Industry Insights

Six semiconductor technologies that help create safer, smarter vehicles

Author: Fern Yoon, Director, Automotive System Engineering and Marketing, Texas Instruments

From bumper to bumper and roof to wheels, there is more innovative, efficient semiconductor technology in cars than ever before.

Today’s vehicles can have anywhere from 200 to 2,000 semiconductors powering, sensing, and processing information that keeps us safe. The latest semiconductor innovations are enabling automakers to create the most technologically advanced vehicles ever made.

One of the reasons I’m excited about working in the automotive semiconductor industry is that I am both a driver who thinks about what I want and need in my vehicle and an engineer who influences the technology that automakers design into the cars of tomorrow. The expectations that drivers have of their vehicles today is vastly different from what they expected 20 years ago. In the past, their primary concern was how to get from point A to point B. They valued how safely they could travel and how quickly they could get to their destination.

Today, drivers now expect features that deliver comfort and convenience, like sensors that can enable autonomous driving or climate-controlled seats. Drivers want increased safety and intelligence, like a surround-view camera or systems that can detect occupants or objects left behind. With the growth of EVs, sustainability has also become a priority. Our company’s technology is helping realise these expectations to make vehicles smarter and safer.

System evolutions

Enabled by semiconductor innovations, automotive systems continue to evolve and contribute to a safer and more enjoyable driver experience. Let’s look at some of these systems:

Advanced battery management systems (BMS) enable better accuracy and characterisation of the battery’s state of charge and state of health to help drivers stay on the road longer. Improvements in battery-monitoring technology extend the range of the battery for EVs and reimagine the charging landscape, incorporating features such as DC fast charging or swappable batteries that can improve EV charging times and total cost of ownership.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) need reliable and intelligent technology for vehicles to accurately sense the world around them with camera and radar sensors, transmit sensor data reliably and securely, and process and communicate data to enable real-time decisions.

The structure of these systems or electronic control units (ECUs) is also changing. The electrical/electronic architecture is evolving toward a zone architecture, where ECUs are controlled based on their location in the car instead of their functionality. Systems that previously would not have been integrated, such as the ADAS and air-conditioning system, are now localised, reducing complexity, and enabling functionality and features through software.

Six foundational technologies

There are six foundational technologies pushing the evolution of each of these systems to help create safer, smarter vehicles:

  1. Advanced sensing technologies: from voltage sensing to a backup camera, sensing plays a critical role in safety and reliability throughout the vehicle. Think accurate radar, current, voltage, and position sensing
  2. Power: power technologies throughout the vehicle need to enable higher power density and higher efficiency in smaller footprints.
  3. High-voltage systems: achieving industry goals in EVs requires high-voltage systems, up to 800V and beyond. Our company’s high-voltage technologies offer high performance and reliability for enhanced safety
  4. Secure data transfer: there is a growing amount of data that needs to be sent throughout the car and beyond. Our company’s portfolio of interfaces address bandwidth needs for secure data transfer without sacrificing signal integrity
  5. Motor control: functional safety-compliant devices bring reliability and scalability to multiple motor-control use cases. Think integrated microcontrollers with control algorithms, motor drivers with integrated analog-to-digital converters and sensing integrated circuits for precise movement
  6. Processing: making vehicles smarter would not be possible without processing – the brain of the vehicle. Think simple functionality to complex processing that can support highly advanced and autonomous driving applications

Cars today no longer operate with the same constraints they did 20 years ago, and I can’t wait to see what they can do 20 years from now. Enabling safer driving while providing a superior experience at an affordable price is just the beginning. I am excited to see how semiconductors will continue driving the cutting edge of automotive technology and redefine the driving experience.

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Procurement Pro.