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The General Purpose Instrumentation Bus

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The CANbus

Electronics in cars

2. VXI

Application Note 030

Short Tutorial on VXI/MXI

Ron Wolfe

The purpose of this application note is to help you gain an understanding of VXI and MXI concepts. This application note is divided into two tutorial sections. The first section discusses VXI and the second section discusses MXI.

VXI Tutorial

This section contains an overall introduction to VXI (VMEbus eXtensions for Instrumentation).

What is VXI?

VXIbus is an exciting and fast-growing platform for instrumentation systems. The VXI Consortium was formed in

1987 with a charter of defining a multivendor instrument-on-a-card standard. Since that time, the Consortium has defined system-level components required for hardware interoperatibility. The IEEE officially adopted the VXI specification, IEEE 1155, in March 1993. The VXIplug&play Systems Alliance, founded in September 1993, sought a higher level of system standardization to cover all VXI system components. By focusing on software standardization, the alliance defined standards to make VXI systems easy to integrate and use while maintaining multivendor software interoperatibility. With the success of multivendor standards and solid technical specifications, VXI is backed by more than 250 vendors, with more than 1000 products available. The success of

VXI as an open, multivendor platform is a testament to the value of multivendor standards, and has made VXI the platform of choice for open instrumentation systems.

VXI is used in many different applications ranging from test and measurement and ATE, to data acquisition and analysis in both research and industrial automation. Although some VXI systems today are purely VXI, many users are migrating to VXI by integrating it into existing systems consisting of GPIB instruments, VME cards, or plug-in data acquisition (DAQ) boards. You can control a VXI system with a remote general-purpose computer using the high-speed Multisystem eXtension Interface (MXI) bus interface or GPIB. You can also embed a computer into a

VXI chassis and control the system directly. Whatever your system configuration needs may be, VXI offers the flexibility and performance to take on today’s most challenging applications.

The Need for VXIbus

The demand for an industry-standard instrument-on-a-card architecture has been driven by the need for physical size reduction of rack-and-stack instrumentation systems, tighter timing and synchronization between multiple instruments, and faster transfer rates than the 1 Mbytes/s rate of the 8-bit GPIB. The modular form factor, high bandwidth, and commercial success of the VMEbus made it particularly attractive as an instrumentation platform.

The tremendous popularity of GPIB also made it attractive as a model for device communication and instrument control protocols. The VXIbus specification adds the standards necessary to combine the VMEbus with GPIB to create a new, modular instrumentation platform that can meet the needs of future instrumentation applications.


Product and company names are trademarks or trade names of their respective companies.

340243B-01 © Copyright 1996 National Instruments Corporation. All rights reserved.

April 1996

VXI brings the following benefits to instrumentation users:

• Open, multivendor standards maximize flexibility and minimize obsolescence

• Increased system throughput reduces test time and/or increases capabilities

• Smaller size and higher density reduce floor space, enhance mobility or portability, and give close proximity to devices(s) being tested or controlled

• More precise timing and synchronization improve measurement capability

• Standardized VXIplug&play software eases system configuration, programming, and integration

• Modular, rugged design improves reliability, increases mean-time between failure (MTBF), and decreases mean-time to repair (MTTR)

Members of the VXIbus Consortium and the VXIplug&play Systems Alliance have combined their expertise to develop technically sound standards for both hardware and software, bringing the entire industry into a new generation of easy-to-use instrumentation.

The Value of Open Industry Standards

The baseline VXI hardware specifications are a mandate for interoperatibility between hardware products from different vendors. These specifications cover mechanical and environmental requirements such as module sizes, mainframe and module cooling, and EMC compatibility between modules, as well as automated system initialization and backplane communication protocols. The VXIplug&play Systems Alliance builds on these baseline specifications to address the system as a whole with the goal of having the end-user up and running in “Five minutes or less.” Building a system based on open industry standards means that you choose components for your system based on your requirements, regardless of vendor. Open standards also ensure that once your system is built, your investment will continue to pay dividends well into the future.

Both the VXI Consortium and the VXIplug&play Systems Alliance remain strong, active organizations committed to maintaining VXI as an open, multivendor technology and increasing its ease of use and end-user success. In fact, many of the largest instrument suppliers in the world are members of both organizations, including National

Instruments, GenRad, Hewlett-Packard, Racal Instruments, and Tektronix. With VXIplug&play, you are assured that components from different vendors will work reliably in the same system. Members of the VXI Consortium and the VXIplug&play Systems Alliance have combined their expertise to develop technically sound standards for both hardware and software, bringing the entire industry into a new generation of instrumentation – a generation that stresses ease of use and open systems without sacrificing flexibility or performance.

VXIbus Mechanical Configuration

Physically, a VXIbus system consists of a mainframe chassis that has the physical mounting and backplane connections for plug-in modules, as shown in Figure 1. The VXIbus uses the industry-standard IEEE-1014

VMEbus as a base architecture to build upon. As shown in Figure 2, VXI uses the full 32-bit VME architecture, but adds two board sizes and one connector. The P1 connector and the center row of the P2 connector are retained exactly as defined by the VME specification. The VME user-definable pins on the P2 connector and the additional pins on P3, the third VXI connector, implement instrumentation signals between plug-in modules directly on the backplane.


Figure 1. A VXIbus System

The VXIbus specification includes packaging requirements, electromagnetic compatibility, power distribution, cooling and air flow for VXIbus mainframes and plug-in modules. The modules are installed in the mainframe slots. LEDs, switches, test points, and I/O connections are accessible from the module front panel.

Figure 2. VXI Module Sizes


Module and Mainframe Cooling

Airflow direction is from bottom (P3) to top (P1). Cooling requirements must be established for all modules and included in product specifications. These requirements must include an operating point of minimum airflow requirement. Mainframe suppliers must also provide similar information for their mainframes.

EMC and Noise

The addition of a new module to a VXIbus system must not degrade the performance of any other module. The

VXIbus specification includes near-field radiation and susceptibility requirements, which prevent one module from interfering with the operation of other modules. To help meet these requirements, the VXIbus module width was increased from the 0.8 in. VME requirement to 1.2 in., so that there is enough room for the module to be completely enclosed in a metal case for shielding. The metal cases connect to backplane grounds. Thus, you can use existing

VME boards in a VXIbus chassis, but not vice versa.

The VXIbus specification also has conducted-emissions and susceptibility requirements, which prevent any power supply noise from affecting the performance of a module. For far-field radiated emissions such as FCC and VDE, each module must not contribute more than its share of the total. For example, in a mainframe that holds 13 modules, each module must not contribute more than 1/13 of the allowed total. Because of the desire for extremely precise time coupling between modules using the backplane, it is necessary to minimize the noise and crosstalk on the backplane clock and trigger signal lines. The backplane is required to be a single, monolithic board across any one slot. The VXIbus specification has a tutorial section on how to design a backplane for low noise and high signal integrity.


Hardware Registers

VXI modules must have a specific set of registers located at specific addresses, as shown in Figure 3. The upper 16

KB of the 64 KB A16 address space are reserved for VXIbus devices. Each VXI device has an 8-bit logical address that specifies where its registers are located in this address space. A single VXI system can have up to 256 VXI devices. The logical address of a VXI device, which can be manually set or automatically configured by the system at startup, is analogous to the GPIB address of a GPIB device.

Figure 3. VXI Configuration Registers

Register-Based Devices

Because of the VXI configuration registers, which are required for all VXI devices, the system can identify each

VXI device, its type, model and manufacturer, address space, and memory requirements. VXIbus devices with only this minimum level of capability are called Register-Based devices. With this common set of configuration registers, the centralized Resource Manager (RM), essentially a software module, can perform automatic system and memory configuration when the system is initialized.

Message-Based Communication

In addition to Register-Based devices, the VXIbus specification also defines Message-Based devices, which are required to have communication registers and configuration registers. All Message-Based VXIbus devices, regardless of the manufacturer, can communicate at a minimum level using the VXI-specified Word Serial Protocol.

When minimum communication is possible, higher-performance communication channels, such as shared-memory channels, can be established to take advantage of the VXIbus bandwidth capabilities.


Word Serial Protocol

The VXIbus Word Serial Protocol is functionally very similar to the IEEE-488 protocol, which transfers data messages to and from devices one byte (or word) at a time. Thus, VXI Message-Based devices communicate in a fashion very similar to IEEE-488 instruments. In general, Message-Based devices typically contain some level of local intelligence that uses or requires a high level of communication.

All VXI Message-Based devices are required to use the Word Serial Protocol to communicate in a standard way.

The protocol is called word serial, because if you want to communicate with a Message-Based device, you do so by writing and reading 16-bit words one at a time to and from the Data In (write Data Low) and Data Out (read Data

Low) hardware registers located on the device itself. Word Serial communication is paced by the bits in the response register of the device, indicating whether the Data In register is empty and whether the Data Out register is full. This operation is very similar to Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter (UART) on a serial port.

Commander/Servant Hierarchies

The VXIbus defines a Commander/Servant communication protocol so you can construct hierarchical systems using conceptual layers of VXI devices. This structure is like an inverted tree. A Commander is any device in the hierarchy with one or more associated lower-level devices, or Servants. A Servant is any device in the subtree of a

Commander. A device can be both a Commander and a Servant in a multiple-level hierarchy.

A Commander has exclusive control of the communication and configuration registers of its immediate Servants

(one or more). Any VXI module has one and only one Commander. Commanders communicate with Servants through the communication registers of the Servants using the Word Serial Protocol if the Servant is a Message-

Based device, or by device-specific register manipulation if the Servant is a Register-Based device. Servants communicate with their Commander by responding to the Word Serial commands and queries from their

Commander through the Word Serial protocol if they are Message-Based, or by device-specific register status if they are Register-Based.

Interrupts and Asynchronous Events

Servants can communicate asynchronous status and events to their Commander through hardware interrupts or by writing specific messages (signals) directly to their Commander's hardware Signal Register. Nonbusmaster devices always transmit such information via interrupts, whereas devices that have busmaster capability can either use interrupts or send signals. Some Commanders can receive signals only, whereas others might be only interrupt handlers.

