(19)
(11)EP 4 064 794 A2

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
28.09.2022 Bulletin 2022/39

(21)Application number: 22305278.8

(22)Date of filing:  11.03.2022
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
H05B 45/37(2020.01)
H05B 45/10(2020.01)
H05B 45/52(2020.01)
H02M 3/335(2006.01)
B60Q 1/14(2006.01)
H05B 45/325(2020.01)
H05B 45/46(2020.01)
H05B 47/25(2020.01)
B60Q 11/00(2006.01)
(52)Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC):
H05B 45/46; H05B 45/325; H05B 45/52; H05B 47/25; H05B 45/10; H02M 3/33561; H05B 45/37; B60Q 11/005; B60Q 1/1415
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR
Designated Extension States:
BA ME
Designated Validation States:
KH MA MD TN

(30)Priority: 26.03.2021 IT 202100007490

(71)Applicants:
  • STMICROELECTRONICS (GRENOBLE 2) SAS
    38000 Grenoble (FR)
  • STMicroelectronics S.r.l.
    20864 Agrate Brianza (MB) (IT)
  • STMicroelectronics Application GmbH
    85609 Aschheim-Dornach (DE)

(72)Inventors:
  • GAERTNER, Manuel
    85622 FELDKIRCHEN (DE)
  • SIRITO-OLIVIER, Philippe
    38120 SAINT EGREVE (FR)
  • TORRISI, Giovanni Luca
    95022 ACI CATENA (CT) (IT)
  • URBITSCH, Thomas
    38660 LUMBIN (FR)
  • ROUSSEL, Christophe
    38640 CLAIX (FR)
  • BURKHARDT, Fritz
    81249 FELDKIRCHEN (DE)

(74)Representative: Ferrero, Alberto 
Buzzi, Notaro & Antonielli d'Oulx S.p.A. Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 6
IT-10123 Torino
IT-10123 Torino (IT)

  


(54)ELECTRONIC SYSTEM FOR DRIVING LIGHT SOURCES AND METHOD OF DRIVING LIGHT SOURCES


(57) A system (100') comprises a microcontroller unit (102) and a driver device (101) coupled (105) to the microcontroller unit (102) to receive data therefrom. The driver device (101) comprises a plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) and is configured to selectively propagate (301, ..., 30n) a supply voltage (VBAT) to the output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) to provide respective pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) at the output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn). The driver device (101) is configured to compute respective duty-cycle values of the pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) as a function of the data received from the microcontroller unit (102) . The system further comprises a plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) coupled to the plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn). The plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) comprises at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) coupled to a same output supply pin (101C1) in the plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn). The system further comprises a set of respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m). The microcontroller unit (102) is configured to individually control the electronic switches via respective control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m) to individually adjust a brightness of the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m).




Description

Technical field



[0001] The description relates to driving light sources.

[0002] One or more embodiments may apply to light sources comprising Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

Technological background



[0003] As is known, LEDs are more and more used in lighting devices (lamps) in an increasing number of fields, due to their advantageous characteristics as to cost, dimensions, duration, directionality and electrical efficiency.

[0004] LED-based lighting devices are used both stand-alone and included in more complex systems. In the latter case, often a controller is configured to manage the operation of a number of different loads. For example, in the automotive field, control of the switching of the LEDs and their functionality is generally included in a system. The system may include a microcontroller and at least one driver device that are formed in different chips for controlling a number of functions, including, e.g., mirror adjustment, lock control, direction indicator, and various lighting functions. The driver device may be provided, for instance, as an application-specific standard product (ASSP).

[0005] The devices available with the companies of the STMicroelectronics group under the trade designations L99DZ100G and L99DZ100GP, as described in the datasheet "DS11546 Rev 5" (March 2019) available at st.com, are exemplary of such driver devices configured to control various functions in a certain zone of a vehicle (e.g., zone controllers such as "door modules"), including one or more lighting functions. The device available with the companies of the STMicroelectronics group under the trade designation L99DZ120, as described in the datasheet "DS11567 Rev 5" (March 2019) available at st.com, is also exemplary of a driver device configured to control various functions in a certain zone of a vehicle (e.g., a zone controller such as a "door module"), including one or more lighting functions.

[0006] Such known devices may implement a programmable brightness compensation of the light sources driven thereby, as disclosed, for instance, in U.S. Patent US 10375774 B2 assigned to companies of the STMicroelectronics group. In fact, it may be desired to maintain a constant light brightness when the LED elements are on. Brightness of the LEDs depends on a number of parameters, including the actual supply voltage level. However, in particular in automotive applications, the supply voltage is generally not constant: numerous voltage transients may occur on the supply voltage VBAT, both negative and positive caused, for example, by start of a vehicle engine, which may cause a drop of the supply voltage VBAT even down to a half of its nominal value (e.g., from 12 V to 6 V), and/or switching on/off of heavy inductive loads, such as window opening motors. Therefore, in case of varying or unstable supply voltage, brightness of the LEDs may not be constant and flickering may occur, which is an undesired effect.

