Machines are playing an increasing role in our daily lives, from semi-autonomous cars to helping doctors diagnose illnesses to managing our energy resources or financial markets. These tasks can be challenging and machines could handle these responsibilities more efficiently and reliably than a human ever could.

Some of these responsibilities, by nature, are more critical than others. If the energy grid goes down or a machine causes a mistake in the financial markets, the consequences can be serious. But a machine error related to the brakes of a vehicle, the engine of an airplane or a drug delivery system for a medical patient could have deadly consequences.

From loss of property to loss of life, the stakes to make sure machines minimize the risks associate with failure are important. This is why companies take special care when designing, testing and deploying their end product systems. Not surprisingly, the direr the consequences of failure, the more care and effort goes into the development of these machines.

As the machines take on more function, they get more complex, and with that, so do the processors that are the “brains” of the machine. With complex processors, it becomes harder for the system designers to easily understand all of the possible failures that could occur in the processor and how best to detect and manage these failures.

 Our Hercules™ microcontroller (MCU) team works hard to help ensure our MCUs and related software provide best-in-class processor support for customers' application-related uses, which can include industrial, automotive or medical functional safety systems. The portfolio includes certified functional safety development processes and devices that are certifiedby an independent third-party assessor.1 As a result, they can significantly reduce a customer’s product certification effort. A key strategy to achieve this certification is to have a hardware architecture that includes a high level of built-in diagnostics. For example, Hercules MCUs can detect corrupt memory and provide a defined, self-correcting response. Its lock-step architecture features two redundant processor cores that execute the software and a special hardware module that compares outputs from each core to instantaneously detect faults. Many other checks are consistently being run to maintain the device’s integrity. It’s similar to your body: when getting sick, you feel pain or your temperature goes up to notify you something may be wrong. Likewise, Hercules MCUs have internal monitors that help detect when a defined mis-operation occurs within the MCU and indicate a status of this concern to the rest of the system.

Hardware isn’t the only element of a functional safety system that matters; the other key element is software. To help ensure that Hercules MCU software meets customer expectations, we have certified our software development process to meet ISO 26262 and IEC 61508. To help customers take the Hercules software through certification, we support them with a Compliance Support Package (CSP), which includes the typical test reports and safety collateral required by the standards. Add to this specialized development tools for fault injection, tool qualification and code profiling, and you see our desire to provide a comprehensive component supplier package to help our customers reach certification of their systems more quickly. For our customers, this is what really matters.

As more industries begin to rely on automated machines, where do you see a need for functional safety in the future?


1. Independent assessors of SafeTI™ products and/or processes include Exida, TÜV NORD, TÜV SÜD and UL.