Consumer chips in the car? Experts demand adequate design processes

October 24, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
With the innovation speed in consumer semiconductor markets being much faster than in the automotive semiconductor realm, carmakers increasingly feel motivated to help themselves in the consumer chip shelves to implement functions that appear cool but demand lots of computing power. A group of component manufacturers organised in the ZVEI, the German association for the electronics industry, now has raised their voice to demand adequate development processes.

The group which includes among others Analog Devices, Freescale, Infineon, NXP, Bosch and STMicroelectronics, sees the necessity to increase the risk consciousness for cases in which parts developed for broader markets are designed into car-based applications. "The automotive value chain needs a new, future-oriented and reliable cooperation basis", the paper states.

The authors admit that the trend to use parts foreign to automotive design methodologies in automotive applications is "unavoidable" - for a number of reasons. The most pronounced is certainly the divergence in the innovation speeds between both worlds: During the time required to design one vehicle generation - along with the associated electronics - the consumer world sees at least three or four chip generations. With less than 10% of the total chip consumption, the automotive industry as a market is too small to justify the high and rising development costs for leading-edge SoCs and high-performance microprocessors. The dilemma for the carmakers is that their customers increasingly demand the latest in functionality and computing performance, but as the paper states, some of the top performance chip products "are based on semiconductor and manufacturing technologies that can not make compatible to the requirements of the automotive industry" in terms of reliability, longevity and failsafe performance. To achieve comparable reliability, these shortcomings have to be compensated at the application level - which means that operational parameters such as cooling, operation voltage, and clock frequencies have to be adapted to the automotive requirements. This, in turn, requires a higher degree of transparency as to the characteristics of these semiconductors. The authors of the paper compiled a list of 60 parameters that determine for performance, reliability and resilience of the chips; these parameters range from the gate oxide used to operation temperature and clock frequency. "We want the OEMs to understand these connections" a spokesperson of the chipmaker group told eeNews Europe. To ensure a comparable reliability with consumer devices as with