[0007] In order to mitigate the above-discussed issue, document US 10375774 B2 discloses an electrical load control system intended, e.g., for automotive application, as illustrated in Figure 1 annexed herein. The electrical load control system 100 comprises a driver device 101, a microcontroller 102, a number n of LED groups 311 to 31n (e.g., LED strings) and possibly other loads, such as mirror adjustment motors, lock control motors, direction indicators, and other lighting elements (not visible in Figure 1).

[0008] The microcontroller 102 has a plurality of controller I/O pins 102A coupled, via a number of respective connection lines 105 (e.g., implemented by a Serial Peripheral Interface bus), to the driver device 101. The driver device 101 includes a brightness control device 20, a logic and diagnostic unit 106, a driver unit 29, and optionally other driver units (not visible in Figure 1).

[0009] The driver device 101 thus has a first plurality of I/O pins 101A coupled to the connection lines 105, the logic and diagnostic unit 106 and the brightness control device 20; a second plurality of I/O pins (not visible in Figure 1) coupled to the other loads, and a third plurality of I/O pins 101C1 to 101Cn coupled to the driver unit 29 and the plurality of LED groups 311 to 31n. Optionally, a current-setting or current-limiting element (e.g., a resistor) may be coupled in series to each LED group 31.

[0010] The brightness control device 20 comprises a processing unit 21 (e.g., a state machine implemented as hardwired logic); a first register unit 22 for storing values (e.g., a number n of values) of the nominal duty-cycle DCN of the supply signal to be applied to each LED group 31; a second register unit 23 for storing values (e.g., a number n of values) of the LED forward voltage VLED of each LED group 31; a third register unit 24 for storing values (e.g., a number n of values) of a compensated duty-cycle DCC of the supply signal to be applied to each LED group 31; and an ADC converter 25 for providing (e.g., acquiring) a digital value VS of an actual supply voltage VBAT received from a power supply source such as a battery. The processing unit 21, which implements an algorithm for brightness control, may be a same element as the logic and diagnostic unit 106. The brightness control device 20 operates as described in the following.

[0011] In a setting phase, the registers in the first register unit 22 are loaded with the nominal duty-cycle value DCN_i for each of the n LED groups 31 and the registers in the second register unit 23 are loaded with the LED forward voltage VLED_i for each of the n LED groups 31 (these values being received, for instance, from the microcontroller 102 via the connection lines 105, depending on the desired lighting function to be implemented). In addition, the registers in the second register unit 23 may be loaded with a (single) activation bit, for each of the LED groups 31, whose value determines whether voltage compensation is to be applied to the respective duty-cycle value. A nominal supply voltage VTH (e.g., equal to 10 V) is also stored in the brightness control device 20.

[0012] In operation, at each compensation cycle, initially the processing unit 21 reads the digital value VS of the actual supply voltage at the output of the ADC converter 25. Then, a LED group counter i is initialized to 1 and the processing unit 21 checks whether adjusting is set for the specific i-th LED group 31, by reading the content of the relevant adjustment activation bit in the corresponding register in the second register unit 23.

[0013] In the affirmative case, the nominal duty-cycle DCN_i and LED forward voltage VLED_i in the first and second register units 22, 23 for the respective LED group 31i are read and the present, compensated duty-cycle DCC_i for the i-th LED group is calculated in the processing unit 21 using the equation below, and then stored in the respective register of the third register unit 24:



[0014] If no adjusting is set for the specific i-th LED group 31, the present duty-cycle DCC_i is set to be the nominal duty-cycle DCN i.

[0015] Then, in both cases, the LED group counter i is incremented and it is verified whether the present duty-cycle DCC_i has been determined for each LED group 31. In the negative case, the processing unit 21 checks whether adjusting is set for the subsequent LED group 31; in the affirmative case, the processing unit 21 is ready for starting a new compensation cycle.

[0016] The values of the present (compensated) duty-cycle DCC_i loaded in the registers of the third register unit 24 are then used for driving the LED groups 31 by means of the driver elements (e.g., high-side driver transistors) 301 to 30n, which propagate the supply voltage VBAT to the respective I/O pins 101C1 to 101Cn modulated as a function of the respective duty-cycle values DCC_i read from the third register unit 24 (e.g., with a Pulse Width Modulation, PWM) and thus provide respective PWM supply signals VBAT,1 to VBAT,n.

[0017] It is noted that, due to the increasing complexity of LED lighting systems (in particular in automotive applications), the number of LED groups 31 driven by the system 100 may be higher than the number n of I/O pins 101C of the driver device 101 (in general, the number n of I/O pins 101C being equal to the number of registers in each of the first, second and third register units 22, 23, 24 as well as equal to the number of driver elements 30 provided in the driver unit 29). In such a case, plural LED groups 31 may be coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin 101C of the driver device 101, as exemplified in Figure 2: for instance, a number m of LED groups 311,1, 311,2,..., 311,m may be coupled in parallel to the same I/O pin 101C1 to be controlled by the same driver element 301 and receive the same PWM supply signal VBAT,1. The same may apply also to other I/O pins 101C, e.g., with a certain number of LED groups 31 coupled in parallel to each I/O pin 101C, possibly with a different number of LED groups coupled in parallel to each I/O pin 101C.

