Connecting Cars to the Infrastructure

We all know that it’s only a matter of time until our cars are able to communicate with each other. Another wave of connectivity-focused innovation is underway and, this time around, the shift is toward enabling our cars to connect with their surroundings. Soon enough, our cars will be connected to the infrastructure around them, enabling our vehicles to provide useful information to their users—especially in regard to traffic signals, pavement-embedded sensors and parking meters. Communicating with consumer devices via applications like music streaming services or GPS is just around the corner as well.

More than ever, consumers expect to have the same connected experience in the car as they do with their smartphones or tablets, posing a challenge for automotive design engineers. To meet that expectation, the automotive industry needs to synchronize its five-year design cycles with the fast development cycle seen in the consumer industry. One way to streamline this process is to adopt the means by which system upgrades and app updates are implemented in smartphones. By having the same approach in the auto industry, infotainment and telematics systems’ software updates can be rolled out more efficiently.

Designers need to future-proof the car
Security and reliability are a non-negotiable for consumers—be it for the current cars on the road or the coming wave of connected vehicles. Safety-critical applications will need to communicate via open interfaces, especially ADAS, telematics and car-to-infrastructure communications. Security becomes mandatory for all automotive networks and the designs of automotive platforms need to be scalable. Therefore, “future-proofing” the car today is more about electronics and software than about mechanics.

The good news is that car makers are aware and agree the connected car is no longer just an option but a necessity for success. With vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication being tested successfully today, the components and platforms are in line to make it a reality. Even though the design cycle of the car is slow compared to the consumer design cycle, connectivity inside the car is already very advanced. Cars have a long history of connectivity with Bluetooth, Ethernet, OnStar and Sync, and more recently Internet radio or services like Pandora in the car.

Memory and microprocessors at the center of car information
Semiconductor components, especially MCU and memory, are central to the smart systems that enable reliable data connections and ultra-speedy user interfaces in the connected car. An increasing amount of MCUs is driving today’s advanced features such as speech recognition, advanced diagnostics, predictive and self-intelligence and driver assistance systems. For full functionality, these features require more than just MCU processing; memory is necessary to fulfill their task.

Communication between a car’s systems, as well as systems outside the car, requires fast authentication and security features. Hardwiring the authentication into silicon creates an environment where you prevent hacks and breaches. Without the confidence and trust in the security mechanisms, consumers will not trust self-driving cars, or the other innovations that are forthcoming.

Many car actions need to be nearly instantaneous, so the computing must be executed in the same location the code is stored. For example, one of the key features of our flash products the ADAS community is looking to leverage is read speed. Think of digital dashboard technology in the car—drivers need an instant splash screen. NOR Flash enables this execute in place (XiP) mechanism, which allows the system to bypass the processor and boot directly out of memory.

When cars are being connected, the system needs to be able manage the increasing amount of incoming data and complexity of the software. This requires the electronics system to be more complex which requires higher density flash memory. The integrated circuits used for these systems must also be reliable in harsh environments and meet demanding automotive quality and safety requirements.

The layered security approach
For the fully connected car to be ubiquitous, a single IT fabric that consists of at least two layers is essential—one aimed at securing the mission-critical controls and highly private data that must be secure at all times, and one with lower-level security to enable less-critical applications and communications that do not need the same level of security. With this platform, the dual network fabrics work in unison in different areas of the wireless spectrum. This is only possible with the creation of an automotive network platform that is both network and content aware and secured from the ground up. Safeguarding life-critical systems such as braking, stability programs or driving control by software is not ideal, therefore building it from the ground up and hardwiring the security in silicon will be most effective. In the memory industry this is not a new approach. It is a mature and known technology.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the mass market fully embraces the connected car. To accelerate this development, the automotive industry needs to come together and adopt the same approach that fueled the rapid growth of the smartphone and wireless-enabled device markets. Audiences from the consumer, to the service provider, OEMs and more all stand to gain from this revolution. As this technology progresses, infotainment, clusters, telematics and ADAS systems will converge into a single information platform, enriching the user experience and increasing safety. To make this happen, it is important that the automotive design philosophy changes from that of disparate systems to one holistic, integrated platform that is both secure and networked.

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