The VXIbus specification contains defined Word Serial commands so that a Commander can understand the capabilities of its Message-Based Servants and configure them to generate interrupts or signals in a particular way.

For example, a Commander can instruct its Servants to use a particular interrupt line, to send signals rather than generate interrupts, or configure the reporting of only certain status or error conditions.

Although the Word Serial Protocol is reserved for Commander/Servant communications, peer-to-peer communication between two VXI devices can be established through a specified shared-memory protocol or by simply writing specific messages directly to the signal register of the device.


Slot 0 and the Resource Manager

The leftmost slot of a VXI chassis has special system resources such as backplane clocks, configuration signals, and synchronization (trigger) signals and therefore must be occupied by a device with VXI “Slot 0” capabilities. The

VXI Resource Manager (RM) function, essentially a software module, can reside on any VXI module or even on an external computer. The RM, in combination with the Slot 0 device, identifies each device in the system, assigns logical addresses, memory configurations, and establishes Commander/Servant hierarchies using the Word Serial

Protocol to grant Servants to the Commanders in the system. After establishing the Commander/Servant hierarchy, the RM issues the Begin Normal Operation Word Serial command to all top-level Commanders. During normal system operation, the RM may also halt the system and/or remap the hierarchy if necessary.

Three Ways to Control a VXI System

System configuration is divided into three categories. The first type of VXI system consists of a VXI mainframe linked to an external controller via the GPIB. The controller talks across the GPIB to a GPIB-VXI interface module installed inside the VXI mainframe. The GPIB-VXI interface transparently translates the GPIB protocol to and from the VXI Word Serial protocol.

The second configuration involves a VXI-based embedded computer. The embedded computer is a VXI module that resides inside the VXI mainframe and connects directly to the VXI backplane. This configuration offers the smallest physical size for a VXI system as well as performance benefits due to direct connection to the VXI backplane.

The third configuration uses a high-speed MXIbus link from an external computer to control the VXI backplane.

The external computer operates as though it is embedded directly inside the VXI mainframe. This configuration is functionally equivalent to the embedded method, except that it has the flexibility for use with a wide variety of computers and workstations.

VXI Bus Interface Software

One of the most important considerations when selecting a VXI system is software. Software is the key to developing successful systems based on the VXIbus. There are many programming languages, operating systems, and application development environments (ADE) to choose from when building a VXI system. It is important to make the right decisions to realize all of the advantages that VXI has to offer, while minimizing your development costs now and in the future.

Your software decisions not only affect overall system performance and system capability, but also development time and productivity. You should choose tools that have complete debugging capability and that work with the most popular operating systems and programming languages. If you choose to program your VXI system using a standard language such as C, C++, Basic, ADA, or ATLAS, you should realize that standard programming languages do not come with built-in VXI capability. Rather, VXI capability is added through a VXI bus interface software library. This software component is very important, because it affects the choice of VXI computer hardware, operating system, programming language, and ADE.


Industry-Wide Software Standards

As a step toward industry-wide software compatibility, the VXIplug&play alliance developed one specification for

I/O software – the Virtual Instrument System Architecture, or VISA. The VISA specification, VPP-4.1, defines a next-generation I/O software standard not only for VXI, but also for GPIB and serial interfaces. With the VISA standard endorsed by over 50 of the largest instrumentation companies in the industry including Tektronix, Hewlett-

Packard, and National Instruments, VISA unifies the industry by facilitating the development of interoperable and reusable software components able to stand the test of time. Before VISA, there were many different commercial implementations of I/O software for VXI, GPIB, and serial interfaces; however, none of these I/O software products were standardized or interoperable.

Figure 4. VXIbus System Software Components

The VISA standard lays the foundation and provides a unified migration path for industry-wide software compatibility. One of the most notable benefits of VISA is its ability to significantly reduce the time and effort involved in programming different I/O interfaces. Instead of using a different Application Programmers Interface

(API) devoted to each interface bus, you can use the VISA API regardless of whether your system is controlled by


With the vast number of choices in instrumentation and software now available, most users do not want to be locked into a specific vendor for their systems. Instead, they would prefer the freedom to select the best instruments and software available from multiple vendors and have it all work together with minimal effort. The IEEE 488.1 and

IEEE 488.2 standards (for GPIB) and the IEEE 1155 standard (for VXI) ensured that the hardware would be interoperable, but this approach was not taken for the software. Therefore, the ideal new driver architecture should be a standard adopted by as many of the major vendors as possible. Then you could be assured that any code written for your instrument is portable across controller vendors as well as operating systems. This is exactly what the

VXIplug&play Systems Alliance has done with VISA.


MXI Tutorial

This section contains an overall introduction to MXI.

MXIbus Overview

The MXI bus is a powerful, high-speed communication link that interconnects devices using a flexible cabling scheme. Derived from the VMEbus, MXI provides a high-performance way of controlling VXI systems using commercially available desktop computers and workstations. National Instruments developed and published the

MXI specification and released it as an open industry standard in 1989. In 1995, National Instruments introduced

MXI-2, which offers even higher performance.

A MXIbus system configuration combines the performance benefits of a custom embedded VXI computer with the flexibility and availability of general-purpose computers. The MXIbus system configuration uses the high-speed

MXIbus cable to connect an external computer directly to the VXI backplane. With the MXIbus, you can locate the computer directly next to the VXI mainframe, or up to 20 meters away. Using the MXIbus, you can easily add other

VXI mainframes, and use the plug-in slots in the external computer for GPIB-control, plug-in DAQ boards, or other peripheral adapter cards.

For instrument control, MXI complements high-speed platforms such as PCI by harnessing their high-throughput potential. PCI-based desktop PCs compete with the most advanced computer workstations to provide a low-cost platform that delivers superior performance. You can use low-cost desktop computers to control sophisticated VXI instrumentation without sacrificing performance or control. More importantly, as new desktop computers incorporate the latest technology including faster, more capable microprocessors and RAM, you can easily upgrade your VXI system as these newer and faster computers emerge to immediately reap increased VXI performance gains. Thus, a PCI-based MXI-2 solution such as our VXI-PCI8000 gives you excellent performance now with headroom for the future.

A New Generation of VXI Connectivity

Many VXI users migrate from GPIB-based systems. As a result, the National Instruments

GPIB-VXI is a popular way to control VXI instruments from a GPIB controller. An increasingly popular way to control VXI, however, is to use a custom VXI computer that plugs directly into the VXI mainframe, such as the

National Instruments VXIpc™ and VXIcpu™ Series of embedded VXI computers. This embedded approach is technically attractive because the computer communicates directly with the VXIbus and is tightly coupled to the instruments.

Although an embedded computer is very powerful, custom VXI computers cannot possibly keep pace with the general-purpose computer market. In the last decade, specialized instrument controllers have rapidly declined.

General-purpose PCs and workstations, with their vast array of software and accessories, have revolutionized our industry. By using general-purpose computers, the instrumentation industry directly benefits from the billions of

R&D dollars spent each year in the general computer market.

Most VXI users would prefer to use an industry-standard computer provided by a computer vendor rather than a

VXI-specific computer provided by an instrument vendor. In fact, for VXI to truly become the platform for the next millennium, it must align itself with the powerful general computer market. Then VXI can take advantage of the billions of dollars being spent and bring this investment to bear on the needs of the instrumentation community.

VXI must be able to take full advantage of industry-standard PCs with PCI, EISA, and ISA, as well as workstations from Sun, HP, and others. VXI also must have a transparent mechanism for extending to multiple mainframes, and a way to accommodate instruments that cannot physically fit on a VXI module. MXIbus meets each of these needs.


The Need for MXIbus

Today’s market demands that you add value to our Test & Measurement systems. You need modular testing systems that can evolve with technological innovations in our industry. You want increased data throughput and the utmost in computing power; you want flexible, high-speed connectivity between multiple VXI/VME mainframes; and you want to be able to keep up with innovations in PC and workstation technology. Today, sophisticated I/O architectures such as PCI are accelerating data throughput – who knows what tomorrow may hold. How can you take these benefits both now, and in the future? We believe that the answer is MXI.

MXI provides you with a solution that combines the performance benefits of an embedded VXI computer with the flexibility of a general purpose desktop computer. Our VXI-PCI8000 controller and our next generation MXI-2 provides you with an ultra high-performance VXI connectivity solution that can meet your needs both today and well into the future. Although traditional connectivity solutions have proved to be very effective, they also have proved to be the bottleneck in VXI test systems because the software protocol overhead associated with these methods significantly reduced the achievable throughput on the link. Using MXI, this bottleneck is eliminated altogether because MXI devices are connected at the hardware level by mapping each physically separate system into a shared memory space. Physically separate devices transparently share resources through simple reads and writes to the appropriate address in memory. Our next generation MXI-2 products enhance VXI connectivity by defining a single memory-mapped backplane-on-a-bus that can transparently extend bus-level I/O, VXI triggering, interrupts, and systems clocks between systems. You can now use a single cable to conveniently share trigger and timing information between mainframes in a multiple mainframe configuration. The MXI 2.0 specification also defines a synchronous data transfer method that increases MXIbus throughput for block data transfers. From a system standpoint, this means that MXI throughput rates can easily keep up with the data rates of high-performance computers, peripherals, and instrumentation . From a user standpoint, this translates to increased performance and reduced time to test. By choosing a PC-based MXI approach, you are choosing to add value to your VXI instrumentation systems by leveraging technologies that make sense from both a cost and performance perspective.


MXIbus Applications

You can use MXIbus for a variety for a variety of applications. You can interface industry-standard desktop computers to VXIbus or VMEbus; you can create multiple chassis configurations using our VXI-MXI or VME-MXI extenders; and you can integrate VXI and VME chassis into the same test system.

Figures 5 and 6 show two common configurations with MXIbus.

Figure 5. PC Using MXI to Control a VXIbus System

Figure 6. MXI Used for Multiple Mainframe VXI System


How Does MXIbus Work?