[0018] In a control system as illustrated in Figure 2, all the LED groups 31 coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin 101C are driven by a same driver element 30 and are thus driven as a function of a same duty-cycle value (possibly compensated against the variations of the supply voltage VBAT as discussed above) as programmed by the microcontroller 102 via the (e.g., SPI) connection lines 105. As a result, all the LED groups arranged in parallel and coupled to a same I/O pin 101C exhibit the same brightness. The control system does not allow to individually control each LED group 31 (e.g., separately controlling the brightness of the LED groups 311,1 to 311,m).

[0019] Therefore, there is a need in the art to provide improved control systems for lighting loads (e.g., LED groups) which facilitate controlling individually a plurality of lighting loads, while retaining the possibility of compensating the duty-cycle against the variations of the supply voltage in a centralized manner.

Object and summary



[0020] An object of one or more embodiments is to contribute in providing such improved control systems for lighting loads.

[0021] According to one or more embodiments, such an object can be achieved by means of an electronic system having the features set forth in the claims that follow.

[0022] One or more embodiments may relate to a method of driving lighting devices.

[0023] The claims are an integral part of the technical teaching provided herein in respect of the embodiments.

[0024] In one or more embodiments, a system may comprise a microcontroller unit and a driver device coupled to the microcontroller unit to receive data therefrom. The driver device may comprise a plurality of output supply pins and may be configured to selectively propagate a supply voltage to the output supply pins to provide respective pulse-width modulated supply signals at the output supply pins. The driver device may be configured to compute respective duty-cycle values of the pulse-width modulated supply signals as a function of the data received from the microcontroller unit. The system may further comprise a plurality of lighting devices coupled to the plurality of output supply pins. The plurality of lighting devices may comprise at least one subset of lighting devices coupled to a same output supply pin in the plurality of output supply pins. The system may further comprise a set of respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices. The microcontroller unit may be configured to individually control the electronic switches via respective control signals to individually adjust a brightness of the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices.

[0025] One or more embodiments may thus facilitate controlling individually the brightness of a plurality of lighting loads supplied by a same pulse-width modulated supply signal.

Brief description of the figures



[0026] One or more embodiments will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the annexed figures, wherein:
  • Figure 1, previously discussed, is a circuit block diagram exemplary of a control system for lighting loads,
  • Figure 2, previously discussed, is a circuit block diagram exemplary of another control system for lighting loads,
  • Figure 3 is a circuit block diagram exemplary of a control system for lighting loads according to one or more embodiments of the present description,
  • Figure 4 is a circuit block diagram exemplary of implementation details of a control system for lighting loads according to one or more embodiments of the present description,
  • Figure 5 is a flow diagram exemplary of a diagnosis procedure implemented in a control system for lighting loads according to one or more embodiments of the present description, and
  • Figure 6 is a flow diagram exemplary of an overcurrent event management procedure implemented in a control system for lighting loads according to one or more embodiments of the present description.

Detailed description of exemplary embodiments



[0027] In the ensuing description, one or more specific details are illustrated, aimed at providing an in-depth understanding of examples of embodiments of this description. The embodiments may be obtained without one or more of the specific details, or with other methods, components, materials, etc. In other cases, known structures, materials, or operations are not illustrated or described in detail so that certain aspects of embodiments will not be obscured.

[0028] Reference to "an embodiment" or "one embodiment" in the framework of the present description is intended to indicate that a particular configuration, structure, or characteristic described in relation to the embodiment is comprised in at least one embodiment. Hence, phrases such as "in an embodiment" or "in one embodiment" that may be present in one or more points of the present description do not necessarily refer to one and the same embodiment. Moreover, particular conformations, structures, or characteristics may be combined in any adequate way in one or more embodiments.

[0029] The headings/references used herein are provided merely for convenience and hence do not define the extent of protection or the scope of the embodiments.

[0030] Throughout the figures annexed herein, unless the context indicates otherwise, like parts or elements are indicated with like references/numerals and a corresponding description will not be repeated for brevity.

[0031] One or more embodiments may relate to an improved control system for lighting loads (e.g., LED groups) which facilitates controlling individually a plurality of lighting loads, while retaining the possibility of compensating the duty-cycle against the variations of the supply voltage in a centralized manner.

[0032] With reference again to Figures 1 and 2, it has been noted that, if the number of lighting devices (e.g., LED groups 31) to be driven by a controller device 101 is higher than the number n of I/O pins 101C of the controller device (also referred to as the number of "channels" of the controller device in the present description), plural lighting devices (e.g., 311,1 to 311,m) may be coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin 101C, with the disadvantage of losing the possibility of controlling individually each lighting device 31, e.g., individually controlling the brightness thereof.

[0033] A first straightforward solution to this issue would entail adapting the driver device 101 by increasing the number of available I/O pins 101C. However, this solution requires re-designing the whole driver device 101, and would result in an increase of its cost (insofar as increasing the number of channels also requires increasing the number of registers in the first, second and third register units 22, 23 and 24, as well as increasing the number of driver elements 30). In addition, such a solution may be impractical since the number of I/O pins of the driver device 101 may generally be limited by the size and/or type of package of the integrated circuit 101 (e.g., an LQFP-64 package).

