Auto Electronics

Powering the Future of Automotive Innovation

The future of the automotive industry is being shaped by the tech-savvy, digitally connected generation, positioning automotive innovation as the nexus point where the latest in mobile, entertainment, navigation and safety technologies meet. As in-car instrumentation and infotainment technology evolves to become increasingly complex, it is critical that reliable, high-quality components are leveraged to bring the interactive driving experience to life while simultaneously improving driver safety.

Spansion has collaborated with NVIDIA to address this need and develop powerful systems that connect drivers with their cars and create a compelling user environment. The reliability and durability of Spansion NOR flash memory combined with the ultra-realistic 3D capabilities and rendering horsepower of NVIDIA Tegra mobile processors will make smooth, realistic and customizable digital instrument clusters a reality, and help address the demand for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). This partnership is the foundation for an oncoming wave of automotive technology that will hit the road from iconic automakers such as Audi, BMW, Lamborghini and Tesla Motors. And NVIDIA is just one example – Spansion also collaborates closely with Freescale, Fujitsu and Renesas.

NOR Flash in the Driver’s Seat

NOR flash memory currently provides the backbone of most of the new display, safety, vision and control systems seen in cutting-edge automobiles, and the role of this technology is more important than ever.

NOR flash memory boasts the lowest initial latency, highest data integrity and fastest data throughput of all non-volatile memory products. (See Table 1.) This is vital to the automotive industry, which depends on memory components to keep drivers connected and safe.

All Eyes on the Road

With the car becoming one of the most advanced electronic products out there, it brings new challenges in information overload and distractions for drivers. Obviously, minimizing driver distractions and improving safety are huge priorities for the industry.

NHTSA reported that in 2008, accidents caused by distracted drivers resulted in 6,000 deaths and another 500,000 injuries. These statistics show the need for advance systems that minimize driver distraction, alert drivers to warnings and surroundings quickly, take control of cars in emergencies and avoid accidents. As the need for these reliable, faster-performing systems increases, automotive OEMs are transitioning from low-end densities of flash memory to mid- to high-density products.

NOR flash memory enables advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as integrated vision and security systems and collision avoidance. (Refer to Table 2 and Figure 2.) The faster read speeds of NOR flash enable nearly instant-on capability for cameras and sensors to detect pedestrians, signs and objects near the car, activating an immediate alert to the driver.

Behind the Steering Wheel

Recently, the dashboard has received a major upgrade. Mechanical gauges are going digital – the classic speedometer, odometer and warning signals are moving to TFT (thin-film transistor) displays – where the 2D and 3D graphics require fast processing and memory to provide real-time feedback. While TFTs create an undeniable “cool” factor, they also enable safer and smarter driving. Smart TFT displays analyze and filter vehicle, environment and safety information to ensure only the most relevant data is displayed at any given moment.

These displays are available in most luxury cars, but in order to have any real impact on road safety, this technology must make its way into mainstream vehicles. Spansion is working to aid in the proliferation of these innovations with the FL-S serial flash memory family, which offers a reduced pin count for lower system cost while providing optimal read/write performance. (See Figure 3.) With high-performance serial NOR flash that is capable of 66 MB/s reads, automotive designers can simplify designs further by removing DRAM altogether in the TFT display and executing and rendering graphics directly from FL-S memory.

Spansion’s GL family (see Figure 4) delivers up to a 45 percent page-mode read speed improvement over competing parallel NOR flash solutions, enabling digital instrument clusters to power on at the push of a button and give drivers more information in less time for added passenger safety.

In addition to helping OEMs and carmakers create increasingly safe vehicles, NOR flash memory enables systems that make the driving experience more enjoyable, since infotainment is at the heart of the next wave in automotive innovation. (See Figure 5.)

The Road Ahead

Moving forward, the industry’s reliance on NOR flash memory will become increasingly evident as automotive electronics transform the driving experience. Imagine a car that can suggest a restaurant based on a driver’s habits or sense when they are tired by recognizing facial expressions and tone of voice. This futuristic concept for the driver’s seat may be a reality sooner than you think.

Here are five things that we’ll see in the cars of the not-too-distant future:

  1. Better record keeping. Similar to the tracking and recording devices on airplanes, automobiles have their own black boxes to record vehicle information. This technology will evolve so the in-field driving data can help engineers design a better next-generation module.
  2. More driver assistance. Improved safety technology will power computerized systems that help drivers out when things get dangerous or inconvenient.
  3. An interactive and adaptive cabin experience. Think popup displays that link together climate controls, driver information, communications and entertainment – and are accessed through touch screens that adapt to driver preferences and the environment.
  4. Improved efficiency. With the constant flux of gas prices and consumer focus on sustainability, there is always room to improve efficiency and save fuel. More advanced drive train / power management systems mean better fuel efficiency, and moving forward, this won’t necessarily be at the expense of power.
  5. More voice and gesture recognition. Early stages of this technology, with simple commands to control the radio, interior climate and phone, are available now – but there is much more in store. Think personal assistant that understands natural language speech with accents, meets intelligent onboard navigator.

To make these features a reality and elevate in-car technology to the next level, the automotive industry needs to focus on integrating specialized hardware and software technologies. That optimal combination will provide even greater speed and reliability that will ultimately be necessary to power the car of the future. In the coming years, there is huge potential for telematics and UI advances to be driven largely by hardware innovation, and Spansion is currently working on integrating flash technology with logic to improve the experience. We are only in the beginning stages of exploring the possibilities, and the road ahead is looking pretty cool.

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