6 semiconductor technologies that help create safer, smarter vehicles

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

17 Nov 2023

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.

But what is the impact of this advanced semiconductor technology on drivers?

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, using a vehicle as a means for mobility is required. 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 realize these expectations to make vehicles smarter and safer.

Image of Fern Yoon

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 characterization 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.

Efficiency improvements and weight reduction across multiple systems – wireless BMS, traction inverters, onboard chargers, DC/DC chargers, and heating and cooling systems – further enhance the range that drivers can get from a single charge.

Power electronics that support voltages as high as 800 V, enable highly efficient power conversion and increased power density, and provide isolation open up more options for faster and efficient charging.

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 localized, reducing complexity and enabling functionality and features through software. A software-defined vehicle architecture requires a fast and secure communication network, accurate sensors, smart and efficient load actuators, efficient power distribution, and a high-performance centralized computing system.

Image and quote of Fern Yoon

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. PowerPower technologies throughout the vehicle need to enable higher power density and higher efficiency in smaller footprints. Think integrated solutions in compact packages, more efficient switching regulators that require less thermal management, and diagnostics for better protection.
  3. High-voltage systems. Achieving industry goals in EVs requires high-voltage systems, up to 800 V and beyond. Our company’s high-voltage technologies offer high performance and reliability for enhanced safety. Think isolation and cutting-edge power-conversion topologies.
  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. Think wired and wireless solutions for flexible bandwidths that scale with data needs.
  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.

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