FPGAs speed development
of motorsport ECU
Life Racing has successfully used ProASIC Plus industrial-temperature FPGAs to enable unprecedented flexibility and performance in an automotive engine control unit
Life Racing, the electronics design arm of AER (Advanced Engine Research), has successfully used Actel's ProASIC Plus industrial-temperature field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to enable unprecedented flexibility and performance in an automotive engine control unit (ECU). Competitive racing car engine control units require complex tuning algorithms, optimised for each individual controller device, to manage engine timing.
With standard time processor unit (TPU) controllers, this critical software can require significant rework as application requirements change.
With design support from Actel's distributor Acal Technology, Life Racing was able to replace off-the-shelf TPU controllers with the in system programmable (ISP) single-chip, live at power-up APA450 ProASIC Plus devices.
Implementing a flexible hardware solution enabled Life Racing to shorten software development time, reduce debug requirements and speed overall time to market.
Recently, Life Racing's proprietary ECU design, the F88, was successfully used in the first race of the 2003 Superfund World Series - considered to be a critical stepping stone to Formula 1.
"Our core business is race engine control.
In a motorsport environment time is everything and everyone is under immense pressure.
The flexibility provided by Actel's ProASIC Plus FPGAs allows us to quickly design hardware and decrease overall software development time, which is usually the most pressured activity", said Mark Colby, Systems Designer at Life Racing.
"The ProASIC Plus ISP functionality allows us to accelerate development and testing.
Furthermore, we can increase the FPGA functionality post-deployment without the prospect of difficult or expensive chip replacements when upgrading a unit to an extended FPGA design".
Barry Marsh, Vice President of Product Marketing at Actel, said: "Life Racing's selection of our ProASIC Plus FPGA reinforces our long standing commitment to delivering highly reliable solutions for a variety of demanding markets, including in-cab and under-the-hood automotive applications.
With a broad portfolio of antifuse products certified to the industry's highest junction temperature, as well as industrial-temperature-grade flash-based FPGAs, customers can confidently choose the FPGA with the range of features that best suits their design requirements".
Within the F88 ECU, the main function of the 450,000-gate APA450 ProASIC Plus FPGA is to derive engine position from the engine's crankshaft trigger wheel signal.
The FPGA generates CPU interrupts based on abstract crankshaft angles, rather than the physical trigger wheel tooth positions used in traditional designs, providing increased flexibility and accuracy.
ECUs commonly schedule fuel and ignition actions as timed future events based on engine operating conditions at the point the scheduling code is executed.
Changes in operating conditions that occur before the event can result in angular errors, and the scheduling code is often highly dependent on the crankshaft trigger wheel tooth pattern for the engine in question.
In the F88, the ProASIC Plus FPGA allows the scheduling code to be independent of signal patterns.
The FPGA can also schedule events and continue to tune placement by monitoring engine operating conditions until the event occurs.
This increases code efficiency and flexibility and improves control accuracy under dynamic conditions.
The live-at-power-up functionality of the ProASIC Plus device enables designers to eliminate additional components traditionally needed to prevent fuel injector drivers or ignition coil drivers from turning on during power up.
For example, a single-chip solution with glue logic instantly available on CPU bus control lines, ProASIC Plus FPGAs enable a reduction in component count and board area.
The Life Racing ECU is currently also being considered for use by commercial road vehicle manufacturers.
The flexibility of the unit makes it appropriate for prototyping and R and D environments in which the unit must cope with a variety of engine setups.
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