian detection systems. ADAS are based on a complex configuration of sensors for relaying information like speed, temperature, object presence, signal, and lane detection to the processing and control unit. These inputs are processed for image enhancement, distortion correction, object identification, and motion estimation, before being analyzed to take corrective actions. The control system takes the processed inputs and controls outputs, like braking or alerting the driver. An ADAS must adhere to its functionality to prevent accidents, which would require a secure fail-safe system implementation. FPGAs can implement data processing, display functions, along with providing a reliable and secure solution.

Using on-­board dedicated short-­range radio communication devices, a V2X communications system transmits safety-­related messages to other vehicles (Figure 1). These messages include information about the vehicle’s speed, direction, brake status, and size. The systems also receive the same information about other vehicles. V2X-equipped vehicles are “aware” of and can alert other drivers to some threats quicker than sensors, cameras, or radar because of their longer detection distance and ability to “see” around corners or through other vehicles.

Figure 1: Vehicle Connectivity: V2X (V2V and V2I).

Having said that, there can be serious consequences (including loss of life) if the V2X system can’t ensure messages originate from a trustworthy source and aren’t modified between sender and receiver. FPGAs can implement a secure communication system for V2X using symmetric or asymmetric cryptographic techniques and generating private keys for public key infrastructure (PKI) systems (Figure 2).

Figure 2: FPGAs can implement a secure communication system for V2X.

Engine Control Units (E/HEV)

A constant rise in fuel prices, recent legislations on carbon emissions, and customers demanding better performance (and quality) are propelling the automotive industry to emerge with solutions offering better alternatives to the internal combustion engine. Electrification of the powertrain is emerging as a top trend with a variety of options offered to the customers including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric (Figure 3). Automotive electronics play an important role in this context of electrification, leading to new and complex configurations of the engine control unit. Hybrid/electric engine control units pose some challenges to the designers in terms of:

  • Integration of various components
  • Ease of configuration
  • Platform scalability and migration
  • Immunity against neutron errors
  • Security against tamper and copying
  • Low power consumption
  • Total cost of application

Flash FPGAs, with the benefits of programmability, security, reliability, hardware configurability, and extended temperature support, enable designers to address the previously mentioned challenges

Figure 3: Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric vehicles offer better alternatives to the internal combustion engine.

FPGAs for Automotive Applications: Benefits

With increasing complexity and concerns regarding driver safety, FPGAs are becoming a logical fit for next-generation automotive systems. There are several factors supporting the adoption of FPGAs in automotive applications.

Multi-threading and Parallel Processing Capabilities

FPGAs are capable of running multiple functions in parallel, which provides great advantages in applications such as ADAS, Smart Park Assist systems, and power control systems (in electric vehicles). Such applications involve simultaneous processing of different data forms, while providing feedback to the driver or generating multiple signals for control functions. ADAS and Smart Park Assist system applications, for example, require simultaneous processing of data coming from multiple sources like cameras, sensors, and so on. The processing IPs can be implemented in the FPGA fabric, enabling a single device to execute multiple functions simultaneously. Most FPGAs also come with integrated peripheral cores that implement commonly-used functions like communication over controller area network (CAN). These peripheral cores are optimized and can be used in conjunction with the parallel processing of the various input signals.

Implementing Secure and Reliable Solutions

A modern car includes multiple processing units and sensors that control and monitor the various functions. Applications including ADAS, V2V/V2I, and Park Assist systems have significantly improved the safety of car users, but these advanced features have also introduced new potential risks. An important step in creating secure systems is to ensure the system is protected from malicious tamper attacks. Today’s FPGAs come with several integrated security features like advanced crypto accelerators, AES, SHA, elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), secure bit streams, PKI, and DPA resistance, all of which enable FPGAs to implement secure systems.

Another important aspect for designing automotive systems is high reliability—systems are required to perform for several years without environmental effects like single event upsets (SEU). Due to their flash-based architecture, flash FPGAs are immune to SEU and provide zero failure in time (FIT) rate, addressing the high reliability requirements of automotive applications. This greatly simplifies redundancy requirements and improves reliability in such critical systems.

Automotive Designs Moving Towards A Platform Concept

Carmakers now prefer a platform-based implementation that involves developing one design as a base that gets modified to differentiate the various models. This approach enables carmakers to reduce their design cycle time and introduce new features.

Programmability and availability of broad resources make FPGAs ideal for creating platform solutions. Because FPGAs are programmable, they provide the option for carmakers to implement last minute design changes without significantly increasing time to market.

Shorter Automotive Design Cycles

The automotive design cycle is becoming shorter, pushing Tier 1 companies to not only quickly create design prototypes, but meet the desired levels of performance. FPGAs, with their programmable and flexible architecture, provide an ideal platform to develop prototypes, evaluate performance, and finalize the design. 

Enabling High Reliability and Security in Automotive

Security and reliability are major concerns in automotive applications, and automotive systems need to meet the high reliability and security regulations prevalent in the industry.