MXIbus is a general purpose, 32-bit multimaster system bus on a cable. MXI interconnects multiple devices using a flexible cabling method similar to GPIB, but uses a hardware memory-mapped communication scheme that eliminates the software overhead. MXI devices can directly access each other’s resources by performing simple read and writes to appropriate address locations. The new MXI-2 standard expands on the MXI-1 standard by exporting all VXI backplane signals such as VXI-defined trigger lines, interrupt lines and system clocks, in addition to the standard MXIbus signals directly to the cabled bus. MXI-2 users can accomplish critical timing and synchronization tasks between up to eight, daisy-chained MXI devices.

MXI device connectivity is accomplished at the hardware level. The MXI cable serves as a transparent link that interconnects multiple MXI devices. These devices are interlaced by mapping together portions of their individual address spaces so that a system composed of multiple devices behaves as a single system with a shared address space. Figure 7 shows the MXIbus hardware memory-mapped communication. The immediate benefit of this approach is increased data throughput due to the absence of software overhead.

Each MXIbus hardware interface has address window circuitry that detects internal (local) bus cycles that map out to the MXIbus. In addition, this circuitry also detects external (remote) MXIbus cycles of connected devices whose addresses map into the shared memory space of the overall system. When a hardware write or read occurs with an address that maps across MXI, the MXI hardware interlocks the bus cycle between the devices via the MXIbus.

This hardware scheme is the same as that used by embedded VXI controllers.

Figure 7. MXIbus Hardware Memory-Mapped Communication


MXIbus Signals

MXIbus signals include 32 multiplexed address and data lines with parity, address modifiers for multiple address spaces, single-level multimaster prioritized bus arbitration, a single interrupt line, a bus error line for handling timeouts and deadlock conditions, and handshake lines for asynchronous operation. Data transfers of 8, 16, and 32 bits are possible, as well as invisible read/write operations and integrated block-mode transfers. With synchronous

MXI, the MXI-2 product line can achieve burst data rates as high as 33 Mbytes/s, and sustained throughput rates exceeding 20 Mbytes/s, regardless of the length of the MXI-2 cable

MXIbus Cables

A single MXI cable can be any length up to 20 m. Up to eight MXI devices can be daisy-chained on a single MXI cable length. If multiple MXI devices are daisy-chained together, the total cable distance must be no more than 20 m. The MXI-1 cable is a flexible, round cable similar to a GPIB cable (about 0.6 in. in diameter). Internally there are 48 single-ended, twisted-pair signal lines. MXI-2 features an improved cabling scheme that uses a single doubleshielded cable between all devices, and a single high-density, high reliability 144-pin connector per device. In this fashion, all MXI-2 devices share not only the MXIbus itself, but also the VXI-defined trigger lines, interrupt lines, systems clocks, and other signals that were available on MXI-1 products as an optional second connector and cable

(INTX). MXI-1 products use an MXI-1 cable between devices, and an optional INTX cable to share trigger/timing information between mainframes in a multiple mainframe configuration. MXI-2 eliminates the need for an additional INTX cable in your system. Because of the cables differences, you cannot mix MXI-1 and MXI-2 products in the same system. Both MXI-1 and MXI-2 use double shielding with an aluminum mylar shield as well as a copper braid shield to eliminate any EMI problems, and both cables meets the National Electric Code (NEC)

CL2 fire safety code. The stacking depth of two daisy-chained MXI cables is approximately 3.3 in.

MXI is essentially a backplane bus in a cable. Each MXI signal line is twisted with its own ground line. All MXI signal lines are matched impedance to minimize signal skew and reflections. Stub lengths no more than 4 in. off the mainline interconnection minimize reflections due to impedance discontinuities. Termination networks, configured with onboard jumpers, are located at the first and last MXI devices to minimize reflections at the ends of cables.

MXI uses state-of-the-art, single-ended, trapezoidal bus transceivers to reduce noise crosstalk in the transmission system. Designed specifically for driving backplane bus signals, these transceivers have open-collector drivers that generate precise trapezoidal waveforms with typical rise and fall times of 9 ns. The trapezoidal shape, due to the constant rise and fall times, reduces noise coupling (crosstalk) on adjacent lines. The receiver uses a lowpass filter to remove noise and a high-speed comparator that recognizes the trapezoidal-shaped signal from the noise.

Performance Isssues

MXIbus Performance

It is often difficult to understand how a performance specification for a single component relates to the overall performance of your system. In the case of MXI, it is important to understand not only the performance issues associated with the MXI link, but also the devices that communicate across the link. MXI works like an embedded computer, using a direct hardware memory-map to eliminate software overhead between your computer and the

VXIbus or VMEbus. Both MXI and embedded VXI computers can use shared-memory communication protocols and direct register accesses for potentially dramatic performance improvements over GPIB. If your VXI instruments themselves do not use these capabilities, however, your system performance using MXI or an embedded computer may be no higher than a GPIB-controlled VXI system.

There are several factors to consider when comparing a MXI-equipped computer to an embedded computer. A

MXI-equipped computer is functionally equivalent to an embedded computer. In fact, application software developed on a MXI computer using NI-VXI/VISA bus interface software can easily run on an embedded computer and vice versa. There are subtle hardware timing differences, but there is no dramatic performance difference due to architecture. MXI, for example, can take roughly 100 ns more to perform a single VXI read or write than an embedded computer, because the MXI signals must propagate down the MXI cable at 10 ns/m. This subtle detail is


measured in ns, and is negligible compared to the other factors that affect your system performance, such as the execution speed of your application software or your instruments.

Often, the most important performance issue to consider when evaluating a computer for your system is the performance of the processor itself. Most applications spend much more time computing, displaying, or performing disk I/O than actually performing I/O across the VXIbus or VMEbus. Current external MXI computers are over four times as fast as the fastest embedded VXI computer. In addition, because of the physical space constraints of embedded computers, external computers often have much more sophisticated architectures with faster processors, cache RAM, faster disk drives, and other benefits. Raw computing power can be the single most important consideration for the performance of your system.

Data Transfer Rates

A common benchmark for VXI computers is the Block Data Rate. This benchmark is easy for vendors to isolate and measure under ideal conditions. It is important to understand what Block Data Rate means to your application.

Block Data Rate is the rate at which you can move a large block of data to or from memory on an ideal VXI device using back-to-back VXI transfers. It does not measure how fast the computer can process the blocks of data or store them to disk once they are moved, or whether your instruments themselves can actually match that data rate. Most applications are not limited by the Block Data Rate of the VXI interface hardware, but rather by the total time required to both move and handle the data, or by the rate at which the instruments themselves can generate or accept the data.

Block Data Rate is easy for vendors to specify, but often difficult for users to relate to overall system performance.

It is only one of many elements that affect the actual throughput of your system. For example, Block Data Rate does not indicate the processing power of your computer or the performance of the instruments themselves. In addition, a benchmark for Block Data Rate does not measure how fast you can control instruments using VXI Word Serial

Protocol or random VXI reads and writes. The speed for Word Serial communication and random VXI reads and writes is dependent on the speed of the processor and the particular VXI instruments.

Local Performance

The MXIbus does not degrade the performance of the devices connected to it. Each MXI device can operate internally at full speed in parallel with other MXI devices. Because MXIbus is a true system bus with multimaster arbitration, the only time MXI devices must synchronize their operation is when they perform transactions that map across the MXIbus. When one MXI device performs a read or write that maps to a remote MXI device, the MXI hardware on both devices interlocks the bus cycle across the MXIbus to accomplish the transfer.

MXI – An Open Standard

The MXIbus specification was developed by National Instruments and announced in April 1989 as an open industry standard. A VXIplug&play core technology, MXIbus has been endorsed by the entire VXIplug&play Systems

Alliance, including Tektronix, Hewlett-Packard, Racal Instruments, and GenRad. Because MXI is an open standard documented with a comprehensive specification, anyone can develop products that will be integrated into a MXI controlled system.


3. PXI

What is PXI – PXI tutorial

Från National Instruments


PXI (PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation) is a rugged PC-based platform for measurement and automation systems. PXI combines PCI electrical-bus features with the rugged, modular, Eurocard packaging of CompactPCI, and then adds specialized synchronization buses and key software features. PXI is both a highperformance and low-cost deployment platform for measurement and automation systems. These systems serve applications such as manufacturing test, military and aerospace, machine monitoring, automotive, and industrial test.

Developed in 1997 and launched in 1998, PXI was introduced as an open industry standard to meet the increasing demands of complex instrumentation systems.

Today, PXI is governed by the PXI Systems Alliance (PXISA), a group of more than

65 companies chartered to promote the PXI standard, ensure interoperability, and maintain the PXI specification. For more information on the PXISA, including the PXI specification, refer to the PXISA website at www.pxisa.org


Hardware Architecture

PXI systems are comprised of three basic components – chassis, system controller, and peripheral modules.

Figure 1. A standard 8-Slot PXI chassis contains an embedded system controller and seven peripheral modules


PXI Chassis

The chassis provides the rugged and modular packaging for the system. Chassis, generally ranging in size from 4-slots to 18-slots, are also available with special features such as DC power supplies and integrated signal conditioning. The chassis contains the high-performance PXI backplane, which includes the PCI bus and timing and triggering buses (Figure 2). Using these timing and triggering buses, users can develop systems for applications requiring precise synchronization.

Figure 2. PXI Timing and Triggering Buses – PXI combines industry-standard PC components, such as the PCI bus, with advanced triggering and synchronization extensions on the backplane.

PXI Controllers

As defined by the PXI Hardware Specification, all PXI chassis contain a system controller slot located in the leftmost slot of the chassis (slot 1). Controller options include remote controllers from a desktop, workstation, server, or a laptop computer and high-performance embedded controllers with either a Microsoft OS

(Windows 2000/XP) or a real-time OS (LabVIEW Real-Time)

PXI Remote Controllers

There are two types of PXI remote controllers:

* Laptop control of PXI

* PC control of PXI

Laptop Control of PXI

With ExpressCard MXI (Measurement eXtensions for Instrumentation) and PCMCIA

CardBus interface kits, users can control PXI systems directly from laptop computers. During boot-up, the laptop computer will recognize all peripheral modules in the PXI system as PCI devices.

