You have likely noticed that cars and trucks have increasingly become heavily tech-focused, and have made great strides in innovation in the last few years. From autonomous driving and other driver-assist features, to slick infotainment systems and fully electric or hybrid vehicle systems, semiconductor chip dependency in the average consumer or commercial vehicle is skyrocketing. Some industry analytics firms are predicting nearly 13% growth in the automotive market for semiconductors in 2024. In addition, many chip players have developed platforms for what’s referred to as the “software-defined vehicle,” where new features and services can be added at time of or after purchase, simply by unlocking them via software or uploading new firmware. However, to understand what’s driving this technology growth trend in the automotive industry, we need to look at the evolution of the modern digital chassis.
The Modern Digital Car Is Based On A Scalable, Zonal Concept
In its early stages, in-vehicle compute systems were based on purpose-built controls where specific functions were managed by dedicated processors and systems that were only loosely connected with each other. Today, however, automotive OEMs, traditional chip players and start-ups alike are all gravitating towards a zonal concept, where multi-function zone controllers communicate with each other via intelligent gateways over a high-speed network backbone, like powerful rolling data centers. These Electronic Control Units, and the networks they connect over, need to be durable, efficiency, and scalable as well, to accommodate a varied number of vehicle models and requirements.
I had a chance to sit down with Robert Schweiger of Cadence Design Systems’ Automotive Solutions Group, who gave me quite an education on this trend and the role the company plays in driving these solutions forward with everything from chip design tools, system modeling, simulation and even Multiphysics analysis, for optimal performance, efficiency and safety.
Simulation Is Critical For Chip And System Design, Especially In Automotive
Simulation and modeling involves creating a realistic mathematical representation of a physical system. In the context of vehicles, this could include models of the vehicle’s aero and fluid dynamics, power train, thermal management system, or even the behavior of the driver. These models can be used to predict how the vehicle and its systems will behave under different conditions, allowing engineers to optimize the design before a physical prototype is built. Cadence delivers comprehensive tools for many stages of digital chassis design and development, from custom 3D IC chiplet design and simulation, to thermal analysis of ECUs, from their core processors to the PCB and the full system.
The company also offers IP for various subsystem and system-on-chip interfaces like PCI Express, multi-protocol SerDes, system memory and UCIe chiplet IP, all of which are ISO-certified for automotive class designs. In addition, Cadence offers engineers simulation and verification IP for in-car high speed 10G Ethernet networks and standard interfaces like MIPI, typically used for the many cameras and sensors that are prevalent in today’s modern vehicle applications.
The Digital Transformation Of The Car Is A Huge Opportunity Moving Forward
By now you probably realize the extremely high-tech nature of the mainstream cars on the road today and even more-so in the future. All of this equates to a significant growth opportunity for automotive chip and system OEMs like NVIDIA, Qualcomm, AMD, Intel and others, as well as the big automakers themselves, and companies like Cadence, which helps prepare the frameworks on which the digital transformation of the automotive industry is being created.
At this point, it’s abundantly clear that vehicles are evolving at a breakneck pace of innovation like we’ve only seen in the transitional days of horse and buggy to the combustion engine. Autonomous driving and Advanced Driver Assist technologies are not the only growth areas, though some day it may actually cost more to drive the car yourself, because the machine will be so good at it that, statistically speaking, it will be a far safer insurance bet than a human driver. Regardless, nearly every facet of these new vehicle platforms is being re-invented with better intelligence, innovative features, redundancy and safety. ADAS with AI and machine vision, Infotainment, the digital cockpit, and functional safety are all front and center in this new era of the automotive industry, and semiconductor content will continue to grow, in this new era of the digitalized car and its ever-expanding capabilities.