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Outlook 2015: Automotive electronics for 'experience focused' buyers

The automotive sector continues to be an exciting market for the semiconductor industry. We expect global growth in demand for automotive semiconductors to be around 8% over the coming year. Quite apart from the opportunities presented by hybrid and battery-electric vehicles, car makers are looking to electronic innovations to improve aspects such as safety, economy, environmental compliance and the user experience.

In fact, the user experience that a car is able to provide has become an increasingly important consideration for today's car buyers, who have quickly become used to the convenience and connectivity that come with their smartphones and tablets.

New cars should be entertaining
Infotainment technology and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) provide highly visible means of adding new features to entice customers. Internet access on the move, bringing the advantages of location-based services, social media, personal content and more, into the car, is currently highly desirable.

Market analysis predicts that more than 55 million people will have internet access built into their cars by 2016. Safety systems like collision avoidance, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, and infrared night vision have also captured the imaginations of drivers. The appeal of these systems transcends their safety advantages, as they are also novel and intriguing.

The established pattern for advanced automotive electronics has been that innovation is first introduced in the high-end luxury market segment, before some of the features begin to trickle down towards lower-cost vehicles. One limitation of this is that car companies are tied to the life-cycle of their flagship model when introducing new features, which means that significant change only occurs once every six years (or maybe once more with the facelift in the middle of that cycle). The 'trickle-down' effect is likely to continue, but will be supplemented by the introduction of new innovations to coincide with the launch of new mid-market and entry-level families.

Areas where Toshiba Electronics is experiencing growth in demand include graphics controllers for TFT displays, high-capacity automotive-grade hard disk drives (HDDs) for data storage, as well as image sensors and graphics processors for ADAS equipment. There is also continued strong demand for microcontrollers with integrated vector control functionality as mechatronic modules increasingly replace older belt-driven applications.

New cars should be dependable
Consumer mobile devices may be the 'gold standard' as far as the user experience is concerned, but the automotive sector will continue to demand bespoke solutions. In most applications, transferring consumer technology directly on a COTS-components basis is not viable. The patterns we are seeing in the HDDs in cars is a prime example.
HDDs in cars need to handle a wide range of environmental conditions and must withstand constant vibrations and shocks that a desktop or laptop HDD is not expected to encounter. They also need to provide extended service lifetime and guarantee long-term availability.

Demand for in-car data storage has continued to increase, to support increasingly sophisticated in-car features and handle the growing quantity of data generated by the various on-board systems, not to mention the explosive growth in user data that will come with in-car Internet.

The first automotive-grade HDDs implemented by Toshiba in Europe in 2005 were 20Gbyte units, however it recently launched a 320Gbyte drive able to operate in temperatures ranging from -30 to 85°C. This may sound extreme, but consider that a modern high-end GPS navigation system may need to store around 40Gbyte of mapping data, which may need to be mirrored for security reasons, as well as extra memory to allow upgrades to be applied.

Solid-state disks based on flash technology can provide an even more robust solution. For the present, cost is limiting their adoption, but we are seeing the market turn to NAND flash memory rather than HDDs for many new projects where only low or medium capacities are required.

There are other instances where special automotive-specific components are needed to perform functions taken for granted in consumer applications. CMOS image sensors, for example, must not only withstand the harsh automotive environment, but must also endure long periods of continuous operation over a lifetime of several years. Commercial-grade sensors such as those used in smartphones are simply not suitable.

New cars should be efficient
Graphics processing is best served using purpose-designed processors, architected to minimise software overhead, whilst ensuring high graphics performance at low clock frequencies. This is achieved by running tasks in parallel across multiple processors with DSP extensions optimised for the specific task.

The low clock frequencies and low software overheads that can be achieved help avoid reliance on large and power-hungry processing systems, which can demand significant energy from the vehicle.

This is important because today's intense focus on maximising fuel economy is causing car designers to take a close look at the energy consumed by all vehicle systems, understanding that energy wasted translates into reduced mileage and increased emissions.

On the other hand, there is growing demand for lower cost solutions that can be deployed across more cost-conscious market sectors. This has driven the development of more integrated controllers, such as Toshiba's Capricorn series, which not only include a TFT-LCD controller, but also built in stepper-motor drivers for controlling mechanical instruments like the speedometer and tachometer, as well as controllers for other instruments like the fuel gauge. The graphics capabilities of these devices enable smartphone-like user experiences, with support for advanced graphics features.

New cars should be safe and secure
Alongside electronic control of important dashboard functions, such as the odometer and speedometer, comes the imperative to enhance security to prevent tampering.

The Secure Hardware Extension (SHE) standards provide a suitable framework and semiconductor companies are adopting these to prevent tampering with displays and ensure that no manipulation of the library icons is possible.

When the emerging class of hybrid and battery-electric vehicles is taken into consideration, the opportunities in the semiconductor sector become even more diverse, encompassing power semiconductors, sensors, processors and firmware used throughout inverters, DC/DC converters, battery-management systems and the control and monitoring functions needed to manage energy-recovery systems.

Of course, functional safety is very important 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. This will become ever more important as automated driving functionality emerges.

The introduction of new ADAS features will be incremental and will depend as much on the growth of consumer acceptance as on the progress of technical capabilities.
These diverse demands of the automotive sector present exciting opportunities for continued development of advanced semiconductors as well as the supporting IP.

New cars should be up to date
Relentless demand from car buyers to deliver experiences that are on a par with the improvements in consumer devices also challenges the accepted new-product design cycles within the automotive industry. This has typically been around two to three years, although the consumer sector is moving significantly faster. Automotive equipment suppliers must now shorten design cycles to keep pace and deliver the kinds of experiences customers want and expect.

Toshiba Electronics 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.

TEE offers one of the industry's broadest IC and discrete product lines including high end memory, microcontrollers, ASICs, ASSPs and display products for automotive, multimedia, industrial, telecoms and networking applications. The company also has a range of power semiconductor solutions and storage products.

Founded in 1875, Toshiba operates a global network of more than 590 consolidated companies, with 206,000 employees and annual sales surpassing $61billion. TEE, formed in 1973 to provide design, manufacturing, marketing and sales support, employs approximately 300 people in Europe.

Peter Lieberwirth is head of direct sales for Toshiba Electronics Europe.

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Peter Lieberwirth

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