Figure 3. Laptop Control of PXI. PCMCIA CardBus interface kit (top), and

ExpressCard MXI interface kit (bottom).

The ExpressCard MXI interface kit provides a 110 MB/s PCI Express -to- PCI bridge from the laptop computer to the PXI chassis. The PCMCIA CardBus interface kit provides a 50 MB/s PCI -to- PCI bridge from the laptop computer to the PXI chassis.

Users now have the advantage of mobile/portable PXI systems with laptop control of PXI. You can purchase any ExpressCard MXI compatible laptop or PCMCIA

CardBus compatible laptop to remotely control your PXI system.

PC Control of PXI

With MXI-Express and MXI-4 interface kits, users can control PXI systems directly from desktop, workstation, or server computers. During boot-up, the computer will recognize all peripheral modules in the PXI system as PCI devices.

Figure 4a. Remote control with 2-port MXI-Express provides simultaneous control of two PXI chassis with combined 160 MB/s throughput.

The MXI-Express interface kit provides a 110 MB/s PCI Express -to- PCI bridge from the PC to the PXI chassis. With the NI PXI-PCIe8362 2-port interface kit, users will be able to control two PXI systems simultaneously from a single PC.

Figure 4b. Remote control with MXI-4 provides PC control of PXI, as well as multichassis PXI systems.

The MXI-4 interface kit provides a 78 MB/s PCI -to- PCI bridge from PC to the PXI system. MXI-4 interface kit comes with low-cost copper links or fiber-optic links for both extended distances and electrical isolation. As shown in Figure 4b, you can build multichassis PXI systems with MXI-4 as well. Using a MXI-4 link, you can implement either a daisy-chain or a star topology to build multichassis systems.

For more information on topologies for multichassis configurations, refer to the

MXI-4 Series User Manual . You can purchase any desktop, workstation or server computer, and then remotely control your PXI system using either MXI-Express or copper/fiber optic MXI-4 serial link. For more information please refer to PC control of PXI .

With PXI remote controllers, you can maximize processor performance with minimized cost by using a desktop computer or laptop to remotely control a PXI system. Because all remote control products are software transparent, no additional programming is required.

PXI Embedded Controllers

Embedded controllers eliminate the need for an external PC, therefore providing a complete system contained in the PXI chassis. PXI embedded controllers are typically built using standard PC components in a small, PXI package. For example, the NI PXI-8187 controller has a Pentium 4-M 2.5 GHz processor, up to 1

GB of DDR RAM, a hard drive, and standard PC peripherals such as USB 2.0,

Ethernet, serial, and parallel ports. Additionally, you can install your choice of OSs on the PXI controller, including Windows 2000/XP or LabVIEW Real-Time.

Figure 5. National Instruments PXI-8187 Pentium 4-M 2.5 GHz Embedded

Controller. Notice the familiar PC peripherals such as keyboard/mouse and monitor connections, as well as the hard drive, USB 2.0, Ethernet, serial, and other standard PC peripherals. This controller runs standard Windows 2000/XP

OSs, or can be targeted with LabVIEW Real-Time.

Embedded controllers are ideal for portable systems and contained "single-box" applications where the chassis is moved from one location to the next. For more information please refer to PXI controllers .

PXI Peripheral Modules

National Instruments offers more than 100 different PXI modules; and because PXI is an open industry standard, nearly 1000 modules are available from the 65+ members of the PXI Systems Alliance.

Because PXI is directly compatible with CompactPCI, you can use any 3U

CompactPCI module in a PXI system. Additionally, CardBus/PCMCIA and PMC (PCI

Mezzanine Card) cards can be installed in PXI systems using carrier modules. For example, the National Instruments PXI-8221 PC Card Carrier can be used to connect CardBus and PCMCIA devices to PXI systems.

PXI also preserves investments in stand-alone instruments or VXI systems by providing standard hardware and software for communication to these systems.

For example, interfacing a PXI system to GPIB-based instrumentation is no different with a PXI-GPIB module than it is with a PCI-GPIB module. The software is identical. Additionally, a number of methods are available for interfacing PXI and VXI together. For more information, refer to the Web Event on Hybrid PXI and VXI

Systems .

Software Architecture

Because PXI hardware is based on standard PC technologies, such as the PCI bus, as well as standard CPUs and peripherals, the standard Windows software architecture is familiar to users as well. Development and operation of Windowsbased PXI systems is no different from that of a standard Windows-based PC.

Additionally, because the PXI backplane uses the industry-standard PCI bus, writing software to communicate with PXI devices is, in most cases, identical to that of PCI devices. For example, software to communicate to an NI PXI-6251 multifunction data acquisition module is identical to that of an NI PCI-6251 board in a PC. Therefore, existing application software, example code, and programming techniques do not have to be rewritten or reused when moving software between

PC-based and PXI-based systems.

As an alternative to Windows-based systems, you can use a real-time software architecture for time-critical applications requiring deterministic loop rates and headless operation (no keyboard, mouse, or monitor).

System Configuration

The fastest and easiest way to specify and configure your new PXI system is by using the online PXI Advisor or PXI/SCXI Advisor . The advisors lead you through a series of questions to help you build your new PXI system with a system controller, software, modules, accessories, and PXI or PXI/SCXI combination chassis. You build your system by answering simple questions and selecting the products best suited to your needs, and you can print or export the image of your PXI system for use in proposals or design reviews. Additionally, the advisors will make recommendations on technical matters, such as specific slot placement of modules, cables and terminal accessories, and integrated software packages.

The advisors also use behind-the-scenes logic to prevent incompatible configurations. For example, if you select a LabVIEW Real-Time PXI controller, the advisors will automatically restrict PXI measurement module selection to only those compaatible with LabVIEW Real-Time.

When you are satisfied with your configuration, you can pass that configuration to a

National Instruments representative for order, or you can automatically order through the online store. With NI Factory Installation Services as part of your order, you will receive your PXI system just as you configured it. NI installs your selected

PXI modules in your chassis, and installs any memory upgrades, National

Instruments application software, and required driver software on your embedded controller.


PXI modular instrumentation defines a rugged computing platform for measurement and automation users that clearly takes advantage of the technology advancements of the mainstream PC industry. By using the standard PCI bus, PXI modular instrumentation systems can benefit from widely available software and hardware components. The software applications and OSs that run on PXI systems are already familiar to users because they are already in use on common desktop computers. PXI meets your needs by adding rugged industrial packaging, plentiful slots for I/O, and features that provide advanced timing and triggering capabilities.

4. USB

An introduction to the USB-bus

Compiled from “A USB Primer” by Brian K. Lewis, Ph.D. Member of the Sarasota

Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., “USB in a nutshell” by Craig Peacock, and “USB

Complete: Everything You Need to Develop Custom USB Peripherals” by Jan Axelson


The main reason for developing the Universal Serial Bus (USB) was to reduce the amount of cabling at the back of PCs. Apple developed the Apple Desktop Bus with this intention, where both the keyboard, mouse and some other peripherals could be connected together (daisy chained) using one cable, and this was the first development of the USB-bus.

USB ports have a number of advantages over the old system of parallel/serial ports. They do not require I/O memory space or individual IRQ lines, thus preventing IRQ conflicts when connecting external devices such as scanners or modems, a problem common to old computers.

USB also allows for automatic device configuration and hot-plug capability. The hot-plug or hotswap function means that you don't have to power down the computer and go through a restart when you want to connect a new device. In instead you simply connect or disconnect the USB cable. The computer will recognize the device and connect to the proper driver – if installed.

Commonly, installation of drivers for external hard drives, printers, scanners, card readers, are usually necessary, while mice and keyboards that connect to the USB ports do not need specific drivers to be installed.

One of the benefits of USB is also bus-powered devices - devices which obtain its power from the bus and requires no external plug packs or additional cables.

The first USB standard was developed in the beginning of the nineties, commonly referred to as

USB 1.0 or USB 1.1. By 2001 it was superseded by a standard that allowed for a much higher data transfer rate. USB 1 supported two speeds, a full speed mode of 12Mbits/s and a low speed mode of 1.5Mbits/s. The 1.5Mbits/s mode is slower and less susceptible to EMI, thus reducing the cost of ferrite beads and quality components. For example, crystals can be replaced by cheaper resonators. USB 2.0 allows a transfer rate of up to 480Mbits/s, known as High Speed mode, and was a tack on to compete with the Firewire Serial Bus. In conclusion there are three data transfer speeds defined within the USB standard:

• High Speed - 480Mbits/s

• Full Speed - 12Mbits/s

• Low Speed - 1.5Mbits/s

The Universal Serial Bus is host controlled, and there can only be one host per bus. The specification in itself does not support any form of multi-master arrangement. However the On-

The-Go specification which is a tack on standard to USB 2.0 has introduced a Host Negotiation

Protocol which allows two devices negotiate for the role of host. This is aimed at and limited to single point to point connections such as a mobile phone and personal organiser and not multiple hub, multiple device desktop configurations. The USB host is responsible for undertaking all transactions and scheduling bandwidth. Data can be sent by various transaction methods using a token-based protocol.

USB uses a tiered star topology, similar to that of 10BaseT Ethernet. This imposes the use of a hub somewhere, which adds to greater expense, more boxes on your desktop and more cables.

However it is not as bad as it may seem, as many devices have USB hubs integrated into them.

For example, your keyboard may contain a hub, which is connected to your computer. Your

mouse and other devices such as your digital camera can be plugged easily into the back of your keyboard. Monitors are just another peripheral on a long list, which commonly have built-in hubs. Up to 127 devices can be connected to any one USB bus at any one given time.

The loading of the appropriate driver when a device in plugged into the bus, is done using a

PID/VID (Product ID/Vendor ID) combination. The VID is supplied by the USB

Implementor's forum at a cost and this is seen as another sticking point for USB. The latest info on fees can be found on the USB Implementor’s Website. Other standards organizations provide an extra VID for non-commercial activities such as teaching, research or fiddling (The Hobbyist).

