Rising fuel prices and environmental concerns are accelerating electronic innovations in automotives, with worldwide automotive microcontroller units (MCUs) expected to reach $6.3 billion in 2012 -- 50% of which will be responsible for "green" optimizations, according to Gartner, Inc.
In 2008, worldwide automotive MCUs are on pace to total $5.3 billion. Many of the technologies used in "green" vehicles, such as hybrids, are managed through MCUs.
"MCUs play an instrumental role in accelerating electronic innovations in automotives by making the vehicle lighter and more efficient, and drivers more informed," said Amy Leong, research director for Gartner. "Increasing complexity in automotive electronics is amplifying the need for higher-performance 32-bit MCUs with more embedded memory."
The improved fuel economy of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) is attributable to the addition of an electric engine to the combustion gas engine, which can take over from the gas engine when the car is stopped at lights or in traffic, or with newer models, can power the car at lower speeds. The smooth and uninterrupted blending of power between the two engines requires great computer control and highly complex software, which is provided by MCU technology with enhanced on-chip memory. The "brain" of the hybrid engine control unit (ECU) is the 32-bit MCU, which provides high-speed operation up to 200 MHz and on-chip memory of more than 4MB. It constantly monitors the driving conditions and manages the power flow between the generator, battery and motor.
As HEV production is only a small part of new car production, the automotive industry is moving to implement new technological innovations in combustion engine cars to improve energy efficiency. "Using more electronics in vehicles plays a critical role and MCUs inside these electronics provide higher-precision control and on-demand capability, leading to considerable improvement in fuel-efficiency and a reduction in emissions," Leong said.
MCU-enabled applications such as electronic power steering and multiplexing/networking reduce overall vehicle weight and improve gas mileage by eliminating mechanical systems and dedicated wiring. Many consumers are already realizing the benefits of GPS and onboard computers to help route around traffic congestion and maximize fuel economy by monitoring speed and driving habits.
"With increasingly stringent emission regulations and higher gasoline prices, the automotive industry is making strides toward cleaner emissions and better fuel economy," said Leong. "In the next decade, we will see an accelerated adoption of fuel-efficient technologies in all cars worldwide. Additionally, we expect the revolutionary zero-emission and alternative fuel solutions to be commercialized after 2015. All of these innovations will rely heavily on electronic control systems, and therefore MCUs."