Software is integral to delivering highly functional and safe products

Author : Steven Servaes, Software Competence Centre Manager at Melexis

03 January 2018

When designing hardware products, software is often a differentiator that delivers key benefits for OEMs and end users. As this piece explains, software also offers the ability to upgrade the product during its lifetime, adding new features or compatibility with new standards and protocols.

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In the automotive arena, safety is a critical concern to component manufacturers, vehicle makers and consumers. For modern vehicles, software is at least as important as hardware in ensuring the safety of vehicle drivers, passengers and other road users. As a result, standards define stringent processes that software developers must follow to ensure the safety of automotive systems.

In this article, we’ll explore how software intertwines with hardware, and consider the impact of automotive safety standards on design processes, as well as giving some insight into the internal processes that ensure Melexis software and products meet the highest standards.

While many companies may, at first glance, appear to be solely hardware-oriented, there are always two key areas in which software plays a very significant role: the development tools used in the design process; and the code that is included within silicon-based products. The embedded software aspect is particularly crucial, as it relates to safety-critical applications, such as automotive.

One of the key features of many modern semiconductor products is the high level of design flexibility for the end user, and the ability to customise configurations. In order to achieve this, many products have a proprietary microcontroller embedded within them.

Although it is a hardware task, performed by the analogue front-end to capture the signals being sensed, the microcontroller relies on software to convert the analogue information into usable data that can be used by the system.

The data may be used internally to drive a connected system, such as a pump or an actuator, or it may be processed to be delivered to a communication bus such as LIN, SENT, PSI-5, SPI or any of the other buses commonly used in vehicles. Semiconductor products are generally small and very efficient, meaning that all DSP functions are performed in software, based upon 16-bit signals.

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