In these cases you may wish to use one assigned to your development system's manufacturer. For example most chip manufacturers will have a VID/PID combination you can use for your chips which is known not to exist as a commercial device. Other chip manufacturers can even sell you a PID to use with their VID for your commercial device.

Another more notable feature of USB, is its transfer modes. USB supports Control, Interrupt,

Bulk and Isochronous transfers. While we will look at the other transfer modes later,

Isochronous allows a device to reserve a defined about of bandwidth with guaranteed latency.

This is ideal in Audio or Video applications where congestion may cause loss of data or frames to drop. Each transfer mode provides the designer tradeoffs in areas such as error detection and recovery, guaranteed latency and bandwidth.



All devices have an upstream connection to the host and all hosts have a downstream connection to the device. Upstream and downstream connectors are not mechanically interchangeable, thus eliminating illegal loopback connections at hubs such as a downstream port connected to a downstream port. There are commonly two types of connectors, called type A and type B which are shown below.

Figure 1: USB connectors

Type A plugs always face upstream. Type A sockets will typically find themselves on hosts and hubs. For example type A sockets are common on computer main boards and hubs. Type B plugs are always connected downstream and consequently type B sockets are found on devices. It is interesting to find type A to type A cables wired straight through and an array of USB gender changers in some computer stores. This is in contradiction of the USB specification. The only type A plug to type A plug devices are bridges which are used to connect two computers together. Other prohibited cables are USB extensions which has a plug on one end (either type A or type B) and a socket on the other. These cables violate the cable length requirements of USB.

USB 2.0 included errata which introduces mini-USB B connectors. The details on these connectors can be found in Mini-B Connector Engineering Change Notice. The reasoning behind the mini connectors came from the range of miniature electronic devices such as mobile phones and organisers. The current type B connector is too large to be easily integrated into these devices. Just recently released has been the On-The-Go specification which adds peer-topeer functionality to USB. This introduces USB hosts into mobile phone and electronic

organisers, and thus has included a specification for mini-A plugs, mini-A receptacles, and mini-

AB receptacles.

Table 1 : USB Pin Functions

Standard internal wire colours are used in USB cables, making it easier to identify wires from manufacturer to manufacturer. The standard specifies various electrical parameters for the cables.

It is interesting to read the detail the original USB 1.0 spec included. You would understand it specifying electrical attributes, but paragraph suggested the recommended colour for overmolds on USB cables should be frost white - how boring! USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 was relaxed to recommend Black, Grey or Natural.


Unless you are designing the silicon for a USB device/transceiver or USB host/hub, there is not all that much you need to know about the electrical specifications – the essential points will be addressed here. It uses four shielded wires of which two are power (+5V and GND). The remaining two are twisted pair differential data signals. It uses a NRZI (Non Return to Zero

Invert) encoding scheme to send data with a sync field to synchronise the host and receiver clocks and is bit stuffed to ensure adequate transitions in the data stream.

Figure 2: Full Speed Device with pull up resistor connected to D- (left). Low Speed Device with pull up resistor connected to D+ (right).

On low and full speed devices, a differential ‘1’ is transmitted by pulling D+ over 2.8V with a

15K ohm resistor pulled to ground and D- under 0.3V with a 1.5K ohm resistor pulled to 3.6V

(see Fig 2). A differential ‘0’ on the other hand is a D- greater than 2.8V and a D+ less than 0.3V with the same appropriate pull down/up resistors. The receiver defines a differential ‘1’ as D+

200mV greater than D- and a differential ‘0’ as D+ 200mV less than D-. The polarity of the signal is inverted depending on the speed of the bus. Therefore the terms ‘J’ and ‘K’ states are

used in signifying the logic levels. In low speed a ‘J’ state is a differential 0. In high speed a ‘J’ state is a differential 1. USB transceivers will have both differential and single ended outputs.

Certain bus states are indicated by single ended signals on D+, D- or both. For example a single ended zero or SE0 can be used to signify a device reset if held for more than 10mS. A SE0 is generated by holding both D- and D+ low (< 0.3V). Single ended and differential outputs are important to note if you are using a transceiver and FPGA as your USB device. You cannot get away with sampling just the differential output. The low speed/full speed bus has a characteristic impedance of 90 ohms +/- 15%. It is therefore important to observe the datasheet when selecting impedance matching series resistors for D+ and D-. Any good datasheet should specify these values and tolerances. High Speed (480Mbits/s) mode uses a 17.78mA constant current for signalling to reduce noise.

Speed Identification

A USB device must indicate its speed by pulling either the D+ or D- line high to 3.3 volts. A full speed device, pictured below will use a pull up resistor attached to D+ to specify itself as a full speed device. These pull up resistors at the device end will also be used by the host or hub to detect the presence of a device connected to its port. Without a pull up resistor, USB assumes there is nothing connected to the bus. Some devices have this resistor built into its silicon, which can be turned on and off under firmware control, others require an external resistor. For example

Philips Semiconductor has a SoftConnect™ technology. When first connected to the bus, this allows the microcontroller to initialise the USB function device before it enables the pull up speed identification resistor, indicating a device is attached to the bus. If the pull up resistor was connected to Vbus, then this would indicate a device has been connected to the bus as soon as the plug is inserted. The host may then attempt to reset the device and ask for a descriptor when the microprocessor hasn’t even started to initialise the usb function device. Other vendors such as Cypress Semiconductor also use a programmable resistor for Re-Numeration™ purposes in their EzUSB devices where the one device can be enumerated for one function such as In field programming then be disconnected from the bus under firmware control, and enumerate as another different device, all without the user lifting an eyelid. Many of the EzUSB devices do not have any Flash or OTP ROM to store code. They are bootstraped at connection. You will notice we have not included speed identification for High Speed mode. High speed devices will start by connecting as a full speed device (1.5k to 3.3V). Once it has been attached, it will do a high speed chirp during reset and establish a high speed connection if the hub supports it. If the device operates in high speed mode, then the pull up resistor is removed to balance the line. A

USB 2.0 compliant device is not required to support high-speed mode. This allows cheaper devices to be produced if the speed isn’t critical. This is also the case for a low speed USB 1.1 devices which is not required to support full speed. However a high speed device must not support low speed mode. It should only support full speed mode needed to connect first, then high speed mode if successfully negotiated later. An USB 2.0 compliant downstream facing device

(Hub or Host) must support all three modes, high speed, full speed and low speed.

USB Protocols

Unlike RS-232 or similar serial interfaces where the format of data being sent is not defined,

USB is made up of several layers of protocols. While this sounds complicated, don’t give up now.

Once you understand what is going on, you really only have to worry about the higher level layers. In fact most USB controller I.C.s will take care of the lower layer, thus making it almost invisible to the end designer. Each USB transaction consists of a

• Token Packet (Header defining what it expects to follow), an

• Optional Data Packet, (Containing the payload) and a

• Status Packet (Used to acknowledge transactions and to provide a means of error correction)

As we have already discussed, USB is a host centric bus. The host initiates all transactions. When the host powers up it polls each of the slave devices in turn (using the reserved address 0), it assigns each one a unique address and finds out from each device what its speed is and the and type of data transfer it wishes to perform. This process is called


and it also takes place whenever a device is plugged into an active network. A typical transaction will consist of a number of packets - a token indicating the type of data that the host is sending or requiring, the data and in some cases an acknowledgement. Each packet is preceded by a sync field and followed by an end of packet marker.

Common USB Packet Fields

Data on the USBus is transmitted LSBit first. USB packets consist of the following fields,

• Sync

All packets must start with a sync field. The sync field is 8 bits long, which is used to synchronise the clock of the receiver with the transmitter. The last two bits indicate where the PID fields starts.


PID stands for Packet ID. This field is used to identify the type of packet that is being sent. The following table shows the possible values.

There is 4 bits to the PID, however to insure it is received correctly, the 4 bits are complemented and repeated, making an 8 bit PID in total. The resulting format is shown below.


The address field specifies which device the packet is designated for. Being 7 bits in length allows for 127 devices to be supported. Address 0 is not valid, as any device which is not yet assigned an address must respond to packets sent to address zero.


The endpoint field is made up of 4 bits, allowing 16 possible endpoints. Low speed devices, however can only have two endpoint additional addresses on top of the default pipe. (four endpoints max).

• C RC

Cyclic Redundancy Checks are performed on the data within the packet payload. All token packets have a 5 bit CRC while data packets have a 16 bit CRC.


End of packet. Signalled by a Single Ended Zero (SE0) for approximately 2 bit times followed by a J for 1 bit time.

Common USB Packet Types

USB has four different packet types. Token packets indicate the type of transaction to follow, data packets contain the payload, handshake packets are used for acknowledging data or reporting errors and start of frame packets indicate the start of a new frame.

• T oke n Packets

There are three types of token packets:

In – Informs the USB device that the host wishes to read information.

Out - Informs the USB device that the host wishes to send information.

Setup – Used to begin control transfers.

Token Packets must conform to the following format:

• Data Packets

There are two types of data packets each capable of transmitting 0 to 1023 bytes of data, called

Data0 and Data1. Data packets have the following format:

• Handsh ake Packets There are three type of handshake packets which consist simply of the

PID ACK – Acknowledgment that the packet has been successfully received.

NAK – Reports that the device cannot send nor received data temporary. Also used during interrupt transaction to inform the host there is no data to send.

STALL – The device finds its in a state that it requires intervention from the host.

Handshake Packets have the following format:

• Start of Frame Packets The SOF packet consisting of an 11-bit frame number is sent by the host every 1mS ± 500nS.

USB Functions

When we think of a USB device, we think of a USB peripheral, but a USB device could mean a

USB transceiver device used at the host or peripheral, a USB Hub or Host Controller IC device, or a USB peripheral device. The standard therefore makes references to USB functions which can be seen as USB devices which provide a capability or function such as a Printer, Zip Drive,

Scanner, Modem or other peripheral.

