Stefano Zanella, Head of Automotive, Industrial and Location Businesses, TDK InvenSense will present at next month’s SEMICON Taiwan (September 18-20, 2019 in Taipei City, Taiwan). SEMI Taiwan’s Emmy Yi spoke with Stefano for a preview of his talk.
SEMI: What macro market trends are driving automotive manufacturers to increase the variety and volume of MEMS sensors in cars?
Zanella: The car world is changing. Consumers increasingly view car ownership as less desirable, yet the number of miles traveled and of hours spent in a car are rising steadily. At the same time, cars are changing profoundly, and the pace of change is rapid. To thrive in this new world, automakers are becoming transportation enablers and providers.
Many vehicles today autonomously interact with humans and the world around them, operate with less or no human control, and are powered by electric batteries. MEMS sensors – which mimic and augment the five human senses – are front and center in these advancements.
Unlike other types of sensors – such as cameras, radar and GNSS/GPSS – MEMS gyroscopes are functional in every environment. Gyroscopes, as well as accelerometers, can supplement those other sensors when they are not available and boost the accuracy of their outputs when they are available. Both camera stabilization and dead reckoning when GNSS is unavailable are good examples of the latter. Other prevalent sensors include MEMS microphones, used to capture voice commands, ultrasonic sensors, which can be leveraged for parking and gesture recognition, and fingerprint sensors, which can improve car security.
SEMI: How can automakers stay competitive in this changing landscape?
Zanella: Automakers can future-proof their relevance in the transportation market in several ways. By embracing consumer migration toward ride-sharing over car ownership, many are transforming from manufacturers to mobility providers. Carmakers that invest in ride-sharing and other modes of transportation (e.g., scooters) can sustain their profitability, even if the number of vehicles sold eventually shrinks or simply doesn’t grow as much as anticipated.
Automakers will need to pursue new avenues of product differentiation. Traditionally, automakers have kept performance and aesthetics to themselves by owning the engine and the body design of the car, leaving nearly everything else to suppliers. Autonomous driving and electrification, however, are pushing automakers to own the battery pack and the autonomous driving software stack.
While we are just beginning to see standardization in battery packs, automakers are likely to own the autonomous driving stack for many years to come. Automakers that offer cars with highly functional and efficient batteries and driving stacks stand to gain market share.
Automotive infotainment systems will become increasingly crucial as autonomous driving turns everyone into a passenger. Audio subsystem providers such as Harman Kardon, Bose, and Bang & Olufsen, for example, jockeyed for attention at the most recent Geneva Motor Show, demonstrating sophisticated surround-sound systems that rival premium-quality home audio setups.
With more and more consumers using voice interfaces to interact with devices in the home, drivers are less willing to accept spotty accuracy in the car. Hence, automakers are using more higher-performing MEMS microphones to accurately capture voice commands. This will come as a relief to those of us who routinely yell at our steering wheels while using voice command to try to call home.
Demand for higher quality infotainment systems has prompted some automotive OEMs to own the entire infotainment system and work directly with sensor and chipmakers, a level of intimacy that gives automakers a chance to tune sensor and chip development to their own needs. This tighter relationship also positions device suppliers to forge more direct links with drivers.
SEMI: Which MEMS sensors are particularly important to tomorrow’s automobiles and why?
Zanella: For many years the automotive industry has been integrating more electronics into cars to improve safety, advance the driver and passenger experience, and, more recently, power the car. As vehicles rely less on human control, automakers must replace the senses of the driver with something else. That something else is a bunch of sensors, microphones, cameras, radar and LIDAR to replace vision and hearing.
Since MEMS sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors are much more robust than other types of sensors to operate in snow, rain and darkness and other imperfect environments, automakers use them to ensure that the vehicle never gets lost when other sensors and/or the GPS/GNSS signal become unavailable in tunnels or urban canyons. Gyros help determine direction, accelerometers velocity and distance driven, and pressure sensors height, such as when taking a fork on a multi-level highway. At the same time, fingerprint sensors, ultrasonic parking sensors, and temperature sensors are improving convenience, safety and security for the car’s occupants.
Automakers increasingly use inertial and environmental sensors, MEMS microphones, fingerprint sensors, and vision/imaging sensors to augment or replace the five human senses on which car drivers have relied for over 100 years. Source: TDK InvenSense
SEMI: To what degree can MEMS sensors enable automotive security?
Zanella: MEMS sensors are used widely to enhance security today. Some of their mechanisms are easy to understand while some are unexpected. For instance, ultrasonic fingerprint sensors can authenticate the driver of a vehicle to prevent car theft or something less onerous, like a teenage driver taking the car out without permission.
Accelerometers and gyroscopes can prevent a new type of spoof on keyless entry systems. Imagine that you are very close to your vehicle. Your car senses the remote control in your pocket and automatically opens the doors when you pull the handle. Now suppose that your car is parked on the street, not far from your house. You leave the remote control home, and the car doesn’t sense the proximity of the remote control. Great! No one can enter your car, unless ... a thief has a big signal amplifier that makes your car think that the keyless entry device is next to the car. In this case, what can an automaker do? Add an accelerometer that restricts the keyless device from broadcasting the entry signal unless you are walking to the car with the device on your person.
SEMI: What would you like SEMICON Taiwan attendees to take away from your presentation?
Zanella: I would like them to embrace the transformations afoot in the automotive market as well as their associated design challenges since, by overcoming these hurdles, they can offer significant societal benefits such as safer and cleaner transportation. At the same time, these transformations mean significant opportunities for semiconductor industry revenue growth. And while design-to-delivery cycles in automotive are longer than in consumer and mobile, the automotive market supports higher-value devices as well as the chance to fold dozens of MEMS sensors into a single model.
To paraphrase Lord Kelvin: If you can’t sense it, you can’t manage it. As suppliers of many key technologies that make intelligent transportation possible, the MEMS sensors industry is in an excellent position to help automakers manage the many challenges ahead.
Stefano Zanella, Ph.D., is Head of Automotive, Industrial and Location Businesses at TDK InvenSense, where he brings MEMS sensors (including accelerometers, gyroscopes and microphones) and location solutions to the automotive and industrial markets. Zanella holds an MS and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Padova, Padova, Italy as well as MBAs from both the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and from Columbia University.
He will present MEMS Sensors Enabling the Smart Car Revolution on Wednesday, September 18, 2019, at SEMICON Taiwan at 1F & 4F, Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center, Taipei City, Taiwan. Register today and save 20% to learn how MEMS sensors are transforming the human experience with cars.
Interested in engaging with the MEMS & sensors supply chain? SEMI MEMS & Sensors Industry Group is a technology community that enables professionals in the MEMS and sensors industry to innovate, address common challenges and accelerate business results.
Emmy Yi is a marketing specialist at SEMI Taiwan.