When it comes to semiconductors, the automotive industry has been in the limelight as of late. COVID-19-induced supply chain challenges for automakers were further exacerbated by geo-pollical tensions and then piled onto by global economic concerns.
Despite the bumps in the road, we are bullish on the future of the evolution of semiconductor-enabled technology in the automotive sector. So, what can we expect?
The dream of Level 5 autonomy is still out there, despite the demise of some notable autonomous vehicle (AV) startups and programs. An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), a necessary subset of AV, is an area that is delivering real innovation and value as carmakers look to incorporate more efficient and intuitive ways to enable safer and more predictable driving. We don’t foresee ADAS advancements slowing at all. If anything, it may even accelerate.
We’ve come to expect improvements in basic sensing technology such as LiDAR, radar, and cameras to boost situational awareness. Notably, we can look to the continued adoption of AI and greater computational power for powerful vehicle infrastructure to create baseline detection and identification features. Such features add more predictive and analytics insights, enhancing the ability for both the car and operator to react in faster, more informed ways to changes in a driving scenario.
This type of data is being continuously gathered and interpreted by ADAS systems, paving the way for more improvements to the increasingly semi-independent operation of vehicles—in many ways, unveiling the extent of the challenge of complete autonomy. Assisted autonomy is happening now, and semiconductor technology is providing important guardrails to make it safer, including the increased use of driver monitoring sensors that can alert the operator when human intervention is required or if the operator is too distracted or disengaged from the operation of the vehicle.
Those are the types of things that are going to help feed into the fully autonomous driving future that Level 5 autonomy promises. In the short term, they help current-generation systems become more predictive and understanding of their environment. AV and ADAS are happening together and feeding this larger body of data that’s needed to help systems make better decisions.
The current generation of electric vehicle (EVs) are mainly measured on their range and battery performance. This is not an unimportant metric, but as the industry matures, a greater focus on the overall quality and reliability of the entire vehicle will be considered much more holistically.
The real challenge with EVs is reliability (and not only the reliability of the battery). Part of the issue is that EVs are mostly new model concepts, built from the ground up. We expect to see much more focus on addressing software quality to ensure basic performance. We view this as an ongoing, continuous improvement challenge, but for 2023 it’ll be a primary issue to address.
Of course, the other obvious area for EV improvement is power consumption. This requires more advanced approaches to ensuring every bit of power efficiency can be realized, down to the individual chip level.
There’s no getting around the fact that the success of EVs will continue to be dictated by cost and range (or perceived range). If you look at what consumers want most, it still tends to be improvement in either cost or range. First-time consumers of EVs are looking at the utility of it and what it can do compared to traditional combustion engine vehicles. But we believe that once EVs break the 500-mile-range challenge, then the concern about individual car range will lessen and the focus will be on other issues around quality, reliability, and in-car features.
As much attention as autonomous driving and EVs get, the most obvious change will be the cockpit experience. We see that continuing to evolve rapidly and change the way people evaluate their next purchases and how carmakers differentiate themselves. Horsepower and streamlined exterior aesthetics, while still important, take a back seat to what goes inside the car.
Accustomed to the smart device experience at home or on their mobile phones, consumers are looking for similar experiences in the car. It starts with the obvious visual elements—like bigger, more interactive displays, now reaching from pillar-to-pillar on the dashboard, or even implemented as heads-up displays (HUDs) on the vehicle glass for better safety and convenience.
The “smartphoneization of the car” is becoming more mainstream to the vehicle consumer. Additionally, another growth area we foresee is in user customization of features, such as the basic ability to change the color of the cabin lights in the vehicle. As features like this become more common, manufacturers can further bring in customizations from third-party services like mobile phone makers or wireless network operators, or any number of services appealing to those moving about.
Along those lines, we see the emergence of on-demand subscription services for in-car features expanding in 2023 and beyond. BMW, for example, has begun offering a subscription-based service to activate heated seats or steering wheels, an upgrade that is managed by over-the-air (OTA) software updates.
From our chip-level view, things don’t change too much for traditional vehicle ECU needs. On the hardware design level, the focus is more on ADAS specialization, central computing, and the software that allows the dealer, OEM, or service provider to control these features. As a result, these OTA updates are much more challenging from a software and management perspective than the underlying chip design. This changes the dynamic of how an OEM must manage and understand what is happening in their software development practices, ensuring that they have those capabilities.
It’s an exciting, if not sometimes nerve-racking, time to be in the automotive industry. Our role as an enabler of the most leading-edge electronics and software systems pushing the industry forward gives us a ringside seat in what is truly a turning point in how people move around.