The fast-growing automotive semiconductor market means big change for the IC supply chain. Beyond the obvious demands for reliability and traceability, the sector is moving towards simpler and lower-cost solutions while facing the daunting challenge of automating driving in a complex world. The need for simpler and cheaper automotive intelligence will likely drive acquisitions to build complete platform solutions that are easier to integrate. This demand has already spawned a market for pre-configured test cars to save developers time and money, and is driving LiDAR (Light Detection And RADAR) towards lower-cost, solid state solutions.
“The growth of the automotive electronics market provides a great opportunity for the IC supply chain to differentiate on specialty processes and quality for the high-volume automotive business with its long design cycles,” says Scott Jones, principal, strategy, at KPMG, who will speak in the automotive program at SEMICON West. “This differentiation is a chance to reduce chip suppliers’ dependence on scaling volume for the mobile phone world with its short-cycle volatility of winning and losing sockets.” He notes that increasing demand for automotive ICs is also reinvigorating the eight-inch supply chain and spurring opportunity for specialty products such as compound semiconductor devices for power efficiency.
Supplying the automotive market also means addressing automotive reliability requirements, which can be 10 times more stringent than for consumer devices. At the same time, the industry must sustain fast-paced development cycles required for the volume and diversity of low-cost IoT devices, manage the segmented supply chain for both those markets, and still spread development costs. Another big challenge for the supply chain will be to automate testing and update vast amounts of embedded software in these automotive devices.
“The more complete solution a company can put together, the more the automakers will gravitate to it. They want simplicity,” Jones suggests. Smaller players will need to differentiate with IP and acquire other IP provider to build a broader platform, or be acquired and folded into an all-in-one solution.
AutonomouStuff helps accelerate and simplify development of autonomous driving solutions
AutonomouStuff is helping to speed development of these platforms. The company has grown from a sensor distributor into a supplier in the emerging niche of vehicles preconfigured with key interfaces for sensors and controls. These interfaces can then be customized by integrating different components for developers to test their applications.
AutonomouStuff offers developers a lineup of vehicle models pre-configured with the interfaces needed to add desired chips, sensors and software to develop their autonomous vehicle systems. Source: AutonomouStuff.
“Whether they’re major chipmakers or AI software startups, they don’t have a year to build their own vehicle platforms themselves for developing autonomous vehicle systems,” says Wolfgang Juchmann, VP sales and business development at AutonomouStuff. Juchmann, a SEMICON West speaker, will bring a demonstration vehicle to the show. “In four to six weeks we can prepare a custom test car with selected sensors, enabling users to start testing their computer platforms and software. It’s faster and more cost-effective for us to supply the car with the needed interfaces.”
He notes that developers are using some 300 AutonomouStuff vehicles in the field. AutonomouStuff customers are starting to transition from testing on a single car or two to testing on mini-fleets with 50 to 100 vehicles. Beyond sensors and pre-configured vehicles, the next step will be to add more data intelligence services to help with capabilities like tagging the data for training, Juchmann says. AutonomouStuff already offers hardware to support Baidu’s Apollo open-source software stack and data set. The company was recently acquired by the Swedish holding company Hexagon to help support expansion.
CMOS silicon LiDAR nears automotive qualification
Innovations in the hyper-competitive LiDAR market, where burgeoning demand is driving the race to develop various types of solid-state devices, may also help reduce the cost of autonomous vehicles. Among the roughly 40 LiDAR suppliers, at least one – Quanergy – is taking advantage of 45nm and 32nm foundry CMOS volume production. The company uses voltage through the semiconductor stack to change the refractive index, controlling the phases of optical beams and the resulting interference patterns of light exiting the chip to quickly steer the laser beam without the need for moving parts, much like the phased array radar its team developed earlier.
Solid state LiDAR image with object recognition software. Source: Quanergy
So far, most of the small LiDAR units have shipped to the security, industrial automation, drone, robots and 3D mapping markets. However, Quanergy CEO Louay Eldada, another SEMICON speaker, says the company is also winning automotive designs and expects automotive shipments to take off early next year, once automotive certification testing is completed. “We can get design wins because standard CMOS production at TSMC makes us a known entity,” says Eldada. To prevent component misalignment, the company produces its own specialized packaging to secure the laser, phase control ASIC, optical phased-array emitter, detector array, and receiver readout ASIC at its plant in Silicon Valley or the facility of its automotive partner Sensata. Through its software business, Quanergy offers an artificial intelligence (AI) perception program for object recognition and LiDAR tracking. The solution uses the people-tracker software the company acquired from Raytheon.
SEMICON West this year expands to three full days of automotive electronics programming and features a Smart Transportation Pavilion.
Other companies with experts who will speak as part of the program include XPT/NIO, Infineon, McKinsey, Voyage, GM Cruise, Bosch, Deepen AI, Airbus A3, Nvidia, Excelfore, Byton, Macronix, SK Hynix, SAP, Xilinx, Achronics, California Fuel Cell Partnership, Velodyne, Lam Research, KLA-Tencor, SCREEN, Rockwell, Versum Materials, TechSearch International, Entegris, ASE, Amazon, Continental and Wind River. www.semiconwest.org
Paul Doe, SEMI