[0034] Therefore, one or more embodiments as exemplified in Figure 3 may rely on a different approach, where the microcontroller 102 is configured to provide a respective duty-cycle control signal (e.g., signals P1,1 to P1,m) to each of the lighting devices (e.g., LED groups 311,1 to 311,m) coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin (e.g., 101C1). The duty-cycle control signals P1,1 to P1,m may be generated by the microcontroller 102 based on a software programmed in the microcontroller itself.

[0035] For instance, the duty-cycle control signals P1,1 to P1,m may be pulse-width modulated (PWM) signals having a frequency higher than the frequency of the PWM supply signals VBAT,1 to VBAT,n provided by the driver circuit 101 at the I/O pins 101C1 to 101Cn. Purely by way of nonlimiting example, the frequency of the duty-cycle control PWM signals P1,1 to P1,m may be 10 to 20 times higher than the frequency of the PWM supply signals provided at the I/O pins 101C. For instance, the frequency of the PWM supply signals VBAT,1 to VBAT,n may be in the range of 100 Hz to 1 kHz, and the frequency of the duty-cycle control PWM signals P1,1 to P1,m may be in the range of 2 kHz to 10 kHz.

[0036] Therefore, in one or more embodiments of a lighting load control system 100' as exemplified in Figure 3, a driver device 101 may comprise a plurality of I/O pins 101C1 to 101Cn which provide respective PWM supply signals VBAT,1 to VBAT,n whose duty-cycle may be compensated against variations of the supply voltage VBAT by means of a brightness control device 20, where several lighting loads (LED groups) can be connected in parallel to each of the I/O pins 101C. Additionally, the microcontroller 102 may provide respective independent brightness-setting signals (or duty-cycle control PWM signals) P1,1 to P1,m to each lighting load supplied by a same PWM supply signal VBAT,1.

[0037] In one or more embodiments, each brightness-setting signal P1,1 to P1,m may be propagated to the respective LED group 311,1 to 311,m via additional circuitry as exemplified in Figure 4, which is exemplary of certain implementation details of a control system 100' as exemplified in Figure 3. For the sake of brevity and ease of illustration only, Figure 4 shows only one I/O pin 101C1 of the driver device 101, and only two LED groups 311,1 and 311,m coupled thereto. However, the person skilled in the art will understand that a similar circuit arrangement may be provided at any LED group 31 which is coupled in parallel to another LED group and which is configured to receive a respective individual brightness-setting signal P. Also, in Figure 4 only certain components of the driver device 101 are illustrated, again for the ease of illustration only.

[0038] As exemplified in Figure 4, a number of discrete components may be used to propagate (e.g., overlay) a brightness-setting signal P to a corresponding LED group 31 to set its individual duty-cycle.

[0039] For instance, the brightness-setting circuitry for LED group 311,1 coupled to the I/O pin 101C1 may comprise:
  • an input pin 401,1 configured to receive the brightness-setting signal P1,1,
  • a first current path between the I/O pin 101C1 and ground, the first current path comprising a series arrangement of a first resistor R11,1, a second resistor R21,1, and a first transistor T11,1 having its current path coupled between the second resistor R21,1 and ground;
  • a second current path between the I/O pin 101C1 and ground, the second current path comprising a series arrangement of a second transistor T21,1, a third resistor R31,1, and one or more LEDs 311,1 coupled in series between the third resistor R31,1 and ground.


[0040] As exemplified in Figure 4, the input pin 401,1 may be coupled to a control terminal of the first transistor T11,1 to propagate thereto the brightness-setting PWM signal P1,1. For instance, the circuitry may comprise a fourth resistor R41,1 coupled between the input pin 401,1 and the control terminal of the first transistor T11,1, and a fifth resistor R51,1 coupled between the control terminal of the first transistor T11,1 and ground.

[0041] As exemplified in Figure 4, the control terminal of the second transistor T21,1 may be coupled to a node intermediate the first resistor R11,1 and the second resistor R21,1.

[0042] As exemplified in Figure 4, the first transistor T11,1 may be a BJT transistor of the npn type having a base terminal coupled to the input pin 401,1, a collector terminal coupled to the second resistor R21,1 and an emitter terminal coupled to ground. However, those of skill in the art will understand that alternative embodiments may instead comprise, for instance, a MOS transistor of the n-channel type having a gate terminal coupled to the input pin 401,1, a drain terminal coupled to the second resistor R21,1 and a source terminal coupled to ground.

[0043] As exemplified in Figure 4, the second transistor T21,1 may be a BJT transistor of the pnp type having a base terminal coupled to the node intermediate the first resistor R11,1 and the second resistor R21,1, a collector terminal coupled to the third resistor R31,1 and an emitter terminal coupled to the I/O pin 101C1. However, those of skill in the art will understand that alternative embodiments may instead comprise, for instance, a MOS transistor of the p-channel type having a gate terminal coupled to the node intermediate the first resistor R11,1 and the second resistor R21,1, a drain terminal coupled to the third resistor R31,1 and a source terminal coupled to the I/O pin 101C1.

