04 Feb 2014

Smarter Components for Building Smarter Cars

Peter Lieberwirth, General Manager Toshiba Electronics Europe looks at how new and smarter components are enabling more intelligent smarter cars to be designed & built.

From advanced driver assistance systems to infotainment, navigation and motor controllers, semiconductors are making cars safer and more efficient.

New and more advanced components are key to this transition, and these are rapidly becoming available with many new chips being launched each month.

The semiconductor industry has endured a challenging time since the global financial meltdown of 2008.

One of the beacons of hope to the industry has been the increasing use of semiconductor technologies by the automotive sector.

Automotive market forecasts

The European car industry has remained relatively strong despite the global downturn, and while the market as a whole did shrink a little, demand for automotive semiconductors is now predicted to rise 4% over the next 12 months.

Automotive market forecasting specialists LMC Automotive predict a world-wide production of roughly 100 million vehicles in 2016, and market data experts Strategy Analytics forecast about 50 million units of parking collision warning systems to be produced in the same year.

Among the main drivers for semiconductor companies like Toshiba are the applications that inform and assist drivers and add to their comfort; for instance graphics controllers for TFT displays and high-capacity automotive-grade hard disc drives. Advanced driver assistance systems, ADAS that incorporate image sensors, image recognition functions and graphical processors to help the driver and improve road safety are also becoming increasingly prevalent.

Automotive Electronics

While these systems are used mostly in the high-quality vehicle segment, the features are trickling into more ‘standard’ option cars as well. With many car models being built on the same chassis and in the same factory, this ‘trickle-down’ effect is likely to increase as car manufacturers look to differentiate their models by tailoring the user experience for specific market segments.

Increasing interest in ‘green car’ systems that control vehicle emissions and reduce fuel consumption is also driving the automotive demand for semiconductors. In addition, many applications that were previously belt-driven are now being replaced by electric motors which is driving demand for microcontrollers with integrated vector control functionality.

Safety first

New and emerging ADAS systems offer everything from parking assistance to systems that detect road conditions, road signs and even pedestrians.

ADAS implementations require images to be collected in a wide range of environmental conditions. Standard image sensors found in smartphones, laptops and tablets have been found to be unsuitable for automotive applications. Image sensors that enable continuous operation and provide a high dynamic range need to be developed specifically for the automotive industry.

Once images are collected they need to be processed, and traditionally these tasks were assigned to powerful CPUs. However, as demand for graphic quality grows, higher CPU operating frequencies are needed to handle the increased workloads, but this decreases energy efficiency and has implications for fuel efficiency A more energy efficient approach is to run the processing task in parallel across multiple processors with DSP extensions that are optimized for the specific task and can therefore handle the workload at lower operating frequencies (Toshiba has taken this approach with its Visconti line of automotive image processing ICs).

Automotive Electronics

Such processors can detect whether the car is staying within the correct traffic lanes, what is happening in close proximity to the car (i.e. when other vehicles come near to it), weather conditions and most importantly of they can detect pedestrians both during the day and under poor visibility or at night.

In addition, such ICs can also monitor cameras placed inside the car and detect if the driver is tired by detecting the movement of their eyelids.

Comfort and infotainment

While ADAS functions might assist an autonomous vehicle, for the time being all the information needs to be displayed on a screen so the driver can react and make better decisions, faster.

Such information is currently displayed using TFT monitors, which are often housed in the instrument cluster. Demand for lower cost solutions that enable deployment across non-premium car segments has grown dramatically. This has led to the development of ICs that control not only the TFT displays, but also the remaining mechanical instruments such as speed, rpm and fuel gauge.

Automotive Hard Drive HDD

At the same time, consumers are demanding high quality in-vehicle graphics that match those displayed by smartphones. As a result, ICs (such as Toshiba’s Capricorn series) have been developed that output high-quality graphics and enable functionalities such as cover flow, blurring of animated images and ‘topple backwards’.

Integrating SHE-compliant, Secure Hardware Extension, security modules is necessary to prevent tampering of the odometer and speedometer displays and to ensure that no manipulation of the library icons is possible. For instance, if a camera detects the speed limit is 60 km/h the module ensures only the 60km/h icon is shown and prevents the 80 km/h icon being shown instead.

