Semiconductors in Automotive

By Axel Schiller - 2016-05-02

Customers expect a certain level of functionality in all of the products they use today, and their vehicles are no exception.  This is driving automotive manufacturers to accelerate their design cycles, so that the technology in the vehicle keeps pace with their cell phone features that are updated every year or two.  There is an additional layer of complication to designing for the vehicles, because unlike a mobile device, the vehicles also have the need for sensors, signal processing elements, and image recognition engines, ADAS applications are hungry for both volatile and nonvolatile memory solutions. Memory devices contain all the underlying code, parameters, and data for these systems, it is crucial for memory to provide top-notch reliability, high density, speed, and performance, combined with low power consumption.

Five years ago, most systems in cars were very basic back-up cameras and used limited memory typically small NOR for code storage and low density SDRAM, or in some cases, LPDDR for more advanced backup systems.  Today, we see content growth with the NOR for code storage increasing by more than 4x from a 32Mb sNOR on the high end five years ago to a minimum of 128Mb QSPI today; and the DRAM on average increasing in density by up to 8x from 128Mb SDRAM on the low end to upwards of 1Gb LPDDR2 today. In future systems, now only a short three years away, we see another 4x growth of the NOR for high end systems, with the technology moving towards our Octal SPI products.  DRAM will have 4Gb LPDDR4 in the sensors and in the “brains” or centralized system we predict upwards of 4GB total DRAM requirements.  We also see the addition of e.MMC for mass storage capabilities for black box systems, helpful in the case of accidents.  For customers concerned with board size we also offer MCP products of LPDDR + QSPI.

As we mentioned above, DRAM density and capabilities are rapidly growing to support increased functionality and performance in the vehicle.  DRAM devices perform several key functions in automotive systems. They fuel the main processing unit with their high density and fast speeds, and they buffer information displayed on vehicle dashboards. DRAM is ideal for handling the increasing complexity of state-of the-art onboard infotainment systems, which are always connected to the Internet and have the ability to deliver content to multiple user devices. DRAM also provides the main working space for the processor and the high performance required for multitask/multithread capabilities. Bandwidth requirements in automotive applications will continue to increase for future autonomous driving platforms- further increasing the need for high-performance DRAM.

Automotive electronic systems need to be kept “always on” (in standby mode) which Low-power DRAM makes possible– even when the vehicle engine is off. With this capability, vehicle information – like the car’s current position or the fuel tank level – can be accessed via a mobile phone app, from any location. It also enables information to be immediately available on the dashboard the next time the car is started.  Not only does LPDRAM save on power in its normal mode, LPDDR4 also has a 90% reduction in standby current as compared to DDR3L (normalized to 8Gb):

  • DDR3L RS =  7mA
  • LPDDR4 = 0.4mA

Vehicle communication applications also have a growing need for nonvolatile memory. High-density (1Gb to 4Gb) single-level cell (SLC) NAND Flash is used to store security certificates that help create the tamper-proof wireless connections necessary to access many Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) applications. e.MMC memory is ideal for V2V and V2I applications requiring 4GB to 64GB storage – currently, these modules are likely the best solution for storing all nonvolatile parameters and data along with handling security certificates. e.MMC solutions are “fully managed” and independent from the NAND technology inside. Because e.MMC architecture is backward compatible and has a standard interface, any changes to the NAND become transparent to the application. This simplifies the developer’s job, making dedicated software to manage NAND device complexity unnecessary.

We have outlined some of the critical roles memory plays in automotive systems- in the past, today, and well into the future.  Micron’s well defined approach to automotive solutions, coupled with our long-term vision and commitment to the market, have established us as a trusted automotive memory solutions provider – enabling our memory to fuel some remarkable automotive innovations.  We consider the automotive segment to be an area of great importance, and we’ve become a leading provider of automotive memory solutions – not by chance, but by design. Visit our Automotive Solutions page to learn more!

Check out our next blog to learn specific industry requirements and how Micron is designing automotive memory with those in mind.

Alyson Outen

Axel Schiller