Most functions will have a series of buffers, typically 8 bytes long. Each buffer will belong to what is referred to as an endpoint - EP0 IN, EP0 OUT etc (see below). Say for example, the host sends a device descriptor request. The function hardware will read the setup packet and determine from the address field whether the packet is for itself, and if so will copy the payload of the following data packet to the appropriate endpoint buffer dictated by the value in the endpoint field of the setup token. It will then send a handshake packet to acknowledge the reception of the byte and generate an internal interrupt within the semiconductor/microcontroller for the appropriate endpoint signifying it has received a packet. This is typically all done in hardware. The software now gets an interrupt, and should read the contents of the endpoint buffer and parse the device descriptor request.


Endpoints can be described as sources or sinks of data. As the bus is host centric, endpoints occur at the end of the communications channel at the USB function. At the software layer, your device driver may send a packet to your devices EP1 for example. As the data is flowing out from the host, it will end up in the EP1 OUT buffer. Your firmware will then at its leisure read this data. If it wants to return data, the function cannot simply write to the bus as the bus is controlled by the host. Therefore it writes data to EP1 IN which sits in the buffer until such time when the host sends a IN packet to that endpoint requesting the data. Endpoints can also be seen as the interface between the hardware of the function device and the firmware running on the function device. All devices must support endpoint zero. This is the endpoint which receives all of the devices control and status requests during enumeration and throughout the duration while the device is operational on the bus.


While the device sends and receives data on a series of endpoints, the client software transfers data through pipes. A pipe is a logical connection between the host and endpoint(s). Pipes will also have a set of parameters associated with them such as how much bandwidth is allocated to it, what transfer type (Control, Bulk, Iso or Interrupt) it uses, a direction of data flow and maximum packet/buffer sizes. For example the default pipe is a bi-directional pipe made up of endpoint zero in and endpoint zero out with a control transfer type. USB defines two types of pipes

• Stream Pipes have no defined USB format, that is you can send any type of data down a stream pipe and can retrieve the data out the other end. Data flows sequentially and has a pre-defined direction, either in or out. Stream pipes will support bulk, isochronous and interrupt transfer types. Stream pipes can either be controlled by the host or device.

• Message Pipes have a defined USB format. They are host controlled, which are initiated by a request sent from the host. Data is then transferred in the desired direction, dictated by the request. Therefore message pipes allow data to flow in both directions but will only support control transfers.

Endpoint types

The Universal Serial Bus specification defines four transfer/endpoint types:

• Control Transfers

Control transfers are typically used for command and status operations. They are essential to set up a USB device with all enumeration functions being performed using control transfers. They are typically bursty, random packets which are initiated by the host and use best effort delivery.

The packet length of control transfers in low speed devices must be 8 bytes, high speed devices allow a packet size of 8, 16, 32 or 64 bytes and full speed devices must have a packet size of 64 bytes.

• Interrupt Transfers

Any one who has had experience of interrupt requests on microcontrollers will know that interrupts are device generated. However under USB if a device requires the attention of the host, it must wait until the host polls it before it can report that it needs urgent attention!

Interrupt Transfers are unidirectional and use a stream pipe. This type of transfers are typically non-periodic, small device "initiated" communication requiring bounded latency, such as a mouse or keyboard. An Interrupt request is queued by the device until the host polls the USB

device asking for data. The maximum data payload size for low-speed devices is 8 bytes, for fullspeed devices is 64 bytes, and for high-speed devices 1024 bytes.

• Isochronous Transfers

Isochronous transfers occur continuously and periodically. They typically contain time sensitive information, such as an audio or video stream. If there were a delay or retry of data in an audio stream, then you would expect some erratic audio containing glitches. The beat may no longer be in sync. However if a packet or frame was dropped every now and again, it is less likely to be noticed by the listener. Isochronous Transfers provide

• Guaranteed access to USB bandwidth.

• Bounded latency.

• Stream Pipe - Unidirectional

• Error detection via CRC, but no retry or guarantee of delivery.

• Full & high speed modes only.

• No data toggling.

The maximum size data payload is specified in the endpoint descriptor of an Isochronous

Endpoint. This can be up to a maximum of 1023 bytes for a full speed device and 1024 bytes for a high speed device. As the maximum data payload size is going to effect the bandwidth requirements of the bus, it is wise to specify a conservative payload size. If you are using a large payload, it may also be to your advantage to specify a series of alternative interfaces with varying isochronous payload sizes. If during enumeration, the host cannot enable your preferred isochronous endpoint due to bandwidth restrictions, it has something to fall back on rather than just failing completely. Data being sent on an isochronous endpoint can be less than the prenegotiated size and may vary in length from transaction to transaction. Isochronous transactions do not have a handshaking stage and cannot report errors or STALL/HALT conditions.

• Bulk Transfers

Bulk transfers can be used for large bursty data. Such examples could include a print-job sent to a printer or an image generated from a scanner. Bulk transfers provide error correction in the form of a CRC16 field on the data payload and error detection/re-transmission mechanisms ensuring data is transmitted and received without error. Bulk transfers will use spare un-allocated bandwidth on the bus after all other transactions have been allocated. If the bus is busy with isochronous and/or interrupt then bulk data may slowly trickle over the bus. As a result Bulk transfers should only be used for time insensitive communication as there is no guarantee of latency. Bulk Transfers

• are used to transfer large bursty data.

• have error detection via CRC, with guarantee of delivery.

• No guarantee of bandwidth or minimum latency.

• Stream Pipe - Unidirectional

• Full and high speed modes only.

Bulk transfers are only supported by full and high speed devices. For full speed endpoints, the maximum bulk packet size is either 8, 16, 32 or 64 bytes long. For high speed endpoints, the maximum packet size can be up to 512 bytes long. If the data payload falls short of the maximum packet size, it does not need to be padded with zeros. A bulk transfer is considered complete when it has transferred the exact amount of data requested, transferred a packet less than the maximum endpoint size of transferred a zero-length packet.

USB Descriptors

All USB devices have a hierarchy of descriptors which describe to the host information such as what the device is, who makes it, what version of USB it supports, how many ways it can be configured, the number of endpoints and their types etc. The more common USB descriptors are

• Device Descriptors

• Configuration Descriptors

• Interface Descriptors

• Endpoint Descriptors

• String Descriptors

USB devices can only have one device descriptor. The device descriptor includes information such as what USB revision the device complies to, the Product and Vendor IDs used to load the appropriate drivers and the number of possible configurations the device can have. The number of configurations indicate how many configuration descriptors branches are to follow.

The configuration descriptor specifies values such as the amount of power this particular configuration uses, if the device is self or bus powered and the number of interfaces it has. When a device is enumerated, the host reads the device descriptors and can make a decision of which configuration to enable. It can only enable one configuration at a time. For example, it is possible to have a high power bus powered configuration and a self powered configuration. If the device is plugged into a host with a mains power supply, the device driver may choose to enable the high power bus powered configuration enabling the device to be powered without a connection to the mains, yet if it is connected to a laptop or personal organiser it could enable the second configuration (self powered) requiring the user to plug your device into the power point. The configuration settings are not limited to power differences. Each configuration could be powered in the same way and draw the same current, yet have different interface or endpoint combinations. However it should be noted that changing the configuration requires all activity on each endpoint to stop. While USB offers this flexibility, very few devices have more than one configuration.

The interface descriptor could be seen as a header or grouping of the endpoints into a functional group performing a single feature of the device. For example you could have a multi-function fax/scanner/printer device. Interface descriptor one could describe the endpoints of the fax function, Interface descriptor two the scanner function and Interface descriptor three the printer function. Unlike the configuration descriptor, there is no limitation as to having only one interface enabled at a time. A device could have one or many interface descriptors enabled at once. Interface descriptors have a bI nterfaceNumber field specifying the Interface number and a bAlternateSetting which allows an interface to change settings on the fly. For example we could have a device with two interfaces, interface one and interface two. Interface one has bInterfaceNumber set to zero indicating it is the first interface descriptor and a bAlternativeSetting of zero. Interface two would have a bI nterfaceNumber set to one indicating it is the second interface and a bAlternativeSetting of zero (default). We could then throw in another descriptor, also with a bInte rfaceNumber set to one indicating it is the

second interface, but this time setting the bAlternativeSetting to one, indicating this interface descriptor can be an alternative setting to that of the other interface descriptor two. When this configuration is enabled, the first two interface descriptors with bAlternativeSettings equal to zero is used. However during operation the host can send a SetInterface request directed to that of Interface one with an alternative setting of one to enable the other interface descriptor.

This gives an advantage over having two configurations, in that we can be transmitting data over interface zero while we change the endpoint settings associated with interface one without effecting interface zero.

Each endpoint descriptor is used to specify the type of transfer, direction, polling interval and maximum packet size for each endpoint. Endpoint zero, the default control endpoint is always assumed to be a control endpoint and as such never has a descriptor.

String descriptors provide human readable information and are optional. If they are not used, any string index fields of descriptors must be set to zero indicating there is no string descriptor available.


Enumeration is the process of determining what device has just been connected to the bus and what parameters it requires such as power consumption, number and type of endpoint(s), class of product etc. The host will then assign the device an address and enable a configuration allowing the device to transfer data on the bus. A fairly generic enumeration process is detailed in section

9.1.2 of the USB specification. However when writing USB firmware for the first time, it is handy to know exactly how the host responds during enumeration, rather than the general enumeration process detailed in the specification. A common Windows enumeration involves the following steps:

1. The host or hub detects the connection of a new device via the device's pull up resistors on the data pair. The host waits for at least 100ms allowing for the plug to be inserted fully and for power to stabilise on the device.

2. Host issues a reset placing the device is the default state. The device may now respond to the default address zero.

3. The MS Windows host asks for the first 64 bytes of the Device Descriptor.

4. After receiving the first 8 bytes of the Device Descriptor, it immediately issues another bus reset.

5. The host now issues a Set Address command, placing the device in the addressed state.

6. The host asks for the entire 18 bytes of the Device Descriptor.

7. It then asks for 9 bytes of the Configuration Descriptor to determine the overall size.

8. The host asks for 255 bytes of the Configuration Descriptor.

9. Host asks for any String Descriptors if they were specified.

At the end of Step 9, Windows will ask for a driver for your device. It is then common to see it request all the descriptors again before it issues a Set Configuration request. The above enumeration process is common to Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 98 SE. Step 4 often confuses people writing firmware for the first time. The Host asks for the first 64 bytes of the device descriptor, so when the host resets your device after it receives the first 8 bytes, it is only natural to think there is something wrong with your device descriptor or how your firmware handles the request. However as many will tell you, if you keep persisting by implementing the

Set Address Command it will pay off by asking for a full 18 bytes of device descriptor next.