[0044] Those of skill in the art will understand that the circuitry illustrated in Figure 4 is just an example of a possible arrangement which allows further modulating, at a higher frequency, the PWM supply signals received at the LED groups 31 from the I/O pins 101C. Generally, when the PWM supply signal received from a certain I/O pin 101C is low, the corresponding LED groups 31 are not supplied with current and therefore are off (independently from the value of the brightness-setting signals P). When the PWM supply signal received from a certain I/O pin 101C is high, the corresponding LED groups 31 can be supplied with current (i.e., turned on), however the value of the corresponding brightness-setting signal P will determine whether the respective LED group is actually turned on or not. For instance, if P is high, the transistor T1 will be conductive, thus resulting in the transistor T2 being conductive, and therefore turning on the respective LED group 31. If P is low, instead, the transistor T1 will be non-conductive, thus resulting in the transistor T2 being non-conductive, and therefore turning off the respective LED group 31. Since the frequency of the brightness-setting signal P is higher than the frequency of the PWM supply signal received from the I/O pin 101C, the respective LED group 31 can be turned on and off several times during a single "on" time of the PWM supply signal VBAT,1, thereby adjusting its brightness.

[0045] Therefore, those of skill in the art will understand that one or more embodiments may generally comprise a plurality of LED groups 311,1 to 311,m coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin 101C1 of the driver device 101, and an electronic switch coupled in series to each LED group which allows selectively coupling and decoupling the LED groups to and from the I/O supply pin 101C as a function of respective brightness-setting signals P received from the microcontroller 102.

[0046] In one or more embodiments, the logic and diagnostic unit 106 of the driver device 101 may be additionally configured to carry out a diagnosis procedure, for instance, as a state machine running in the diagnostic unit. The diagnosis procedure may detect failures (e.g., an unexpected short circuit condition and/or an overcurrent) in the lighting loads coupled in parallel to a same I/O pin 101C and supplied by the same output, considering the two PWM signals (at high frequency and low frequency) applied to the lighting loads.

[0047] It is noted that, because of parasitic capacitances on the printed circuit board, a peak of current is usually delivered by the driver element 30 when a lighting load 31 is turned on. In one or more embodiments, the diagnosis procedure may discriminate such repetitive current peaks from current peaks due to a short to ground of one leg, or on pin 101C. The diagnosis procedure may thus facilitate protecting the driver device 101, possibly reporting the detected failures to the microcontroller 102.

[0048] For instance, the diagnosis procedure may comprise, during each "on" time of the PWM supply signal supplied to an I/O pin 101C, checking (e.g., by means of a current comparator) whether the current supplied to the I/O pin 101C is higher than a certain threshold. In the affirmative case, an "overcurrent event" flag may be set to indicate that an overcurrent event was detected. Upon expiry of the current "on" time of the PWM supply signal, the overcurrent detection procedure may be disabled. In one or more embodiments, the overcurrent detection procedure may be enabled during several (subsequent) "on" times of the PWM supply signal, and detected overcurrent events may be reported (only) after several "on" times of the PWM supply signal.

[0049] Optionally, the diagnosis procedure may comprise waiting a blanking time at each start of a new PWM period of the PWM supply signal supplied to an I/O pin 101C before enabling the overcurrent detection mechanism.

[0050] Figure 5 is a flow diagram exemplary of possible steps of a diagnosis procedure 50 as included in one or more embodiments.

[0051] An initialization step 500 may comprise defining variables for carrying out the diagnosis procedure. As known in the art, a PWM supply signal may be characterized by an "on" time Ton and an "off" time Toff, the sum of the on time and off time being equal to the duration of the PWM period Tper. The period duration Tper can be fixed or programmable (e.g., equal to 10 ms). The duration Ton of the on time may be variable, e.g., because it is defined as a function of the compensation algorithm run by the processing unit 21. In addition, a blanking time Tblanking may be defined. The blanking time Tblanking may be an initial portion of each cycle of the PWM supply signal during which the overcurrent events are not detected. For instance, the blanking time Tblanking may be equal to 40 µs. Generally, the duration Ton of the on time is higher than the blanking time Tblanking. In addition, a maximum number Nmax of "on" pulses of the PWM supply signal during which the overcurrent events are detected to be validated, may be defined. For instance, Nmax may be equal to 5. In addition, an overcurrent detection blanking time TOC_blanking may be defined. The overcurrent detection blanking time TOC_blanking may define the minimum time duration of an overcurrent condition within the current "on" time Ton to be counted as an overcurrent event.

[0052] Therefore, in one or more embodiments the initialization step 500 may comprise defining the following variables:
  • a pulse counter N (signed, ranging from -1 to Nmax+1;
  • an overcurrent bit OC;
  • an overcurrent event bit OCevent;
  • an overcurrent counter TOC;
  • a blanking time counter Tblanking; and
  • a PWM pulse counter TON.