In addition to the ADAS information, drivers are increasingly demanding more sophisticated integrated navigation systems – often with 3D-like image rendering of street views. Not only do these 3D maps require sophisticated graphic processors but the map data files also require a large amount of storage.

With car drivers now also wanting easy access to digital music and video files the need for in-car storage capacity is growing dramatically. By 2016 it is predicted that over 55 million people will have internet access built into their cars and this will create another driver for increased storage capacity.

In Europe, data has traditionally been stored on hard disc drives, HDDs, and these must meet certain criteria to be suitable for the automotive environment.

Automotive designs, for example, need to accommodate a greater variety of environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, air pressure than desktop or laptop variants. The designs also need to withstand constant vibrations and shocks that a normal hard disc drive would not expect to encounter.

More than 25 million automotive specific HDDs have been sold since 1996 and the trend towards specifying higher capacity drives continues unabated – drives with capacities of 320GB are now in production. Such drives can operate in temperature ranges of -30°C to +85°C, compared to laptop drives that are usually rated for an operational temperature range of 0°C to 60°C.

NAND-based solid-state drive, SSD, technology is now also starting to make the jump into the automobile, and as the cost per gigabyte comes down that transition will become faster and more widespread. SSDs have some technical advantages for the automotive sector as they are more resistant to temperature, vibration and shocks.

Powering efficiency and safety

Rising fuel costs and pressure to reduce emissions are driving a surge in interest in fuel efficiency. While ADAS systems can help maximize fuel efficiency by assessing the road environment and calculating the optimal amount of thrust needed to maintain a specific velocity there are other ways that fossil fuel usage can be reduced.

Many new cars are embracing electric power technologies in one form or another – from kinetic energy recovery systems, KERS, found in Formula 1 cars to hybrid and full electric cars the power paradigm is shifting.

Semiconductor companies are developing and qualifying a range of power storage solutions for automotive use along with power transistors, IGBTs, MOSFETs and ICs designed specifically to monitor automotive battery systems.

Even integrated power amplifiers designed to output sounds that mimic the sound of petrol-driven cars are in production so that pedestrians and cycles are not caught unaware when electric cars approach.

Automotive microcontrollers have also received a lot of interest, whether they are designed to control the electric motors that turn the wheels in electric and hybrid vehicles, or control electric power steering systems. Microcontrollers are also being used for safety features such as deploying airbags if an impact is detected. Many of these need to operate in the high temperature ranges found in the engine compartments of fossil-fuel powered cars.

Of course, functional safety is a very important issue, and compliance with ISO26262 is critical. To ensure system security, entire systems, not just individual components, need to be qualified, and semiconductor companies are working with certification agencies to develop certified systems.

2014 and beyond

It is clear that in 2014 and beyond, the automotive industry is going to rely ever more on semiconductor companies that can help them make safe and efficient cars that meet emissions targets and provide comfort and entertainment. As the control systems get more complex, the automotive industry is going to need to choose its partners ever more closely so that whole systems can be designed and certified, rather than just individual components.

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About the author

Peter Lieberwirth is Head of Automotive Segment and General Manager for Toshiba Electronics Europe GmbH. He started at Toshiba 20 years ago as Product Marketing Engineer in Application Specific Integrated Circuit marketing. Since then he has moved into System Integrated Circuit marketing and now heads up the automotive segment. Peter is responsible for the sales & marketing of electronic components for the automotive market in Europe.

Toshiba Electronics Europe (TEE) is the European electronic components business of Toshiba Corporation - a world-leading diversified manufacturer, solutions provider and marketer of advanced electronic and electrical products and systems, which is ranked among the world’s largest semiconductor vendors.

TEE offers a broad IC and discrete product line including high-end memory, microcontrollers, ASICs, ASSPs and display products for automotive, multimedia, industrial, telecoms and networking applications. The company also has a wide range of power semiconductor solutions as well as storage products such as HDDs, SSDs, SD Cards and USB sticks.

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