Normally when something is wrong with a descriptor or how it is being sent, the host will attempt to read it three times with long pauses in between requests. After the third attempt, the host gives up reporting an error with your device.

5. Fältbussar

I N - V E H I C L E N E T W O R K S



Electronic Systems

A vast increase in automotive electronic systems, coupled with related demands on power and design, has created an array of new engineering opportunities and challenges.


Gabriel Leen

PEI Technologies



University of



T he past four decades have witnessed an exponential increase in the number and sophistication of electronic systems in vehicles. Today, the cost of electronics in luxpercent of the total manufacturing cost. Analysts ury vehicles can amount to more than 23 estimate that more than 80 percent of all automotive innovation now stems from electronics. To gain an appreciation of the sea change in the average dollar amount of electronic systems and silicon components—such as transistors, microprocessors, and diodes—in motor vehicles, we need only note that in 1977 the average amount was $110, while in 2001 it had increased to $1,800.


The growth of electronic systems has had implications for vehicle engineering. For example, today’s high-end vehicles may have more than 4 kilometers of wiring—compared to 45 meters in vehicles manufactured in 1955. In July 1969, Apollo 11 employed a little more than 150 Kbytes of onboard memory to go to the moon and back. Just 30 years later, a family car might use 500 Kbytes to keep the

CD player from skipping tracks.


The resulting demands on power and design have led to innovations in electronic networks for automobiles. Researchers have focused on developing electronic systems that safely and efficiently replace entire mechanical and hydraulic applications, and increasing power demands have prompted the development of 42-V automotive systems.

tion and resources among the distributed applications. In the past, wiring was the standard means of connecting one element to another. As electronic content increased, however, the use of more and more discrete wiring hit a technological wall.

Added wiring increased vehicle weight, weakened performance, and made adherence to reliability standards difficult. For an average well-tuned vehicle, every extra 50 kilograms of wiring—or extra

100 watts of power—increases fuel consumption by 0.2 liters for each 100 kilometers traveled. Also, complex wiring harnesses took up large amounts of vehicle volume, limiting expanded functionality.

Eventually, the wiring harness became the single most expensive and complicated component in vehicle electrical systems.

Fortunately, today’s control and communications networks, based on serial protocols, counter the problems of large amounts of discrete wiring. For example, in a 1998 press release, Motorola reported that replacing wiring harnesses with LANs in the four doors of a BMW reduced the weight by 15 kilograms while enhancing functionality. Beginning in the early 1980s, centralized and then distributed networks have replaced point-to-point wiring.


Figure 1 shows the sheer number of systems and applications contained in a modern automobile’s network architecture.


Just as LANs connect computers, control networks connect a vehicle’s electronic equipment.

These networks facilitate the sharing of informa-

Controller area network

In the mid-1980s, Bosch developed the controller area network, one of the first and most enduring automotive control networks. CAN is currently the most widely used vehicular network, with more than 100 million CAN nodes sold in 2000.

0018-9162/02/$17.00 © 2002 IEEE

Figure 1. One subset of a modern vehicle’s network architecture, showing the trend toward incorporating ever more extensive electronics.

A typical vehicle can contain two or three separate CANs operating at different transmission rates.

A low-speed CAN running at less than 125 Kbps usually manages a car’s “comfort electronics,” like seat and window movement controls and other user interfaces. Generally, control applications that are not real-time critical use this low-speed network segment. Low-speed CANs have an energy-saving sleep mode in which nodes stop their oscillators until a CAN message awakens them. Sleep mode prevents the battery from running down when the ignition is turned off.

A higher-speed CAN runs more real-time-critical functions such as engine management, antilock brakes, and cruise control. Although capable of a maximum baud rate of 1 Mbps, the electromagnetic radiation on twisted-pair cables that results from a CAN’s high-speed operation makes providing electromagnetic shielding in excess of 500

Kbps too expensive.

CAN is a robust, cost-effective general control network, but certain niche applications demand more specialized control networks. For example,

X-by-wire systems use electronics, rather than mechanical or hydraulic means, to control a system.

These systems require highly reliable networks.

Emerging automotive networks

X-by-wire solutions form part of a much bigger trend—an ongoing revolution in vehicle electronics architecture. Multimedia devices in automobiles, such as DVD players, CD players, and digital TV sets, demand networks with extensive synchronous bandwidth. Other applications require wireless networks or other configurations. To accommodate the broad and growing spectrum of vehicle network applications, research engineers are developing many specialized network protocols, including the following.

Domestic Data Bus. Matsushita and Philips jointly developed the Domestic Data Bus (D2B) standard more than 10 years ago, which the Optical Chip

Consortium—consisting of C&C Electronics,

Becker, and others—has promoted since 1992. D2B was designed for audio-video communications, computer peripherals, and automotive media applications. The Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicle uses the

D2B optical bus to network the car radio, autopilot and CD systems, the Tele-Aid connection, cellular phone, and Linguatronic voice-recognition application.


Bluetooth is an open specification for an inexpensive, short-range (10–100 meters), lowpower, miniature radio network. The protocol provides easy and instantaneous connections between

Bluetooth-enabled devices without the need for cables. Potential vehicular uses for Bluetooth include hands-free phone sets; portable DVD, CD, and MP3 drives; diagnostic equipment; and handheld computers.

Mobile media link.

Designed to support automotive multimedia applications, the mobile media link network protocol facilitates the exchange of data and control information between audio-video equipment, amplifiers, and display devices for such things as game consoles and driver navigation maps.

Delphi Packard Electric Systems developed the

MML protocol based on a plastic fiber-optic physical layer. Delphi has installed the system in the

Network Vehicle, an advanced concept vehicle developed in conjunction with IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape.

January 2002



Today’s vehicle networks are transforming automotive components into truly distributed electronic systems.

Media-oriented systems transport.

The applications of MOST, a fiber-optic network protocol with capacity for high-volume streaming, include automotive multimedia and personal computer networking. More than 50 firms—including Audi, BMW, Daimler-

Chrysler, Becker Automotive, and Oasis

SiliconSystems—developed the protocol under the MOST Cooperative (http://www.mostnet.


Time-triggered protocol.

Designed for realtime distributed systems that are hard and fault tolerant, the time-triggered protocol ensures that there is no single point of failure. The protocol has been proposed for systems that replace mechanical and hydraulic braking and steering subsystems. TTP is an offshoot of the European

Union’s Brite-Euram X-by-wire project.

Local interconnect network.

A master-slave, timetriggered protocol, the local interconnect network is used in on-off devices such as car seats, door locks, sunroofs, rain sensors, and door mirrors. As a low-speed, single-wire, enhanced ISO-9141-standard network, LIN is meant to link to relatively higher-speed networks like CAN. LIN calms fears about security of serial networks in cars. Because

LIN provides a master-slave protocol, a would-be thief cannot tap into the network’s vulnerable points, such as the door mirrors, to deactivate a car alarm system. Audi, BMW, DaimlerChrysler,

Motorola, Volcano, Volvo, and Volkswagen created this inexpensive open standard.


A flexible time-division multiple-access

(TDMA) protocol for safety-related applications,

Byteflight can be used with devices such as air bags and seat-belt tensioners. Because of its flexibility, Byteflight can also be used for body and convenience functions, such as central locking, seat motion control, and power windows. BMW,

ELMOS, Infineon, Motorola, and Tyco EC collaborated in its development. Although not specifically designed for X-by-wire applications, Byteflight is a very high performance network with many of the features necessary for X-by-wire.


FlexRay is a fault-tolerant protocol designed for high-data-rate, advanced-control applications, such as X-by-wire systems. The protocol specification, now nearing completion, promises time-triggered communications, a synchronized global time base, and real-time data transmission with bounded message latency.

Proposed applications include chassis control, Xby-wire implementations, and body and powertrain systems. BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Philips, and

Motorola are collaborating on FlexRay and its supporting infrastructure. FlexRay will be compatible with Byteflight.

Time-triggered CAN.

As an extension of the CAN protocol, time-triggered CAN has a session layer on top of the existing data link and physical layers. The protocol implements a hybrid, time-triggered, TDMA schedule, which also accommodates event-triggered communications. The ISO task force responsible for the development of TTCAN, which includes many of the major automotive and semiconductor manufacturers, developed the protocol. TTCAN’s intended uses include engine management systems and transmission and chassis controls with scope for X-by-wire applications.

Intelligent transportation systems data bus.

Enabling plug-and-play in off-the-shelf automotive electronics, the intelligent transportation systems data bus eliminates the need to redesign products for different makes. The Automotive Multimedia Interface

Collaboration, a worldwide organization of motor vehicle makers, created the specification, which supports high-bandwidth devices such as digital radios, digital videos, car phones, car PCs, and navigation systems. The specification’s first release endorses

IDB-C (CAN) as a low-speed network and optional audio bus, and two high-speed networks, MOST and IDB-1394b. IDB-1394b is based on the IEEE

1394 FireWire standard.


Today’s vehicle networks are not just collections of discrete, point-to-point signal cables. They are transforming automotive components, once the domain of mechanical or hydraulic systems, into truly distributed electronic systems. Automotive engineers set up the older, mechanical systems at a single, fixed operating point for the vehicle’s lifetime. X-by-wire systems, in contrast, feature dynamic interaction among system elements.

Replacing rigid mechanical components with dynamically configurable electronic elements triggers an almost organic, systemwide level of integration. As a result, the cost of advanced systems should plummet. Sophisticated features such as chassis control and smart sensors, now confined to luxury vehicles, will likely become mainstream.