[0053] As exemplified in Figure 5, a subsequent portion of the diagnosis procedure 50 may comprise steps 502 to 514 for the generation of the blanking time. Step 502 may comprise setting the PWM supply signal to a low value (e.g., zero), disabling the overcurrent detection, stopping and resetting any counter. Step 504 may comprise checking whether the PWM supply signal has to be turned on, and whether the overcurrent flag is cleared. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 504, the procedure may return to step 502. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 504, the procedure may continue to step 506. Step 506 may comprise setting the pulse counter N to zero. Step 508 may comprise setting the overcurrent bit OC to zero, and setting the PWM supply signal to a high value (e.g., one). Step 510 may comprise starting the blanking time counter Tblanking and the PWM pulse counter TON. Step 512 may comprise checking whether the PWM supply signal is turned off by the microcontroller 102. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 512, the procedure may return to step 502. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 512, the procedure may continue to step 514. Step 514 may comprise checking whether the blanking time is elapsed (e.g., whether the blanking time counter has reached a threshold). In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 514, the procedure may return to step 512. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 514, the procedure may continue to step 516.

[0054] Step 516 starts a subsequent portion of the diagnosis procedure 50 comprising steps 516 to 528 for the detection and management of overcurrent events. Step 516 may comprise setting the overcurrent event bit OCevent to zero, resetting the overcurrent counter TOC, and enabling the overcurrent detection with a blanking time equal to TOC_blanking. Subsequent steps 518 to 524 may be carried out concurrently with steps 600 to 610 of an overcurrent detection procedure 60 as exemplified in Figure 6.

[0055] In particular, the overcurrent detection procedure may comprise a step 600 which comprises checking whether overcurrent detection is enabled. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 600, the procedure may return to step 600. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 600, the procedure may continue to step 602. Step 602 may comprise checking whether the current supplied to the I/O pin 101C exceeds a threshold value. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 602, the procedure may continue to step 604. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 602, the procedure may continue to step 606. Step 604 may comprise setting the overcurrent counter TOC to zero. Step 606 may comprise setting the overcurrent counter TOC to the minimum of the blanking time TOC_blanking and the current value of the overcurrent counter TOC increased by one unit (i.e., TOC = min(TOC_blanking; TOC+1)). Step 608 may comprise checking whether the current value of the overcurrent counter TOC is higher than or equal to the blanking time TOC_blanking. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 608, the procedure may return to step 600. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 608, the procedure may continue to step 610. Step 610 may comprise setting the overcurrent event bit OCevent to one.

[0056] Concurrently with an overcurrent detection procedure 60 as exemplified in Figure 6, steps 518 to 524 may be carried out. Step 518 may comprise checking whether the overcurrent event bit OCevent is equal to one. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 518, the procedure may continue to step 520. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 518, the procedure may continue to step 522. Step 520 may comprise setting the overcurrent bit OC to one. Step 522 may comprise checking whether the "on" time Ton of the PWM supply signal is elapsed (e.g., whether the PWM pulse counter TON has reached a threshold). In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 522, the procedure may continue to step 524. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 522, the procedure may continue to step 528. Step 524 may comprise checking whether the PWM supply signal is turned off by the microcontroller 102. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 524, the procedure may return to step 518. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 524, the procedure may continue to step 526. Step 526 may comprise disabling the overcurrent detection. After step 526, the procedure may return to step 502. Step 528 may comprise disabling the overcurrent detection. After step 528, the procedure may continue to step 530.

[0057] Step 530 starts a subsequent portion of the diagnosis procedure 50 comprising steps 530 to 544 for generating the "off" time of the PWM supply signal, and checking the occurrence of a validated overcurrent event, upon which the driver element may be turned off. Step 530 may comprise checking whether the overcurrent bit OC is equal to one. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 530, the procedure may continue to step 532. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 530, the procedure may continue to step 540. Step 532 may comprise setting the pulse counter N to the maximum of zero and the current value of the pulse counter N decreased by one unit (i.e., N = max(0; N-1)). Step 534 may comprise setting the PWM supply signal to a low value (e.g., zero) and starting the PWM off counter TOFF. Step 536 may comprise checking whether the PWM supply signal is turned off by the microcontroller 102. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 536, the procedure may return to step 502. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 536, the procedure may continue to step 538. Step 538 may comprise checking whether the "off" time Toff of the PWM supply signal is elapsed (e.g., whether the PWM off counter TOFF has reached a threshold). In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 538, the procedure may return to step 536. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 538, the procedure may return to step 508. Step 540 may comprise setting the pulse counter N to the minimum of Nmax and the current value of the pulse counter N increased by one unit (i.e., N = min(Nmax; N+1)). Step 542 may comprise checking whether the current value of the pulse counter N is equal to or higher than the number Nmax. In the case of a negative outcome (N) of step 542, the procedure may return to step 534. In the case of a positive outcome (Y) of step 542, the procedure may continue to step 544. Step 544 may comprise reporting the value of the overcurrent bit OC and turning off the PWM supply signal (e.g., turning off the driver element).

[0058] Therefore, one or more embodiments may provide a system and a method for driving lighting loads (e.g., LED groups) with a flexible and programmable brightness compensation architecture also in the case of plural lighting loads coupled in parallel to a same PWM supply pin.

