A car that takes control of the steering wheel to avoid collisions, or that automatically brakes when an obstacle is detected. A vehicle in constant communication with other vehicles on the road, or with traffic-monitoring systems, in order to prevent accidents and automatically detect the best and safest way to your destination. These are a few examples of features already being tested around the world and which require dedicated microelectronics solutions.
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Let's face it. Driving a car is much easier than in the past. And much more of a pleasure, too. Most state-of-the-art cars are beefed-up with intelligent electronics and a lot of software, to assist the driver. Potentially dangerous situations are immediately spotted. Automatic vision systems and intelligent sensors are already present on top-range modern cars. They make it possible for the electronic control unit of the car to override the driver and take full control, in case of need. The car, for example, can automatically brake when a pedestrian or something suddenly comes out form either side of your vehicle and you are not responding accordingly. Rear-view cameras can detect people or objects that are in the blind spot behind vehicles. Technology can avoid potentially dangerous situations that can cause injury or death. This sounds good. But this is not enough.
Distraction Is A Major Source Of Car Accidents
Electronics makes it also much easier to keep you always "connected" to your world, even from you car. You can browse through your email messages, query your company database or read the latest news, when you're stuck in rush-hour traffic: in fact the touch screen of your car is no longer only a tool to check the functioning of the engine or to show you the way to your destination. It can display your most familiar apps and programs, the same ones that you have on the desktop of your PC at home. So, electronics can also bring new challenges in information overload and distraction for drivers. According to the NHTSA, in 2011, 3,331 people were killed in the USA in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. 10% of injury crashes in 2011 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. At any given daylight moment across the USA, approximately 660,000 drivers are playing with electronics while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
Obviously, minimizing driver distractions and improving safety are huge priorities for the industry. And, once again, electronics comes to help leading the way to a new generation of ADAS and to a new paradigm in automotive comfort and safety.
An Intelligent Vehicle Communication Network
ADAS is the common acronym used for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Today these are complex systems based on a combination of technologies and are purpose-built to leverage critical information within the car itself in order to achieve a certain level of automation. The next step for ADAS is to create an integrated system network with other cars (V2V, vehicle to vehicle) and with roadside traffic-monitoring stations (V2I, vehicle to infrastructure). By exchanging anonymous, vehicle-based data regarding position, speed and location, V2V enables a vehicle to sense threats and hazards with a 360 degree awareness of the position of other vehicles and the threat or hazard they present; calculate risk; issue driver advisories or warnings; or take pre-emptive actions to avoid and mitigate crashes. Vehicle to infrastructure communication is the wireless exchange of critical safety and operational data between vehicles and highway infrastructure, intended primarily to avoid or mitigate vehicle crashes. V2I communications transform the road networks into a smart infrastructure through the incorporation of algorithms that use data exchange between vehicles and infrastructure elements to perform calculations that recognize high-risk situations in advance, resulting in driver alerts and warnings through specific countermeasures. Your car becomes autonomously aware of surrounding traffic conditions, even if you are distracted. It can suggest the correct behavior or take full control of the situation.
But this is not the end of the story. V2I can also enable a wide range of other safety, mobility and environmental benefits and increase driving comfort. Imagine a transportation system where vehicles communicate directly with each other in real time, giving drivers warnings about traffic delays, allowing a single driver to control multiple vehicles or routing vehicles around hazardous road conditions. Those are all aspects of the “intelligent transportation” concept. While there are smartphone apps that can tell you about traffic jams, there is a time lag between when the traffic jam begins and when the driver is notified. V2V and V2I enable direct communication between vehicles with very little time delay, and could warn you in real time to take a different road to your destination in response to an event only hundreds meters away. These technologies already exist and are already being tested in the labs of car makers, but also on the road. They will become standard features. There are already a number of V2V and V2I trials and tests around the world, and standard bodies are working to propose a common and interoperable approach. The dream of a "self-driven" car is not so far away; in the near future we might be comfortably reading our evening newspaper while our car is safely driving us home, without any human intervention and only relying on the information gathered from other vehicles and from the smart road infrastructure. Of course, true car enthusiasts will never hand over complete control to an electronic system; nevertheless safety and comfort can be significantly improved to the advantage of everybody.
Memory Solutions With Specific Requirements Are Needed
A wide variety of electronic technologies are contributing to the creation of these advanced systems. In addition to sensors, signal processing elements, image recognition engines, these applications are memory hungry and they are driving an explosive growth of both volatile and non-volatile memories.
Memory devices play a key role. They contain all the underlying code for the functioning of the system, all the parameters and the data. They must provide top-notch reliability, high density, speed and performance, combined with low power consumption.
There are two main areas of applications for memory devices in V2V and V2I automotive systems. The main processing unit requires high density and very fast memory, as provided by DRAM technology. DRAM memory is used as a buffer for data and information displayed on the dashboard. DRAM handles the increasing complexity of state-of-the-art on-board infotainment systems, always connected to the Internet and possibly delivering content to multiple user devices. DRAM also provides the main working space for the processor. There is a growing demand of LP (Low Power) DRAM as many automotive electronic systems are kept "always on" - in standby mode - even when the engine is off. One reason for this is the desire for a quick start with all the relevant information immediately available at the dashboard. But it's also becoming more and more important to have your car always available to respond to remote requests from your mobile phone, where you have installed an app providing details on the car's position, the level of fuel in the tank or other relevant information. The higher-end processors found in modern cars have multi-task/multi-thread capabilities and need faster memory. Bandwidth requirements in many of the new applications are driving the need for high-performance DRAM, such as DDR3, with densities in the range of 1 Gbit or more.
There's also a growing need for high-density non-volatile memory used, for example, to store security certificates. V2I and V2V applications are intrinsically accessible through a wireless connection and may be subject to tampering or hacking. This is a major concern which may be addressed with a certificate-based approach leading to the need of high density (1 to 4 GBytes) Flash NAND on board, used to store security certificates for a tamper-proof wireless connection: SLC (Single-Level cell) NAND Flash is the best choice. For applications requiring 4-6 Gbyte storage space, e•MMC modules are the most competitive and preferred choice. e•MMC is one standardized version of the so-called "managed NAND" memory architecture. It is essentially a module based on a bank of non volatile NAND Flash chips internally managed by and ad-hoc microcontroller. The primary advantage to the user is that an e•MMC is fully managed and independent from the NAND technology inside. The e•MMC embedded memory architecture is backward compatible and has a standard interface so that changes to the NAND are transparent to the application. This means that developers don't have to bother about dedicated software for managing the complexity of NAND memories. e•MMC modules use standard interfaces; all functions are fully covered by JEDEC specifications. e•MMC modules, up o 4 Gbytes in density, are possibly the best near-term solution for storing all non-volatile parameters and data and handling security certificates.
Quality is a very important element in automotive electronics. Integrated circuits used for car applications must prove their reliability in harsh environments and should have a wide operating temperature range, typically from -40 °C to 85 °C and in some platforms and applications up to 105 °C. This level of quality performance is not easy to reach and may be achieved only with a dedicated quality and reliability approach specifically tailored to the automotive industry.
Memory solutions for car applications must be the result of a well defined approach to the automotive industry forged by a supplier who has a long-term vision and commitment to this specific market segment. Micron considers the automotive market segment as an area of strategic importance and has become the top player in this field, not by chance but definitely by design.