By Steve Wainwright, (General Manager EMEA, VP Sales and Marketing, Freescale Semiconductor) Upcoming changes in the F1 regulations have put the spotlight on the ECU, or Engine Control Unit of the vehicle, often considered the “brain” of the car. The figures are indeed pretty impressive: the McLaren Electronic Systems ECU is connected to 120 sensors, collects and manages over 500 parameters, controls the system and reports back to the pit garage 750 million pieces of data during every Grand Prix, all live and in real time. These ECUs are probably one of the most advanced high tech systems that can be found today.
It’s quite different from the automotive industry, where everything is about scale and manufacturing efficiency. To give an idea of the volumes involved, Freescale has shipped more than 4 billion auto MCUs since 1996 and we help put 160 000 new cars on the road every day. In racing, volumes are measured in tens, while in the auto industry, its tens of millions – with a 15 year guaranteed availability.
At first sight, you could think those industries do not have a lot in common. But actually, they are driven by the same trends. The world of motorsport is changing rapidly on a global scale and technology is at the center of this evolution Formula 1 has constantly looked at technology to help improve competition and the race experience for its fans. Semiconductors play an increasingly important role in this by helping to address applications such as fuel injection and telemetry. This relevance will increase in the future as new regulations that will be implemented from 2014 will reduce the gap between racing and mainstream car technologies.
At the same time, innovations in the automotive industry are also more and more dependent on electronic components and software. The car is probably the most computing intensive platform the consumer owns today. The automobile has evolved from being a purely mechanical system to an information system with currently more than 4km of communication cables. This information system, working in real time, is now helping the driver. For example if the vehicle cameras or radar detect a pedestrian crossing suddenly the road, the car is going to anticipate the braking and steering to reduce the time then needed for the driver to react.
Racing is one of the best sources of innovation for automotive technologies. It is a moving laboratory and the ultimate proving ground for our products, pushing the boundaries in terms of performance and applications. This is what allows our development engineers to understand application requirements at the extremes of the performance window, providing accelerated testing and validation within the most challenging environment. Our processors have to operate perfectly in extreme conditions, where there is heat, electrical noise and vibration. Everything electronics does not like. One of the best examples of this transfer of expertise is the “Connected car”. Due to our experience in Motorsport these communication techniques are finding their way into mainstream cars with features such as accident and location reporting due to airbag deployment, signaling a requirement for assistance. If you think about the requirements attached to the data transferred by the ECU to each teams garage and facilities during a Grand Prix, you can imagine how it is helping us to better understand what will be required to ensure security and privacy of road cars as they will soon be networked and connected to Internet.
Freescale’s involvement in motorsport is a natural extension of its automotive leadership. We bring to our partnership with McLaren Electronic Systems over 50 years of expertise in automotive electronics, while in return it provides us with unique testing environment for our products… and racing stimulus!