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According to Lars Reger, CTO of the NXP Semiconductors Automotive Division, “semiconductor development is getting cool again.” In a fast-moving keynote speech at CDNLive EMEA 2015 in Munich, Germany, Reger reviewed a number of “cool” leading-edge technologies that NXP is bringing to the automotive market.
Reger took the audience on a whirlwind tour of emerging technologies for car-to-car communications, remote car access, car key management, driver assistance, entertainment, programmable digital radio, integrated RFCMOS chips, and more. He predicted that self-driving cars will come in the next decade. But he also warned that security is a “must” for the automotive electronics market to go forward.
“Twenty years ago, all the innovation in cars was in metal welding and bending,” Reger said. “Today cars are turning into robots on wheels, or rolling IP addresses, so to say. It’s all part of the Internet of Things.”
A video of Reger’s keynote is available at the CDNLive EMEA Multi-Media Channel. A summary of his talk follows.
Efficiency, Connectivity, and Driver Assistance
Reger cited three trends that are driving automotive innovation. One is energy efficiency, in compliance with a European Union mandate to reduce CO2 emissions 20% by 2020. Another is “seamless connectivity” for consumer electronics. A third trend is advanced driver assistance, resulting eventually in self-driving cars. NXP is most involved in the latter two trends.
To support these trends, he said, automotive electronics must be able to “sense” and extract information from the environment, “think” about potential responses, and “act” by changing a display or taking control of steering or braking. Reger noted that NXP is responding by developing highly integrated RFCMOS radar chips. NXP is also active in the digital radio area and is developing software-programmable radios that can conform to various digital radio standards.
In addition to using Cadence development flows, NXP is also heavily using Tensilica Xtensa cores, Reger observed. He had little to say about the pending acquisition of Freescale by NXP, but he did note that Freescale has an “almost 100% complementary portfolio” compared to NXP’s automotive offerings, and that Freescale can “provide microcontrollers in all shapes and sizes.”
Following are a few applications that Reger discussed.
NXP has a 75% market share in keyless entry systems. What’s coming up is a product the size of a fingernail that’s a complete passive key. “I have this thing in my pocket, and as I get to 8-10 meters away my car says ‘Hello Lars’ and lights up,” Reger said. “Then I can approach my car.” If someone else rushes up and tries to open the car, it will remain locked.
There are also ways you might want to interact with your car from further away, perhaps a kilometer. “I’m sitting in the office and I want to start auxiliary heating in the winter when the car is 500 meters away,” Reger said. “My car is warm and de-iced by the time I reach the car.”
NXP is actively involved with in-vehicle network technology. As of today, in-vehicle networking works with a very heavy wiring harness, the second heaviest device next to the engine block. Crosstalk is a challenge because everyone brings mobile phones and other portable electronic devices into cars.
“What we are researching is which parts of the network could become wireless,” Reger said. “Where are the security and safety constraints low enough that one could rely on a wireless connection?” Standards such as CAN, FlexRay, and Ethernet will play a key role in the in-vehicle networking of the future. NXP has licensed the Broadcom Broad-Reach standard, a point-to-point Ethernet PHY technology that supports a data rate of 100 Mbps.
For car-to-car or car-to-infrastructure communication, you would want to have something like one mile of communication range. Cars would be able to communicate with each other if emergency braking assistance is needed. Trucks could follow each other in a row, and if the lead truck brakes, trucks all the way down the row would instantly know and would brake as well.
Your car could warn cars behind you that the road is slippery, that there’s a traffic jam or accident, or that a stoplight will remain red for another two minutes. An ambulance could make an upcoming traffic light stay green. Cars that can communicate over a distance of one mile could also allow for “smart” streetlights that can dim and brighten as cars come and go.
Security is Crucial
There’s a complication. As Reger observed, “security is a must for this [automotive electronics] market to happen.” Someone could conceivably equip their car with a test beacon that identifies the car as an ambulance. This would turn stoplights green in a way that inconveniences other cars.
“This market will not exist if you cannot trust that the messages my car is sending are real messages,” Reger said. “It’s not about encrypting so you cannot read what I am sending. It is about digitally signing that there is an authorized traffic participant who is sending messages.”
To provide security, Reger said, NXP is developing chips that borrow cryptographic techniques from the health and banking sectors. There are two types of hardware security that are typically applied to cars. One has to do with “air interfaces” to the outside world, which includes telematics, car entertainment, and remote car access and management. The other focuses on “in vehicle” technologies such as electronic control units (ECUs) and the in-vehicle network.
Cryptographic chip design and manufacturing take place in very secure environments, Reger added. Every chip is locked with a personal key and is unusable until you give it a password or pin number. It sounds complicated, but the same thing happens when you get a new bank or credit card.
Bringing it into Silicon
Reger briefly mentioned the NXP NCF3340, introduced last year as the world’s first automotive-qualified NCI-based NFC (near field communication) controller. Many Asian and U.S. phone makers are going to NFC, he noted. Another area of innovation for NXP is “RFCMOS up-integration.” This will ideally lead to a “one chip receives everything” solution. It will also facilitate such functions as self-parking, cruise control, blind spot detection, and lane changing.
Radar is a key element for self-driving cars. “A traffic light with a radar sensor can detect if I’m crossing the walkway while the traffic light is still red,” Reger said. “If a bunch of school kids are in the walkway, I can inform the next mile of radios to slow to 20 miles per hour.”
“It’s really good when we get first-time-right silicon,” Reger concluded. “Nevertheless, here’s a call for action for the Cadences of this world and other suppliers. I simply need the most qualified, most robust, least surprising flows in the industry. I do not want to wait for silicon to come back from the foundries. That’s too late. I need to know what to expect when I tape out.”
For “live blog” photos of CDNLive EMEA, including this keynote speech, click here. For a video of Reger’s keynote speech, click here.
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