Auto Chip Ecosystem Needs Common Language

A key ingredient for the autonomous driving ecosystem is mutual understanding — even with terminology.


In order to reach the levels of robustness that autonomous vehicles will require, companies throughout the automotive and semiconductor ecosystem are working with an eye toward high-sigma design.

But along with this robustness, there must be a clear understanding of the situation at hand, how semiconductors can improve the number of vehicle fatalities, and make sure everyone is communicating with the same understanding of terminology.

I had an opportunity to discuss a variety of automotive topics recently with Burkhard Huhnke, vice president of automotive strategy at Synopsys, who joined the company earlier this year from Volkswagen, bringing much-needed insight from the automotive OEM side as to the challenges and solutions on the path to the increasingly autonomous vehicle.

Burkhard Huhnke, vice president of automotive strategy at Synopsys
Source: Synopsys

Based on his tenure at VW, he could see that one the main challenges facing automotive today is electrification. “Sustainability in the drivetrain is a key which will require the industry to develop new components from the smallest component like high power semiconductors like IGBTs, low current, optimized for automotive grade. There are a lot of new components there.”

While he was in charge of product management of the electrical family for Volkswagen for a while, he said he was surprised that those components were three times more expensive than traditional ones. “Here, there’s a lot of work which can be done, but that’s not the most exciting aspect. The most exciting is connectivity that opens a completely new ecosystem, which everybody knows from the smartphone world.”

Then there’s the safety aspect, Huhnke noted. “If you look into human driver error in traffic, it’s incredibly high, so something has to happen in the safety world. Apparently the uncertainty factor of drivers is 90 percent so if you get rid of the driver then at least 90 percent of the fatal accidents can be reduced. The rate of fatal accidents is insanely high in the United States with 40,000 people dying per year in traffic accidents.”

Last but not least, security is a huge challenge in the automotive industry. “This includes things other than the Jeep Cherokee hack, so especially if you open up your systems to updates over the air on a regular basis, and you think about the safety update needs to be really secure otherwise, if somebody hacks into that, this is really critical,” he said.

Even just looking at safety first, if 90 percent of accidents being caused are by drivers, what about the rest of the 10 percent? Apparently, that’s technology, Huhnke said. “If you look into the recall statistics of cars worldwide, given the 100 million cars recalled per year, approximately 5 percent of the recall statistics are based on electronics, including software. That means 5 out of 100 cars are breaking down caused by electronics failures. That is high. If you have feared actions, and I don’t mean it negatively, I mean everybody’s taking care of their system development, but if you realize there are a couple of problems, then you update your systems to really provide the customer the perfect experience. But apparently something is going wrong in the robust design or comprehensive design in the car industry. Looking at it in a positive light, cars are still very reliable products, but unfortunately have to be maintained over the lifetime.”

Underlying all of this is the work happening amongst and between companies in the automotive and semiconductor industries, including EDA. Here, the language in between the automotive industry and the semiconductor world is so different, he observed. “Although we’re talking about the functional safety and ISO 26262, the vocabulary is quite similar. But talking about the ECU, for me it’s a complete box including software and hardware with a version number but an ECU in the semiconductor world is just the processor maybe even a smaller piece of that under the same understanding. That’s been a challenge, but it’s very fruitful for both sides.”

While there is still more progress to be made, all signs point to all players being on the right track.

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