Electronic Design

Smarter, Cleaner, And Safer Transportation Systems Reap The Benefits Of Advances In Semiconductor Technology

Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly turning to semiconductor-based solutions to make cars, planes, and trains more fuel efficient, safer, and more comfortable.

All companies in the transportation sector strive to provide safe, economical, and comfortable transportation for passengers and cargo. To accomplish this goal, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly turning to semiconductor-based solutions to make cars, planes, and trains more fuel efficient, safer, and even more comfortable along the route.

Semiconductor content in cars already ex-ceeds several hundred dollars. Over the next few years, that figure promises to double as more systems get assists from improved power devices, sensors, digital ICs, and displays.

Even though every transportation sector is lev-eraging semiconductor advances, the automotive market is the most visible sector in which we see how the ad-vances supply direct benefits to the vehicle and subsystem manufacturers. Additionally, we directly witness the result of adopting many features on the car, whether it's the linking of the cell phone and global positioning system to offer a location in case of an emergency, or control circuits to prevent engine knock, or digital radio broadcasts.

The scope of silicon developments related to transportation is so broad that a single Technology Forecast article package couldn't cover it all. This year, our Technology Forecast examining Silicon In Motion will be split into two sections. The first appears in this issue. The second part will come out on January 22.

Here, we examine four main themes in staff-written reports: Command and Control Systems, Sensors and Actuators, Electric and Hybrid Vehicles, and Telematics and Smart Highways. Each of these areas brings into play many different technologies and component developments that continue to push the envelope for performance and reliability, while also maintaining a bead on low cost.

In the second issue, we will provide two additional reports. One will focus on the entertainment and comfort features that vehicle manufacturers are adding to improve the transportation experience. The other will feature the advances in ruggedized surface-mount IC packaging needed to handle the rugged, wide-temperature-range environments the vehicles must endure.

Both report packages will be complemented by a series of interviews with key engineering executives. These executives are directing the design of next-generation vehicles and vehicle subsystems at some of the well-established transportation system companies as well as at some of the companies supplying the key technology building blocks for next-generation cars and other vehicles.

Leading off this issue, Embedded Technologies/Software Technology Editor Bill Wong examines advances in embedded processors, system architectures, and system control buses presently under development for next-generation vehicle engine and drive-train control. In order to perform the control, the systems must be able to sense conditions and actuate valves, gears, and other parts. Analog, Power Devices & DSP Technology Editor Ashok Bindra then explores advances in sensor, micromachining, and actuator technologies.

Making vehicles run more efficiently to achieve better fuel economy and reduce pollutant emissions are only two aspects of what can be done to help keep our planet green while preserving some of our fossil-fuel supply. One approach is better engine control, as described by Bill Wong.

David Morrison, our Power, Packaging & Components Technology Editor, along with Lisa Eccles, our Associate Editor, details the design of electric and combination electric/gas (hybrid) vehicles in the third report. Hybrid cars can currently achieve about double the fuel economy of gas-only powered cars, with little or no effect on performance. This part of the forecast looks at the new battery, battery charging, and motor/motor-control technologies coming to bear.

The last report in this issue examines the ability to add intelligence into the vehicles and along the pathways on which they travel. Future scenarios project that we will be able to enter a car and describe our desired destination, and it will then compute the best route and automatically take us there. Although we're still a long way from that dream situation, global-positioning systems, on-board computers, radar-controlled braking systems, electronic toll systems, and many other features are now possible. These give us the basic technology that will eventually make the hands-free car a possibility. Our Communications and Networking Technology Editor, Louis Frenzel, explores this entire field of what the industry calls "Telematics."

To complement these in-depth articles, we have included interviews with key executives at several automobile, automotive parts, and aircraft companies—BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Boeing—to get their views regarding what the industry must do in different segments to move forward. These commentaries reveal some excellent additional perspectives on the future of transportation systems.

In Part II of our Technology Forecast, our Convergence Technologies Editor, Steve Grossman, will delve into what companies are doing to keep passengers entertained. His report will illustrate developments in music, digital broadcast radio, in-vehicle video, and other aspects that help make the ride more comfortable.

In the second report of that issue, David Morrison will provide an in-depth view of forthcoming advances in packaging and surface-mount technologies. These technologies will help the next generation of power devices and digital circuits to better meet the demanding environmental conditions faced by silicon devices in the vehicle.

Complementing these reports will be interviews with top executives at some major component and subsystem manufacturers that supply the key building blocks to the companies manufacturing the cars, planes, and other vehicles. Included in this list are Delphi Automotive Systems, Lear Corp., Microchip Technology, Motorola, and STMicroelectronics.

We hope that you find the subjects we selected as fascinating and as important as we felt they were while we did our research. Although these technologies may first be applied to transportation products, many of them might migrate from one application area to another as you find new ways to apply the technology.

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