Texas Instruments hopes to extend the role of Bluetooth with one of the first devices that use Bluetooth Smart, a low-power version of the standard that’s already a mainstay in connectivity and infotainment. Replacing cables with wireless links is part of a corporate strategy to continue an expansion that made TI the fastest growing automotive semiconductor supplier in 2013.
TI recently unveiled its SimpleLink Bluetooth low-energy line of wireless microcontrollers. The controller consumes less than 1 microamp in sleep mode while also claiming low average power so applications can remain active when the car is turned off. The low-power wireless devices may be used in place of wiring for some applications that don’t send or receive a lot of data.
“Bluetooth can be used to replace cables for things like open and closing windows, adjusting mirrors, and turning on interior lights,” said Ram Machness, Business & Marketing Director for Automotive Wireless Connectivity at TI. “CAN and LIN cable cost a lot and they add weight. Using Bluetooth lowers weight, reduces complexity for assemblies, and reduces complexity in service centers because they don’t have to stock cables.”
He also noted that infotainment controls on the steering wheel could be connected using Bluetooth Smart, which is the marketing name for Bluetooth low energy. That can simplify manufacturing while helping automakers trim weight to meet U.S. CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations.
“When you’ve got a lot of buttons in the steering wheel, it’s a nightmare on the assembly line to have all these cables,” Machness said. “Instead of 20 cables, you have one chip. You can also send voice commands over Bluetooth low energy.”
The 6 x 6 mm chip may also be used in key fobs as a replacement for radio frequency chips.
“This works on a coin cell battery so it can be used in a key fob, which lets you open or start the car and personalize settings for each driver,” Machness said. “Bluetooth can replace existing wireless technologies. You can’t do that with regular Bluetooth, you have to have low energy.”
At the same time, TI also beefed up its offerings in the advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) arena, unveiling a Vision software development kit and debugging tools. These tools will help automakers in the rapidly growing application process the huge volumes of data needed for ADAS. Making sense of continuous streams of data from cameras, radar, and other sensors requires a mix of multicore processors and digital-signal-processing chips.
“These algorithms are complex; at each level you need a specific architecture to process data correctly,” said Brooke Williams, ADAS Business Manager at TI. “You need an architecture built for ADAS to keep power consumption low.
These moves are part of TI’s strategy to gain share in the automotive market. Last year, TI’s 21% growth rate outpaced the overall automotive semiconductor market, according to IHS Technology. TI remained the seventh largest chip supplier to the auto industry with revenues of $1.4 billion. Automotive represents 11% of TI’s total revenues.
Overall, the automotive semiconductor market expanded by 5% to $26.7 billion, up from $25.4 billion in 2012, according to IHS. Renesas remained the market leader, followed by Infineon, STMicroelectronics and Freescale. NXP and Bosch ranked fifth and sixth, IHS said.