For automotive electronics, FPGAs are in the driver's seat

Several factors influence the significant growth of electronics in the automotive arena, chief among them are technology, competition, performance, safety and regulations. As semiconductor technology advances, component costs are becoming lower and devices become more reliable than electromechanical solutions. Competition is driven by the fact that carmakers are using electronics-based features. Car makers are also in need of optimizing fuel consumption levels and engine performance, which drives the need for high-performance ICs. Safety features like air bags, anti-brake systems (ABSs), and collision avoidance through side-detecting radar are requirements, are another factor. Furthermore, regulatory requirements are driving the need for the use of electronics in engine control systems to help reduce.

Automotive engineers have traditionally relied on microcontroller units (MCUs) and custom ASICs to implement and control electronic systems and expand the capabilities of each generation. But growing component counts, time-to-market pressure, and greater demands for performance are requiring alternative technologies. Chief among them is low-cost, low-power, highly reliable field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

Compared with MCUs, FPGAs offer automotive designers greater performance and features (I/Os, flexible logic resources, etc.). Similarly, when compared with ASICs, FPGAs provide lower total cost, greater flexibility and allow designers to leverage them in multiple programs/projects, thereby helping to maximize time and resources associated with qualification activities. For these reasons and others, analyst firm Gartner Dataquest has identified FPGAs as the fastest growing semiconductor segment for the automotive industry, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 70% through 2007.

Non-volatile FPGAs, are optimal solutions for automotive applications that require high reliability, firm-error immunity, low power consumption, high junction temperature, a single chip, and maximum design security. With its long-time focus on reliability, cost, and security, the automotive market has clearly started to recognize the inherent advantages that non-volatile FPGA technologies offer for operation, maintenance, monitoring and communication systems within and outside the vehicle.

Several indicators point to the continued growth of automotive electronics and one would do well to expect that FPGAs will be in the driver's seat.

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