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Infineon CEO Says Robot Cars Will Drive Semiconductor Demand

Infineon’s CEO, Reinhard Ploss, says that the autonomously driven cars of the future will create a large demand for a variety of new semiconductors and sensors. Speaking in a keynote address at SEMI’s Semicon Europa’s Fab Manager’s Forum in Dresden, Germany, Ploss outlined the “drivers” behind the evolution of robot cars and autonomous cars and what we might expect in terms of semiconductor requirements.

Ploss expects a slow evolution to fully autonomous cars, but eventually the experience may be no different than what stepping into an elevator and pushing a button is like today.

Among the many advantages of autonomous driving:

  • Traffic fatalities (1.3 million deaths a year across the globe) can be reduced, as 90% of all accidents are caused by human errors
  • Less traffic congestion: Today, US commuter spend 38 hours/year in traffic jams, which are causing total costs of $121 billion/year
  • Increasing commuter productivity, as time in car can be used for e.g. working (48 min/day per average American)
  • Improved fuel efficiency (up to 50%)
  • Offering mobility for everybody, e.g. disabled, elder or young people
  • Reduction of accidents enables lower insurance rates

Figure 1 shows how automotive safety has evolved over time, and where increased automation is likely to come into play. Ploss said in the five levels of autonomous driving – assisted, partially automated, highly automated and fully automated – everything is still under the control of the driver in the fourth, highly automated, stage.

Figure 1

Figure 1

“Traffic management is a huge opportunity when you have a connected autonomously driving car,” Ploss said. “If you manage traffic to go smoothly at a lower speed, or even the same speed as the trucks, then you have the optimum load for the road.”

“As we move on the, the next big step for automated driving will be on highways,” Ploss said it will take some time to get to fully automated driving. “You need rules on how you can operate. Think about a small Italian village where you have a road which is good for one car. Who goes first?”

An automated car must have the ability for:

  • Recognizing surrounding: roads, traffic participants, traffic signs
  • Speed and direction control: motor, brakes, steering
  • Monitoring of driver

It enables:

  • Assisted/Automated driving
  • Free time while commuting Higher road efficiency (platooning) Automated parking
  • Emergency assist, e.g. braking

Ploss also touched on the advantages and challenges in connecting cars to the internet. “Many believe the autonomous driving car must be a connected car. If we connect to the internet, we can gain more information, and even add capabilities to the car,” he said.

The connected car requires ability for:

  • V2X connections
  • Infotainment, real-time maps, adverts
  • Fleet/network management

It enables:

  • V2X aids automated driving, e.g. road condition, weather info
  • More safety by further ‘looking ahead’
  • Vehicle on demand and ride sharing
  • Traffic flow management
  • Remote servicing, e-Call

Ploss said an automated car will require an “unbelievable” number of sensors. “It will look like a cocoon going around,” Ploss said. Figure 2 shows the number of cameras, radar and Lidar (laser-based radar) we’ll likely see if future generations of cars.

Figure 2

Figure 2

“The car will become a unit with a lot of sensors in order to recognize what is going on. These signals have to be computed, so you also have a very high level of computing power in the car to process this data,” he said.

In addition, the various motors and actuators will be required to apply brakes and steer the car. “When you see something going on the road, you have to take the right action in order to brake, steer away, etc. You have to be able to do it under a certain reliability,” Ploss said.

As in airplanes, there will be some redundancy built in, although Ploss said he believe 2X redundancy will be sufficient (vs 3X in airplanes). “Two times redundancy will be something we see more and more,” he said.

In terms of added semiconductor content, Ploss said a partially automated car will have about $100 in added in semiconductor content (today’s cars already have about $330 in semiconductor content. A highly automated car would have $400 added and a fully automated would have about $550 (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3

“When you look at the engine, there is a huge need for microcontrollers, sensors and power semiconductors,” Ploss said. “When you go for the hybridization, the pure electrical vehicle, it’s all about semiconductors because the efficiency of the electric drive train is highly dependent on how you are running the engine and how you regain the power when you are braking.”

Ploss added that reducing CO2 emissions was another important aspect of automotive electronic demand. “In today’s combustion engine, there is still a lot of potential to reduce the CO2 emissions. You need an awful lot of sensors and controls in order to run this engine at a very high efficiency. A significant improvement can still be done (for gas and diesel),” he said.

One challenge for the semiconductor industry is to innovate while reducing costs. “We have to go in two directions – innovation for new and better functionality and innovation for cost reduction,” Ploss said. He noted that cost reductions from the pure shrink is “not coming so easy” but sees potential in the Industry 4.0 movement. “When you have a fully connected manufacturing then you can get a lot of data that enables you to learn faster and to manufacture at zero defects,” he said.

Another challenge is that radar employs high frequency GHz electronics (Figure 4). “High frequency brings a lot of specialization,” Ploss said. He said mixed-signal bipolar will first be used, but “as we move to 20nm and 14nm, we will be able to have CMOS-based processes.”

Figure 4

Figure 4

He noted the advantages of silicon carbide for switching applications, citing a 50% loss reduction compared to a silicon solution. This could improve the efficiency of electric vehicles by 3% he noted. “When you think about electric driving, you always think about the last percentage point of gaining efficiency. SiC has a huge potential to enable this. It is a wide bandgap material and you can much smaller size, higher switching frequency, less conduction losses at the higher switching frequency,” he said.

Already, car manufacturers have shown autonomous concept cars, such as the Mercedes Benz F 015.

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