Life Racing's Nissan World Series ECU

US company Actel has published a case study of an application of its 'ProASIC Plus' field-programmable gate arrays by the electronics design arm of UK company AER (Advanced Engine Research). Life Racing uses the FPGA devices for the highly flexible, proprietary 'F88' ECU of its Superfund Nissan World Series V6 race engine

Life Racing's Nissan World Series ECU

Race engine control units require complex tuning algorithms, optimized for each individual controller device. With standard time processor unit (TPU) controllers, this critical software can require significant rework as application requirements change. With Actel's in-system programmability (ISP), Life Racing was able to replace off-the-shelf TPU controllers with the single-chip, live-at-power-up APA450 'ProASIC Plus' devices.

Within the F88 ECU, the main function of the 450,000-gate FPGA is to derive engine position from the engine's crankshaft trigger wheel signal. The FPGA generates CPU interrupts based on abstract crankshaft angles, rather than the physical trigger wheel tooth positions used in traditional designs, providing increased flexibility and accuracy.

ECUs commonly schedule fuel and ignition actions as timed future events based on engine operating conditions at the point when the scheduling code is executed. Changes in operating conditions that occur before the event can result in angular errors, and the scheduling code is often highly dependent on the crankshaft trigger wheel tooth pattern for the engine in question. In Life's F88 ECU, the 'ProASIC Plus' FPGA allows the scheduling code to be independent of signal patterns. The FPGA can also schedule events and continue to tune placement by monitoring engine operating conditions until the event occurs. This increases code efficiency and flexibility and improves control accuracy under dynamic conditions.

Life Racing systems designer Mark Colby said: "Our core business is race engine control. In a motorsport environment, time is everything, and everyone is under immense pressure. The flexibility provided by Actel's 'ProASIC Plus' FPGAs allows us to quickly design hardware and decrease overall software development time, which is usually the most pressured activity. The ISP functionality allows us to accelerate development and testing. Furthermore, we can increase the FPGA functionality post-deployment without the prospect of difficult or expensive chip replacements when upgrading a unit to an extended FPGA design."

The Life Racing ECU is currently under evaluation by commercial road vehicle manufacturers. The flexibility of the unit makes it appropriate for prototyping and R&D environments in which the unit must cope with a variety of engine setups.

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