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    The move to embedded multicore is gaining  momentum, as engineers widen the adoption of the technology beyond its  long-time roots in safety-related applications, to new products that  simply need more raw processing power.

     

    Ray Cornyn, director of automotive microelectronics for Freescale Semiconductor,  told an audience of Design News Radio listeners that approximately 40  percent of automotive braking and stability control systems now use  multicore, and the technology has begun to move into medical and  industrial applications, as well. He made the comments on the DN Radio  show, "MCUs Grow Up: The Next Generation of Multicore Controllers" last week.

     

    "Safety is one of the big drivers, but throughput and performance are  the other areas," he said. "Some of the new products that we've  introduced for the industrial market, predominantly for process control  but also for medical, are multicore devices."

     

    Multicore microcontroller units (MCUs), which consist of a single die  with two or more processor cores on board, have been used as an  electronic safety check device for more than a decade, Cornyn said. The  technology is well suited for such applications, because a dual-core  arrangement allows for one core to check the other, or for the system to  run identical code and then compare results. It has increased in  popularity of late, especially as engineers anticipate the introduction  of an ISO 26262 standard that ensures safe functionality of MCUs in  vehicles.

     

    "It's been around since the late 1990s for vehicle stability control  and braking," Cornyn said. "But it's starting to move into powertrain  controls as more of those systems become drive-by-wire."

    Still, multicore is beginning to move beyond the safety realm,  even  in the automobile. Cornyn said that Freescale has recently seen  multicore being used in hybrid vehicles to run internal combustion  engines, transmissions, battery chargers, electric motors, and  inverters. In those applications, the reason for using multicore is  performance-related, rather than safety-related.

     

    "You don't have [just] a single control loop in those vehicles,"  Cornyn said. "You have multiple control loops, and multicore processors  are very good at handling those."

    Cornyn told the Design News audience that a dual-core processor won't  necessarily get twice the throughput of a comparable single core, but  it will get 1.6 or 1.8 times as much performance. The important point  for designers to remember, he said, is that they need to make their  tasks run as independently as possible, so they don't need to get data  from neighboring cores. He added that commercial software tools can help  engineers look at their code to see how well it's running in multicore  environments.

     

    Cornyn acknowledged that the technology is inherently more complex.  "The first time you do it, it does require additional engineering work."

     

     

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