Every year, the amount of electronics in cars increases — we can see it when we stop by any dealership. But to take some of the cost out, we need to find ways to squeeze more functionality into smaller packages. This way, fewer parts are needed (which implicitly means lower cost) and less PC board real estate is required (which explicitly means lower cost).
This can result in either lower cost for vehicles to the end-user or higher profit margins.
Electronic control for the transmission is common now. A controller needs to have the ability to drive electromechanical actuators that directly act on portions of the power train in the transmission or on hydraulic actuators that in turn act on the transmission. As IC vendors develop better processes for high voltage/high current capability on a chip, we should see more of the functionality described above move into the chip level.
Fuel control, primarily in the form of fuel injection, is another area where higher performance and lower cost is the dual goal. As with the transmission, these designs will benefit from the development of high voltage/high current capability IC processes.
Besides the need for increased sophistication in the controllers, we will need higher temperature capability for any electronics associated with the transmission or the engine — especially in cases where direct injection is used. We discussed the heat issue in previous blogs. (See Integrating Analog Functionality for Automotive Applications: Tougher Than You’d Think and (Synthetic) Diamonds Are a Designer’s Best Friend.)
For the suspension, there is already active suspension technology used in high-end/luxury vehicles. As above, there is a need to control electrical and hydraulic actuators. To help move it down into more affordable vehicles, some of the cost needs to be taken out. Less expensive electronics will help there.
In electric or hybrid-electric vehicles, when charging and drawing power from the large series-stack of lithium cells, care must be taken. Since not all cells have exactly the same characteristics, some will discharge before others. If you continue to draw power from the series stack, the discharged cell or cells will become reverse biased and will be damaged. There are ICs available now that can help with the problem, but each IC typically can deal with a small number of cells. So there is an opportunity here to develop ICs that can control a larger number of series connected cells. See Charge & Discharge Lithium Cells in Series for more details.
There is already considerable progress in putting large amounts of audio, video, and power functionality onto a single piece of silicon. We've touched upon class-D a little bit in a blog. But the key here is to make an IC with digital audio inputs, volume and tone control, special spatial processing, video switching/multiplexing, and power supply control. (See Driving Your Speaker (& Not Damaging It) Just Got Easier.)
Since audio and video ICs are a topic that needs a more detailed look — we'll push into that topic more in upcoming blogs.
Note that anything that we can do to reduce the number of ICs and the size of circuit boards will help reduce overall vehicle weight and improve fuel economy. While the changes discussed here represent small changes in weight, every little bit adds up.
What are your experiences working with automotive electronics? What other functionality would you like to see combined into one IC?
- Wires & Power Are the Limiters
- Can a Car Be ‘Over-Sensored’?
- Just Give Me a Basic Car, Detroit
- (Synthetic) Diamonds Are a Designer’s Best Friend
- Integrating Analog Functionality for Automotive Applications: Tougher Than You’d Think
- Driving Your Speaker (& Not Damaging It) Just Got Easier
- Charge & Discharge Lithium Cells in Series