Automotive Opps Drive Change For Systems Companies

Is an automotive IP provider now more of a systems company?


Without a doubt, the tremendous amount of activity surrounding the opportunities in today and tomorrow’s vehicles is mind-boggling but absolutely exciting. When big shifts occur such as the one we are seeing in automotive, that equates to big opportunities for companies that get it right with a certain application, at the right time.

It means partnering with the right ecosystem partners, from IP and EDA tool providers to foundries and even packaging/assembly houses.

I’m not alone in this thinking, obviously. Being in Silicon Valley recently to attend the RISC-V Workshop, and then moderate a panel that highlighted some incredible women in the industry on the topic of leadership there is so much buzz about automotive, and for good reason.

As I was speaking to Mick Tegethoff, director of AMS product marketing at Mentor, a Siemens business this week, he remarked that there is definitely a coming together of requirements of ICs that reside in a car and ICs that traditionally have been doing a lot of data processing that do not reside in a car. And this makes it a very exciting time to be involved in this industry.

He went on to say that as the amount of computing and intelligence that’s been added to cars is exploding, processing capabilities that were developed either for the computer or the mobile world or cell phones or cameras are all finding a market in the car. What this means is that the IP in designs aimed at vehicles must add safety standards requirements. “It’s not a big deal but it needs to be done and requires a different discipline. You actually have to pass certain regulatory tests — you can’t just re-market the parts.”

“Companies are stepping up to it because the market is huge and there are step functions here,” Tegethoff continued. “One step function is just the all of the processing on the car for driving, breaking, antilock functions, and so on. Another step function on the infotainment side and all of the technology to do with that. Then comes the functional safety, and at the limit you get to the autonomous driving work where the amount of processing, the amount of electronics, the amount of CPUs in the car for this is outrageous.”

He believes all of these issues are ones that the industry will definitely address in a timely manner. “You are seeing traditional IP providers already providing IP that has been qualified by all of the automotive standards. You are seeing the EDA providers qualifying software in ISO standards. It is a cultural change in the design center for the people that did not design chips for this market. But once they make that change, they are off and running.”

Tegethoff added, “There is absolutely a redefining of what a system company is, and what an IC company is. Many systems companies are now designing ICs. We have been tracking the development of platforms — you’re not just doing a chip anymore — you’re doing a platform that combines the IC (s), the software, the firmware, sometimes even packaged — everything that you need to bring together to do a product.”

Also interesting, and which fits into this discussion is the RESCAR 2.0 research project out of Germany that has an objective to develop a standard procedure to comprehend OEMs’ robustness requirements, both prior to and throughout ECU component design, in a reliable and verifiable way. In order to account for the increasing sensitivity of new technologies to their operational environment, three especially robustness-critical issues are dealt with in depth: aging effects and the influence of both temperature and voltage fluctuations, according to the project’s website. “In RESCAR 2.0, robustness is precisely specified as a design command variable for the first time ever. It is taken into account throughout the entire development process, from project commencement to final verification. The procedure comprehends the whole value chain from the auto manufacturer (OEM) and the ECU producer (Tier 1), up to the semiconductor components provider (Tier 2).”

Particularly now, while still in the relatively early stages of the automotive electronic explosion, this is the best time for companies to target their application, gather the ecosystem, and launch down the road. Although there is never a guarantee for success, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

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