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Electronic Design

Hot Markets Get Ready To Take Off—Sometimes Literally

Sure, medical electronics save lives. GPS is so convenient, it’s a wonder we ever got along without it. And our on-the-go lifestyles demand mobility. But they aren’t the only markets to watch these days. You may have to look in your garage or up in the sky—or squint really hard—to see the next big thing.

Automobile electronics, a market that’s already well into the billions of dollars, continues to grow mainly on the heels of new and increasingly sophisticated applications. General Motors expects electronics to account for about 40% of the value at cost per vehicle at some point between 2010 and 2015, including information and entertainment systems.

That doesn’t include hybrid models, which would skyrocket manufacturer spending on electronics—possibly by up to three times the amount of electronics found in most gas-powered cars, according to Strategic Analytics. The market research and consulting firm sees significant potential for future growth in advanced driver assistance systems, especially as they become less complicated and less costly to install.

Safety systems, occupant monitor and operator and control systems, in-vehicle networking, and alternative power sources all are having a dramatic effect on the technology finding its way into new vehicles. Intel and Infineon Technologies have partnered with Hyundai Motor Co. to develop automotive electronics. Infineon and Hyundai have opened a joint development center in Seoul. But don’t look for any results from the R&D until at least model year 2010 with Hyundai and Kia models.

Satellites, stagnant for the first five years of this decade, are hot again. “We’ve been launching around 80 satellites a year, but something changed in 2006,” says Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for the Teal Group, a defense/aerospace consulting firm. “We launched 107 satellites, or a 32% increase over each of the previous two years. This represents more satellites than we have launched since 2000.”

The total value of the satellites launched last year ($9.39 billion) was also higher than it’s been since 1999. Part of the good news is the positive number of geostationary (GEO) commercial communications satellites that have been launched. “This is important given that this segment of the satellite market is a key indicator for the overall market,” says Caceres.

Caceres also says that investor interest in both GEO and low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite systems is on the rise. The market for military satellites has grown as well, with contracts awarded for more than 200 new-generation U.S. military satellites valued at about $120 billion. “Many of these military satellites have been delayed and are severely over budget, but they will be built and launched because the requirements for them exist regardless,” says Caceres.

Small Is Huge
Miniaturization has become a critical market driver for OEMs, chip manufacturers, and consumers. Trimble’s Copernicus GPS receiver, a thumbnail-sized, surface-mount, low-power GPS module for mobile devices, is one example. It measures just 19 by 11 by 2.5 mm.

Texas Instruments recently introduced a new package size for the XIO2000A PCI Express to PCI Bus translation bridge device. It targets PCI Express Mini Cards and Express Cards for the mobile computing market, where board space is at a premium. The new package is now available in a 12- by 12-mm size.

“By offering the XI02000A in a smaller package, we are responding to our customers’ request for a compact footprint device that will enable new applications in the BTO and CTO add-in card markets,” says Jawaid Ahmad, strategic product marketing manager for TI’s Digital Interface business.

Chips used for tracking packaged goods and other items are also getting smaller. Hitachi Ltd. recently demonstrated a radio frequency identification device (RFID) that, at 0.002 by 0.002 in., is thin enough to be embedded in a sheet of paper. The new chip is 60 times smaller than Hitachi’s Mu-chip, which is 0.4 by 0.4 mm. However, Hitachi has no immediate plans to start production of its new RFID chip.

The industry also is developing miniaturized medical implants because they’re less invasive, offering patients faster recover times and fewer complications.

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