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Auto tie up with chip industry vital for future car :NXP

Posted: 19 Nov 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:connected car  Ethernet  NFC 

The automotive industry faces an increasing dilemma with the growing demand for "connected" cars: The design cycle of everything inside the vehicle that falls under the category "classic car technology" is significantly slower than the design cycle for consumer electronics which are brought into the vehicles by their users. These devices are not necessarily an integral part of the cars but in many cases they are providing the connectivity function for the vehicles.

To help the car designers to keep up with this challenge, the semiconductor industry is the partner of choice, said Kurt Sievers, General Manager Automotive for chipmaker NXP. He said this in his keynote speech at the electronica Automotive industry meeting, and he repeated his suggestion in an interview with EE Times Europe at electronica. "Automotive industry and chipmakers need to collaborate more intensively", Sievers said. "This would help them to speed their design cycles." Carmakers could benefit from the economies of scale already realised in commercial IT, semiconductor industry and consumer electronics.

Sievers identified four technologies that will play a major role in future car electronics designs. These are Ethernet, Near Field Communications (NFC), Car-to-car communications, and data security. "Neither of these technologies has been developed in the automotive industry", Sievers said. "But carmakers can reduce their design cycles, realise cost benefits and find answers to current and future technology challenges". Plus, they can bridge the innovation gap between classical automotive technology and the digital consumer, he added.

Ethernet is already on its way into the vehicles; in the mid-term it even could assume the role of a data backbone. About a year ago, a group of semiconductor companies including Freescale and Broadcom developed an Ethernet PHY for cars; in the meantime carmakers, tier ones and semiconductor companies including NXP have introduced plans how Ethernet can be integrated deeper into the cars. NFC, co-developed by NXP and Sony as a communication technology for mobile payment solutions, has the potential for much more. It can help consumers to conveniently access their personal content on their devices as well as in the cloud. It also can be a key element in intermodal mobility solutions which embrace several urban mobility carriers such as car sharing, public transportation and even rental bikes.

Then there is car-to-x communications with its promise of much more safety in automotive traffic. Car-to-x applications such as intersection movement assists are currently evaluated in several large field tests. Their technology is based on the widespread Wi-Fi technology: For car-to-x, it was just necessary to modify the existing IEEE802.11a/g standard. The modified standard, IEEE802.11p, proved to meet automotive requirements much better—it offers more reliable reception quality under the conditions of a car moving quickly through rapidly changing environments.

The next issue is security and data integrity. In a connected environment with potential high-risk security threats, security also turns into a relevant factor for safety. Sievers sees a huge potential to transfer the technology expertise with secure microcontrollers, data encryption and related technologies gathered over decades in the semiconductor industry (and, of course, NXP) to the automotive industry. The approaches implemented in smart cards and similar IT security approaches could be useful to implement not only the added security required for car-to-x applications but also for financial transactions when charging e-vehicles, for traffic management, remote car management, theft prevention, and many other application fields.

Other technologies developed exclusively for cars have proved to be less flexible and less cost-effective. An example is the FlexRay data bus, developed only with automotive requirements in mind. While the FlexRay technology is far from being dead, it also failed to meet the expectations. Sievers conceded that FlexRay as a core element of drive-by-wire concepts actually it found its way into agricultural machines and off-road vehicles but not into everyday passenger cars. Nevertheless, "FlexRay was the right development for the deterministic behaviour required for many of today's driver assistance systems", Sievers said. "The problem is that it never benefited from economies of scale".

NXP does not only suggest a closer relationship between the semiconductor industry and the automotive industry. At electronica, the company already announced such a close collaboration with carmaker Audi. "This cooperation is entirely in the spirit of the collaboration considerations mentioned above", Sievers said. The topics for the "strategic" collaboration include most of the technologies Sievers predicts to be essential for the connected car. In detail, Audi hopes to benefit from NXP's expertise in the segments of car-to-x communications, telematics, NC and high-voltage resistant interfaces for electric vehicles. For Audi, the partnership is part of its Progressive Semiconductor Programme (PSCP). The carmaker, by the way recently entered a similar partnership with STMicroelectronics.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
   EE Times





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