Semiconductors in Automotive Applications Are Here To Stay and Will Become Ever More Ubiquitous
It is viably foreseen that automotive industry will pick the largest market pie in 2018. In 2017, automotive sector has hone-up the market share for many semiconductor players. To not just be awhile in a discussion, EVs, ADAS, Hybrid Vehicles has raised the demand for integrated electronics. To further explorethe growing digitalization and advancements in technology in the automotive industry, BIS infotech loops Randall Restle, VP, Applications Engineering at Digi-Key Electronics. In his innovative exchange, the technophile explores the current and future technologies and how Digi-Key is keeping their customers ahead of the curve. Edited Excerpts.
- What are the latest technological advancement happening in the automotive sector?
Randall Restle –Lidar is advancing as the speed and power density of electronics is increasing. Not long ago, 5nS pulses were state-of-the-art in lidar. Now it’s 1nS. This enables higher peak power without damaging human eyes and it enables higher target resolution. Enhanced Gallium Nitride devices (eGaN), such as those from Efficient Power Conversion corporation, are high power and high speed making this a technology to watch for further advances in lidar.
- What are the key technologies which will disrupt the automotive sector?
RR – Disruption is hard to predict. It’s easier to cite feasibilities of what new technologies can do. One is 5G wireless. This will enable higher density information sharing on mobile platforms which can enable dynamic, coordinated positioning and flow control of traffic which can make autonomous driving more efficient and faster than driving manually. Communicating vehicle status to a central server can produce optimum lane speeds with vehicles closely packed together. Another technology is a new breed of blended electronics. There are devices that operate serially, such as microcontrollers, and there are devices that operate in parallel, like field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), but now there are embedded FPGAs. These devices are not encumbered with interfaces that may not be required. Being on the same die or package, makes these high performance. New tools are making dynamically reprogrammed FPGAs more like calling in a function from a 3rd party’s software library. The developer gets software flexibility at hardware speeds. Whereas we have electrical vehicles, internal combustion vehicles, and hybrids, we do not yet have electromechanical, internal combustion vehicles. We could have engines that dynamically adjust valve openings, fuel intake and exhaust orifice timing. These engines could burn any fuel and devices like embedded FPGAs have the performance to control them real-time.
- How crucial will semiconductor become for the Automotive industry?
RR – The contribution of semiconductors to the automotive industry has never reversed course; they are becoming increasingly crucial. Only the old-timers remember chokes and warming up a vehicle before you could drive it. No one born today can imagine an automobile without a radio – not to mention a multimedia center. And who carries paper maps these days. Semiconductors in automotive applications are here to stay and they will become ever more ubiquitous.
- What scopes and challenges do Autonomous and electric/hybrid vehicles brings for the semiconductor players?
RR – Electric motor control is very mature, now having been revolutionized with digital signal processors in the 1990s. Mechanical systems are even older but mechanical elegance is lacking in electrical systems today. Motion profiles in electrical systems are less sophisticated than mechanical systems of the 1940s. The result is that we have lower performing electromechanical systems. They are not as fast or as smooth as they can be. The point where an electrical solution displaces a mechanical solution can still be improved. Higher order mathematics are needed in our electrical solutions. Mathematics that mechanical engineers developed in the 1950s to make American hotrods and faster IBM computer punch-card readers are not yet available in affordable, commercial-off-the-shelf electronics.
- As more semiconductor devices being integrated in vehicles and technology like AI and machine learning evolves, how complex does designing and standardizing becomes for the company?
RR –The semiconductor companies have always made higher levels of integration available without a commensurate increase in the level of knowledge required of their devices’ users. A multi million transistor device can be used as easily as a multi-thousand transistor devices. Semiconductor companies abstract the underlying complexity of their devices so that users can focus on their application. It’s fantastic that semiconductor companies increase end-product functionality without necessarily increasing cost. The challenge of AI and machine learning is finding the devices that have this functionality built-in are ready to apply. Rolling everything from scratch is the complex way to design but this is increasingly not required.
- Which key technologies in the automotive sector will witness a leap growth?
RR- Combination technologies (ex: mechanical with electrical, programmable logic with microcontrollers, linear with digital, etc.) may be the key technologies that drive leap growth. System-in-Package (SiP) is an example. Linux can be run on a SiP from Octavo Corporation that measures 21mm x 21mm. All the volatile and non-volatile memory, the processor, power management, voltage regulator, and more is contained in the package. These technologies reduce compromise in system design. Higher level automotive technology needs these devices.
- Any new technologies which the company is working into for the automotive sector?
RR – Digi-Key Electronics makes its business marketing and distributing the most advanced devices it can find. These have applications in all sectors but given the advancement of entertainment, hybridization of engines, self-navigation of vehicles, safety, and so many others, Automotive seems to be a market for everything we stock.
- It can be profoundly noted that this era is witnessing an “Automotive Revolution”, what are the key drivers for this extravagant growth and your purview on the future?
RR – Development tools are key to helping developers tie new functionality together. What happened to Information Technologies in the 1990s is happening today in electrical engineering; we are layering complexity upon complexity depending ever more on the lower layers to perform as advertised. Development tools include application programming interfaces that make the functionality accessible but they are also needed for system verification.
- Lastly, what key technologies do you think will shape the Indian Automotive sector?
RR – India has vast resources. Companies around the world outsource their software development to India. Software Engineering as a discipline is probably the most key technology of all in tomorrow’s automobiles. This is not an Information Technology effort such as generating another corporate ledger problem. Instead, this is taking a myriad of technologies and melding them into a system that is cost effective and high performance. Deeper understanding of the dynamics of these systems is essential to make them possible. India has the developers who can deliver this technology.