Multimedia navigation systems have been available in all categories of car for a few years now, as the boom in smartphones and mobile internet have led to a significant increase in demand for them from customers. New assistance systems, such as traffic sign recognition and camera-based parking, have made their debut in the mass market. Cars that drive themselves autonomously may be a long way off yet, but the trend is obvious: consumer electronics' wealth of functions and computing power is moving into our cars.
One common issue facing automotive suppliers is that they need to plan a long way ahead. Unlike the consumer technology market, they need to ensure long-term viability, as their products have long development times and a lifecycle of more than ten years. However, nobody can deny that the automotive market is subjected to very high cost pressure. Electronic component developers usually deal with this by selecting the least expensive processor for their system that just about meets requirements. In order to avoid the need to redesign and redevelop the software from scratch, they also need scalable application processors – that way, they can use a single product for a cost-effective entry-level system as well as a premium device.
Against this backdrop, the way these applications are used in the automotive area differs considerably from the mobile phone market. For example, they must be able to withstand temperatures of over 100°C and have a lifecycle of up to 15 years. High ambient temperatures have a negative effect on almost all system characteristics. Components wear out exponentially faster. Developers need to set electrical parameters to handle a temperature range of more than 150 kelvins – and that is no trivial challenge at GHz frequencies on the circuit board. By way of comparison, a typical smartphone is only designed for a range of about 0°C to 35°C.
Mastering thermal management for a multimedia or driver assistance system is