[0059] One or more embodiments may thus provide one or more of the following advantages:
  • each lighting load (e.g., single LED or LED group) can be driven (e.g., programmed) at its own brightness level, while the duty-cycle of the respective PWM supply voltage can still be compensated by the driver device 101 against variations of the battery voltage VBAT;
  • in the case of multiple lighting loads coupled in parallel, the respective duty-cycle values and dimming ramps can be managed independently by the microcontroller 102, while the more time-critical task (e.g., supply voltage compensation) is carried out by the driver device 101 (e.g., implemented as an ASSP);
  • a number of lighting loads higher than the number of output stages (e.g., the number of high-side driver elements 30) of the driver device 101 can be compensated in real time, without resorting to direct drive inputs (e.g., PWM input signals which are directly driving the high side);
  • established solutions for compensating variations of the battery voltage VBAT can be scaled up to a higher number of lighting loads without the need of re-designing the driver device 101, insofar as the brightness control is achieved by means of external circuitry controlled by the system microcontroller 102, possibly removing any limitation to the number of lighting loads couplable to the driver device 101;
  • a high number of lighting loads can be independently dimmed or set to a different brightness level by means of external circuitry controlled by the system microcontroller 102, while the duty-cycle compensation can still implemented in the driver device 101;
  • a diagnosis procedure for protecting the system (e.g., against short circuits and/or overcurrent events) is carried out in the driver device considering the arrangement of plural lighting loads coupled in parallel.


[0060] As exemplified herein, a system (e.g., 100') may comprise:
  • a microcontroller unit (e.g., 102),
  • a driver device (e.g., 101) coupled (e.g., 105) to the microcontroller unit to receive data therefrom, and comprising a plurality of output supply pins (e.g., 101C1, ..., 101Cn),
  • a plurality of lighting devices (e.g., 311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) coupled to the plurality of output supply pins, wherein the plurality of lighting devices comprises at least one subset of lighting devices coupled to a same output supply pin in the plurality of output supply pins, and
  • a set of respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices.


[0061] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to selectively propagate (e.g., 301, ..., 30n) a supply voltage (e.g., VBAT) to the output supply pins to provide respective pulse-width modulated supply signals (e.g., VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) at the output supply pins, and to compute respective duty-cycle values of the pulse-width modulated supply signals as a function of the data received from the microcontroller unit. The microcontroller unit may be configured to individually control the electronic switches via respective control signals (e.g., P1,1, ..., P1,m) to individually adjust a brightness of the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices).

[0062] As exemplified herein, the lighting devices may comprise one or more light-emitting diodes.

[0063] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to sense a value (e.g., VS) of the supply voltage and may be configured to compute the respective duty-cycle values of the pulse-width modulated supply signals as a function of the sensed value of the supply voltage.

[0064] As exemplified herein, the control signals may be pulse-width modulated control signals having a frequency higher than the frequency of the pulse-width modulated supply signals, optionally having a frequency 10 to 20 times higher than the frequency of the pulse-width modulated supply signals.

[0065] As exemplified herein, the respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices may comprise respective first transistors (e.g., T21,1, ..., T21,m) having respective control terminals controlled by the respective control signals.

[0066] As exemplified herein, the signal propagation network for each of the control signals from the microcontroller unit to the respective first transistor may comprise:
  • a control node (e.g., 401,1, ..., 401,m) configured to receive the respective control signal from the microcontroller unit, and
  • a current path coupled between the respective output supply pin of the driver device and ground, the current path comprising a series arrangement of a first resistor (e.g., R11,1, ..., R11,m), a second resistor (e.g., R21,1, ..., R21,m) and a further transistor (e.g., T11,1, ..., T11,m).


[0067] As exemplified herein, a control terminal of the further transistor may be coupled (e.g., R41,1, ..., R41,m) to the control node, and the control terminal of the first transistor may be coupled to a node intermediate the first resistor and the second resistor.

[0068] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to:
  • measure, during ON times of the pulse-width modulated supply signals, a current supplied to the output supply pins,
  • check whether the current supplied to the output supply pins is higher than an overcurrent threshold value, and
  • detect an overcurrent event in response to the current supplied to the output supply pins being higher than the overcurrent threshold value.


[0069] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to:
  • measure a blanking time period elapsing since the start of an ON time of the pulse-width modulated supply signals, and
  • measure the current supplied to the output supply pins as a result of the measured blanking time period reaching a blanking threshold value.


[0070] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to:
  • check whether the current supplied to the output supply pins is higher than the overcurrent threshold value over the duration of a measurement time period, and
  • detect an overcurrent event in response to the current supplied to the output supply pins being higher than the overcurrent threshold value over the duration of the measurement time period.


[0071] As exemplified herein, the driver device may be configured to detect an overcurrent event in response to the current supplied to the output supply pins being higher than the overcurrent threshold value during a plurality of subsequent ON times of the pulse-width modulated supply signals.

[0072] As exemplified herein, a method may comprise:
  • generating a plurality of pulse-width modulated supply signals for supplying a plurality of lighting devices,
  • providing a same pulse-width modulated supply signal of the plurality of pulse-width modulated supply signals to at least one subset of lighting devices of the plurality of lighting devices,
  • generating respective control signals for each lighting device in the subset of lighting devices supplied by a same pulse-width modulated supply signal, and
  • individually coupling and decoupling each lighting device in the subset of lighting devices from the same pulse-width modulated supply signal, as a function of the respective control signal, to individually adjust a brightness of the lighting devices in the at least one subset of lighting devices.