Figure 2 shows how dynamic driving-control systems have been steadily adopted since the 1920s, with more on the way.


Highly reliable and fault-tolerant electronic control systems, X-by-wire systems do not depend on conventional mechanical or hydraulic mechanisms.

They make vehicles lighter, cheaper, safer, and more



Dynamic driving control















2 circuits






Antilock brake system

Adaptive cruise control

Electronic brakeforce distribution

Electronic control unit

Disk brakes

Vacuum boost

Hydraulic boost



Sensors ECU











Electronic stability program

Hydraulic control unit

Traction control system

Sensors ECU HCU







Research potential












Electronic fuel-efficient. These self-diagnosing and configurable systems adapt easily to different vehicle platforms and produce no environmentally harmful fluids.

Such systems can eliminate belt drives, hydraulic brakes, pumps, and even steering columns.

Indeed, by 2010 one in three new cars will feature electronic steering. X-by-wire steering systems under development will replace the steering column shaft with angle sensors and feedback motors. A wire network will supply the control link to the wheel-mounted steering actuator motors. Removal of the steering column will improve driver safety in collisions and allow new styling freedom. It will also simplify production of left- and right-hand models.

It is natural to add advanced functions to such electronic systems. For example, consider systems that reduce steering-wheel feedback to the driver. In mechanical steering systems, the driver actually feels the vehicle losing control in unstable conditions and can react appropriately. Today, such electronic features as antilock braking may let the vehicle approach or surpass this control-loss edge without providing warning. To accommodate this, X-by-wire systems can include motors on the steering wheel that provide artificial feedback to the driver.

All major automakers are developing prototype or production X-by-wire systems. TRW’s electronic power-assisted steering system improves fuel economy by up to 5 percent. Delphi Automotive Systems claims similar improvements from its E-Steer system. Companies such as Bosch, Continental AG,

Visteon, Valeo, and most other original equipment manufacturers have either developed or plan to develop X-by-wire technologies and components.

Several protocols are suitable for X-by-wire applications. TTP, for example, is a promising and available protocol geared toward improving driving safety. However, the FlexRay and TTCAN protocols will start to compete with TTP when manufacturers look for more flexibility and lower cost.

Figure 3 shows the past and potential future improvements from active and passive safety systems such as air bags and road-recognition sensors.


Advanced electronic systems and the X-by-wire infrastructure will enable most potential active safety improvements.


Vehicular battery management systems continuously check the condition of the car’s battery, monitoring the charge to ensure the auto will start and have enough power to maintain critical systems.

Even with the engine switched off, some systems— real-time clocks, keyless entry and security devices, and vehicle control interfaces such as window switches and light switches—still consume power.

In addition to these conventional electrical systems, emerging applications as diverse as in-car computers and GPS navigation systems consume enough power to raise the total energy load to more than

Figure 2. Past and projected progress in dynamic driving control systems. As the cost of advanced systems plummets, sophisticated features are likely to become mainstream components.

January 2002




Passive safety

(reduced personal injury in event of an accident)

Active safety

(avoiding an accident)

Side impact protection


Underfloor concept

Side air bag

Automatic emergency call action

Active seat belts

Deformation elements


Safety cell glass

Seat belt

Air bag


Smart adaptive controls

Autonomous driving

Collision avoidance

Highway copilot



Emergency brake

SbW (wb)

Environment recognition

BbW (wb)

Road recognition (LDW)


ACC (Distronic)





Auto- pilot



1980 1990 2000

EBD Electronic brakeforce distribution

2010 2020

1960 1970

ABC Active body control

ABS Antilock brake system

ACC Adaptive cruise control

BAS Brake assist system

BbW Brake by wire

DbW Drive by wire





Electronic stability program

Electronic traction control

Steer by wire with mechanical backup


Figure 3. Past and future active and passive safety systems. Advanced electronic systems and the X-by-wire infrastructure will enable active safety improvements.

2 kW. If historical trends continue, internal power demand will grow at a rate of 4 percent a year.

Conservative estimates put the average electrical power requirements for high-end vehicles at 2.5 kW by 2005.


These increases place strains on conventional power equipment. For example, at a 3-kW load, bracket-mounted, belt-driven alternators generate unpleasant noises and require liquid cooling.

Table 1 shows some anticipated electrical loads for key emerging systems.


Analysts expect the loads to reach the listed levels by 2005. Electromechanical valves that will replace the camshaft and inlet and exhaust valves offer one exception—they probably won’t be produced until 2010.

Given the benefits they offer, such systems and their greater power loads are necessary. Electromechanical valves, for example, should provide a

15 percent improvement in fuel consumption.

Preheated catalytic converters will decrease exhaust emissions by 60 to 80 percent.


To meet the increasing demand for power, a beltless engine with an integrated alternator-starter on the flywheel operating at a 42-V potential offers the most promising proposed solution. The motive for the new 42-V system is clear: 79 percent of the energy entering a conventional engine does not make it to the driveline.


The standard Lundell claw-and-rotor alternator is itself only 30 percent efficient at high speeds and 70 percent efficient at low speeds. Thus, generating a watt of electrical power requires about 2 watts of mechanical power, with the lost watt turned into heat.

The integrated system is expected to be 20 percent more efficient, providing a benefit of roughly

0.2 km/liter, or 0.4 mpg. Its “lite hybrid” alternator-starter will operate the vehicle in start-and-stop mode, in which the engine can be restarted in 200 ms for even more fuel savings. In addition, removal of the front-end accessory drive—running the alternator and power-steering pump—will mean enhanced car styling. The new 42-V systems are expected in new autos by 2003.

Within the electrical system, boosting the voltage proportionally reduces the required current for a given delivered power. Smaller currents will use smaller and lighter-gauge cables, allowing an expected 20 percent reduction in cable bundle size.

Further, the carrying capacity of semiconductor switches for electrical currents relates directly to silicon area size, while operational voltage levels are a function of device thickness and doping profile. With less silicon area required, these systems


will achieve a significant cost reduction in solidstate load-switching devices.


The 42-V systems will require a 36-V battery and produce a maximum operating level of 50 V, with a maximum dynamic overvoltage of 58 V.

Engineers regard a 60-V limit as the safe maximum for cars; greater voltages can generate shocks.


Despite the obvious advantages of 42-V systems, challenges loom. Transition costs—reengineering of products and production processes—will be extremely high due to the legacy of a half century of 12-V systems. The upgrading of service and maintenance equipment will provide other obstacles. Still, annual power consumption increases of

4 percent will simply overload present-day 14-V systems, making 42-V alternatives inevitable.

R educing wiring mass through in-vehicle networks will bring an explosion of new functionality and innovation. Our vehicles will become more like PCs, creating the potential for a host of plug-and-play devices. With over 50 million new vehicles a year, this offers the potential for vast growth in automotive application software—much like that of the PC industry over the past decade.

On average, US commuters spend 9 percent of their day in an automobile. Introducing multimedia and telematics to vehicles will increase productivity and provide entertainment for millions. Further,

X-by-wire solutions will make computer diagnostics a standard part of mechanics’ work. The future could even bring the introduction of an electronic chauffeur.

Table 1. Predicted electrical loads of advanced electronic systems.

System Peak load Average load

Electromechanical valves

Water pump

Engine cooling fan

Power steering (all electric)

Heated windshield

Preheated catalytic converter

Active suspension

Onboard computing, navigation

Total average

















4. “Electronic Brake Management,”

ALex Current Factbook

, BMW Research and Development, http://www.

bmwgroup.com/e/index2.shtml?s50&0_0_www_bm wgroup_com/4_news/4_4_aktuelles_lexikon/4_4_akt uelles_lexikon.shtml (current Dec. 2001).

5. A. van Zanten et al.,

ESP Electronic Stability Program

, Robert Bosch GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany,


6. T. Thurner et al.,

X-By-Wire: Safety Related Fault-

Tolerant Systems in Vehicles

, Document No. XBy-

Wire-DB-6/6-25, X-by-Wire Consortium, Stuttgart,

Germany, 1998.

7. J.M. Miller, “Multiple Voltage Electrical Power Distribution Systems for Automotive Applications,”


roc. 31st Intersociety Energy Conversion Conf.


IEEE Press, Piscataway, N.J., 1996, pp. 1930-1937.

8. J.G. Kassakian, “Automotive Electrical Systems: The

Power Electronics Market of the Future,”

Proc. Applied

Power Electronics Conf. and Exposition

(APEC 2000),

IEEE Press, Piscataway, N.J., 2000, pp. 3-9.

9. Institute of the Motor Industry, “Volting Ahead on

Power Systems,” http://www.just-auto.com/features

_detail.asp?art=307 (current Dec. 2001).


We thank the Byteflight Group, DaimlerChrysler,

Delphi Automotive, the FlexRay Group, Siemens,

Motorola, PEI Technologies, TTTech, and the University of Limerick for their assistance.

Gabriel Leen

is a technical researcher at PEI Technologies, University of Limerick, Ireland. His research interests include in-vehicle networks, formal verification of vehicle network protocols, and automotive computing. Leen has several years’ experience in automotive electronic system design.

He received a research MEng from the University of Limerick and is currently completing a PhD in automotive networking design. Leen is a member of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland. Contact him at [email protected]


1. J.M. Miller et al., “Making the Case for a Next-Generation Automotive Electrical System,” MIT/Industry Consortium on Advanced Automotive Electrical/

Electronic Components and Systems, http://auto.mit.

edu/ consortium (current Dec. 2001).

2. W. Powers, “Environmental Challenges, Consumer

Opportunities,” Auto.com, http://www.auto.com/ travcity99/wpowers_aug5.htm (current Dec. 2001).

3. G. Leen, D. Heffernan, and A. Dunne, “Digital Networks in the Automotive Vehicle,”

IEE Computer and Control Eng. J.

, Dec. 1999, pp. 257-266.

Donal Heffernan

is a lecturer in computer engineering at the University of Limerick, Ireland. His research interests are real-time embedded system design and reliable protocols for distributed control networks. He received an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Salford, UK. Heffernan is a member of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland. Contact him at [email protected] ul.ie.

January 2002


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