Automotive industry: Innovation driven by electronics

February 1, 2013 OpenSystems Media

3High-end electronics provide drivers and passengers with in-car navigation and entertainment and information delivered over a wireless network. In fact, many car buyers today care more about the infotainment technologies embedded in the dashboard than what's under the hood. This phenomenon is requiring additional storage space for rich multimedia data and advanced software and applications and is driving an explosive growth of both volatile and nonvolatile memories. Embedded multimedia cards are helping meet this demand in today's memory-hungry automotives.

The automotive market is moderately but steadily growing. Global car sales rose 6 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2012, despite the ongoing headwinds associated with the sovereign debt problems in Western Europe and some moderation in the pace of global economic activity. Global sales of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles are expected to grow from 78 million units in 2011 to more than 100 million units in 2018. In a recent study, Gartner confirmed that electronics are playing a major role in the advancement of automotive technology. Electronic content in cars has been steadily increasing since the first digital engine control modules were introduced in the ’80s.

Today, microelectronics enable advanced safety features, new information and entertainment services, and greater energy efficiency. The electric/electronic share of value added to a state-of-the-art vehicle is already at 40 percent for traditional, internal combustion engine cars and jumps as high as 75 percent for electric or hybrid electric vehicles. This trend will accelerate as advances in semiconductor technology continue to drive down the cost of various electronic modules and subsystems.

Infotainment is one of the key megatrends fueling the pervasiveness of microelectronics in cars. Users want to be connected and conveniently access their personal content anywhere, anytime, on all of their devices. The vehicle becomes just another node in the network, an extension of the user’s digital and social lifestyle (see this article’s lead-in photo). A “connected” car is also more comfortable, safer, and energy efficient, having early access to important information such as weather reports, traffic jams, or road accidents. According to a recent study, 60 percent of new cars will be connected by 2017. Given this scenario, consumer electronic trends are dictating features in the car, and the innovation cycle time is becoming shorter and shorter. Meanwhile, a key to this automotive infotainment innovation is the system’s enabler: memory.

Automotive electronics are memory hungry

The explosive growth of infotainment systems in modern cars has a significant impact on the market demand for semiconductor memories. For 2012, the average memory content of a car was estimated to be around US$12.8, ranging from US$2.0 for low-end models to more than US$100 for fully equipped luxury vehicles. As a result, the total available market value for semiconductor memories in automotive applications is expected to reach a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of more than 9 percent from 2011 to 2015, well above the overall CAGR for the total memory semiconductor market, which is less than 7 percent.

Managed NAND: Ideal solution for car infotainment

New memory solutions, specifically tailored for automotive infotainment systems, are needed to provide additional storage space for rich infotainment multimedia data and advanced software and applications. An example is the embedded multimedia card device, a nonvolatile memory option (Figure 1). It has all the features needed to support navigation and infotainment applications such as detailed 3D maps, traffic monitoring, meteorological information, car radio and multimedia, e-call, and voice recognition. Embedded multimedia card memory is a standardized version of the “managed NAND” memory architecture. It is essentially a module based on a bank of nonvolatile NAND flash devices and is internally managed by an ad hoc microcontroller (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Close-up of an embedded multimedia card device: top side view with bonding wires. The package contains everything needed to fully manage the memory independently from the NAND technology inside.

Figure 2: Schematic diagram of a traditional NAND memory compared to a managed NAND chip that already integrates intelligent functions and an ad hoc microcontroller for easier interface with the host processor.

The primary advantage to the user is that an embedded multimedia card’s memory is fully managed and independent from the NAND technology inside. As NAND flash geometries shrink, the technology becomes more complex to manage in terms of dealing with increased Error Correction Code (ECC) requirements, wear leveling, and bad block management. NAND flash is also variable in terms of road-map changes that require updates to software and perhaps even at the controller level.

Embedded multimedia card memory 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 with dedicated software to manage the complexity of NAND flash. Embedded multimedia card memory uses standard interfaces, and functions are geared to match JEDEC specifications.

Micron Technology, for example, provides a wide range of densities of its Embedded MultiMedia Card (e•MMC), 4 GB to 64 GB, with an integrated 16-bit NAND controller that offers more robust management and memory optimization compared to discrete NAND devices. An evolution toward 256 GB modules has already been defined. The next step will be the development of higher-density managed NAND memory solutions like Solid State Drive (SSD) modules and higher-performance 32-bit microcontrollers. All of Micron’s e•MMC devices are available in JEDEC-standard 100-ball, 1 mm pitch and 153-ball/169-ball, 0.5 mm pitch BGA packages, easing the design and validation process that is critical to the fast pace of product development in the automotive segment.

An answer to automotive application needs

Quality is an important factor for the rapidly innovative in-vehicle infotainment electronics market, and memory is the backbone of this segment where semiconductor products must meet specific automotive-grade certifications. Accordingly, embedded multimedia cards have special features to meet automotive requirements, such as dedicated test pads for failure analysis. The NAND devices inside these modules can be accessed without going through the controller, enabling a full and comprehensive check of the memory bank.

e•MMC devices are fully operational at -40 °C to +85 °C so that data written into the memory at the lowest end of the temperature range is still valid when read at peak temperature, and vice versa. Power-loss protection is another advantage. And in the final analysis, embedded multimedia cards help enable a rich infotainment experience – and a safe ride – for driver and passengers.

All market data and statistics in this document are estimates and evaluations by Micron Technology, based on publicly available sources and internal intelligence.

Giorgio Scuro is General Manager, Automotive Business Unit, at Micron Technology. He started his professional career designing electronic medical equipment. In 1975 he moved to SGS (now STMicroelectronics) as quality engineer and later became quality manager for nonvolatile memories, focusing on the automotive market. In 2007 he was appointed General Manager of ST’s Automotive Division, Memory Product Group, which was subsequently transferred to Micron Technology.


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Giorgio Scuro (Micron)
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