[0073] As exemplified herein, a method may comprise:
  • measuring, during ON times of the pulse-width modulated supply signals, a current supplied to the lighting devices,
  • checking whether the current supplied to the lighting devices is higher than an overcurrent threshold value, and
  • detecting an overcurrent event in response to the current supplied to the lighting devices being higher than the overcurrent threshold value.


[0074] Without prejudice to the underlying principles, the details and embodiments may vary, even significantly, with respect to what has been described by way of example only, without departing from the extent of protection.

[0075] The extent of protection is determined by the annexed claims.


Claims

1. A system (100'), comprising:

a microcontroller unit (102),

a driver device (101) coupled (105) to the microcontroller unit (102) to receive data therefrom, the driver device (101) comprising a plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) and being configured to selectively propagate (301, ..., 30n) a supply voltage (VBAT) to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) to provide respective pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) at said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn), the driver device (101) being configured to compute respective duty-cycle values of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) as a function of said data received from the microcontroller unit (102),

a plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) coupled to said plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn), wherein said plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) comprises at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) coupled to a same output supply pin (101C1) in said plurality of output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn), and

a set of respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in said at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m),

wherein the microcontroller unit (102) is configured to individually control said electronic switches via respective control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m) to individually adjust a brightness of said lighting devices in said at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m).


 
2. The system (100') of claim 1, wherein said lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) comprise one or more light-emitting diodes.
 
3. The system (100') of any of the previous claims, wherein the driver device (101) is configured to sense a value (VS) of said supply voltage (VBAT) and is configured to compute said respective duty-cycle values of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) as a function of said sensed value (VS) of said supply voltage (VBAT).
 
4. The system (100') of any of the previous claims, wherein said control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m) are pulse-width modulated control signals having a frequency higher than the frequency of the pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n), preferably having a frequency 10 to 20 times higher than the frequency of the pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n).
 
5. The system (100') of any of the previous claims, wherein said respective electronic switches coupled in series to the lighting devices in said at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) comprise respective first transistors (T21,1, ..., T21,m) having respective control terminals controlled by said respective control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m).
 
6. The system (100') of claim 5, wherein the signal propagation network for each of said control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m) from said microcontroller unit (102) to the respective first transistor (T21,1, ..., T21,m) comprises:

a control node (401,1, ..., 401,m) configured to receive the respective control signal (P1,1, ..., P1,m) from the microcontroller unit (102),

a current path coupled between the respective output supply pin (101C1) of the driver device (101) and ground, the current path comprising a series arrangement of a first resistor (R11,1, ..., R11,m), a second resistor (R21,1, ..., R21,m) and a further transistor (T11,1, ..., T11,m),

wherein a control terminal of the further transistor (T11,1, ..., T11,m) is coupled (R41,1, ..., R41,m) to the control node (401,1, ..., 401,m) , and the control terminal of the first transistor (T21,1, ..., T21,m) is coupled to a node intermediate the first resistor (R11,1, ..., R11,m) and the second resistor (R21,1, ..., R21,m).


 
7. The system (100') of any of the previous claims, wherein the driver device (10) is configured to:

measure, during ON times of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) , a current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn),

check whether said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) is higher than an overcurrent threshold value, and

detect an overcurrent event in response to said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) being higher than said overcurrent threshold value.


 
8. The system (100') of claim 7, wherein the driver device (10) is configured to:

measure a blanking time period elapsing since the start of an ON time of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n), and

measure said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) as a result of said measured blanking time period reaching a blanking threshold value.


 
9. The system (100') of claim 7 or claim 8, wherein the driver device (10) is configured to:

check whether said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) is higher than said overcurrent threshold value over the duration of a measurement time period, and

detect an overcurrent event in response to said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) being higher than said overcurrent threshold value over said duration of said measurement time period.


 
10. The system (100') of any of claims 7 to 9, wherein the driver device (10) is configured to detect an overcurrent event in response to said current supplied to said output supply pins (101C1, ..., 101Cn) being higher than said overcurrent threshold value during a plurality of subsequent ON times of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n).
 
11. A method comprising:

generating a plurality of pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) for supplying a plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n),

providing a same pulse-width modulated supply signal (VBAT,1) of said plurality of pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n) to at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) of said plurality of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n),

generating respective control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m) for each lighting device in said subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) supplied by a same pulse-width modulated supply signal (VBAT,1), and

individually coupling and decoupling each lighting device in said subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m) from said same pulse-width modulated supply signal (VBAT,1), as a function of said respective control signals (P1,1, ..., P1,m), to individually adjust a brightness of said lighting devices in said at least one subset of lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m).


 
12. The method of claim 11, comprising:

measuring, during ON times of said pulse-width modulated supply signals (VBAT,1, ..., VBAT,n), a current supplied to said lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n),

checking whether said current supplied to said lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) is higher than an overcurrent threshold value, and

detecting an overcurrent event in response to said current supplied to said lighting devices (311,1, ..., 311,m, 31n) being higher than said overcurrent threshold value.


 




Drawing























Cited references

REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description




Non-patent literature cited in the description