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Posts Tagged ‘infotainment’

STMicroelectronics Pushes SOI While Leaving the Mobile Space

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Why is one of Europe’s leading semiconductor IDMs pushing into leading-edge, 28-nm FD-SOI technology while leaving a market where such technology might be useful?

It was a chance meeting that made me wonder about two recent announcements from one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies.

Last week, I attended an IEDM briefing in which STMicroelectronics presented silicon-verified data to further confirm the manufacturability of its 28-nm Fully Depleted Silicon-on-Insulator (FD-SOI) technology (see “FinFETs or FD-SOI?“). Ed Sperling, Editor-in-Chief for SemiMD, summed it up this way:

“What’s particularly attractive about FD-SOI is that it can be implemented at the 28-nm node for a boost in performance and a reduction in power. The mainstream process node right now is 40 nm. And while Intel introduced its version of a finFET transistor called Tri-Gate at 22 nm, TSMC and GlobalFoundries plan to introduce it at the next node—whether that’s 16 nm or 14 nm. That leaves companies facing a big decision about whether to move all the way to 16/14 nm to reap the lower leakage of finFETs, whether to move to 20 nm on bulk, or whether to stay longer at 28 nm with FD-SOI.”

Joel Hartmann, Executive VP Front-End Manufacturing & Process R&D, STMicroelectronics, presents SoC-level, 28-nm Planar Fully Depleted silicon results at IEDM 2012.

I didn’t realize until later that week, but – on the same day as its 28-nm FD-SOI technology announcement – STMicroelectronics stated that it would curtail its presence in the mobile-handset space via the Ericsson partnership. As Chris Ciufo noted in his “All Things Embedded” blog, Ericsson will remain in only two market domains: Sense and Power and Automotive as well as Embedded Processing. “For the former, device categories include MEMS, sensors, power discretes, advanced analog, automotive powertrain, automotive safety (such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems [ADASs]), automotive body, and the red-hot In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) category,” wrote Ciufo.

In the embedded processing market, the company will “focus on the core of the electronics systems” and ditch wireless broadband. Target areas include microcontrollers, imaging, digital consumer, application processors, and digital ASICs.

Considered together, these two announcements beg the following question: If STMicroelectronics is only interested in the sensor, automotive, and “embedded” markets, why does the company need to work at leading-edge process nodes – like 28 nm on FD-SOI? This question arose during a recent chance meeting with Juergen Jaeger, Sr. Product Manager at Cadence Design Systems.

Jaeger suggested a possible answer by noting that Moore’s Law generally provides a cost savings with power and performance benefits at lower processing nodes. “This makes sense for both automotive infotainment and networking technologies,” explained Juergen. “But it doesn’t make too much sense for gearbox, engine, anti-lock brakes, or steering systems, since they need high reliability and tolerance.” Those requirements tend to restrict devices to fully tested, high-node geometries.

Jaeger reminded me that infotainment systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) are very complex devices requiring integrated network and wireless systems – in addition to an array of audio/video codecs that must drive multiple LCD screens within today’s cars.

Additionally, STMicroelectronics’ move to FD-SOI is one way to mitigate the risk facing leading-edge bulk CMOS processes. As Sperling observed, “At 28 nm and beyond, however, bulk has run out of steam, which is why Intel has opted for finFETs.” Meanwhile, FD-SOI offers power and performance benefits while staying on today’s planar-transistor manufacturing processes.

In the end, the push toward FD-SOI technology at exiting 28-nm nodes may play well into a number of low-power and high-performance chip markets. This is not a path without risk. But it does highlight the accelerating convergence of SOI and bulk CMOS at leading-edge nodes. And it should strengthen STMicroelectronics’ strong position in the automotive infotainment space.

Originally posted on “IP Insider.”

IP’s Silent Presence in Automotive Market

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Even though there was no specific mention of IP at this year’s Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum (IESF), all discussions about the future growth of both infotainment systems and self-braking, parking and driving autonomous vehicle operations will only be possible by a heavy reliance on chip and FPGA IP.

Not once did I hear the expression nor see the phrase “IP” while attending the 2011 Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum (IESF) in Dearborn, MI. The absence of IP nomenclature was hardly surprising as the forum focused on Electronic/Electrical (E/E) systems design and wire harness engineering issues. Still, the value and growth of electronic hardware and software reuse was apparent thought-out the event.

From the beginning of the one-day show, the growing importance of electronics in automotive systems was stressed. The first keynote speaker, John McElroy, the host of the Autoline Daily show, ended his presentation by talking about cars that can brake, park and even drive by themselves. One can image the extensive array of sensors, networks, analog and digital subsystems that are needed to accomplish these autonomous tasks.

McElroy even when so far as to say that these vehicle-to-vehicle communication-based systems would be game changers for the automotive industry and might be available by 2014. Perhaps that is why Google is a major developer in several of these initiatives.

In today’s automobiles, electronics are the chief differentiator between competing auto makers. In terms of numbers, automotive electronics per car typically include hundreds of sensors, tens of Electronic Control Unit (ECU) processing systems, miles of cable harnesses and extensive network systems – not to mention up to 10million lines of software code.

The complexity hinted at by such numbers, coupled with the safety concerns of the industry, make hardware a software reuse a must. Trusted hardware IP and software libraries will be the most obvious way to achieve the necessary economies of scale and shorten development cycle demanded by a consumer market.

The automotive space is still an industry of siloes, from electrical, mechanical, industrial and computer science disciplines. In practical terms, this means that hardware and software engineers don’t often talk with one another. Such communication challenges are why Wally Rhines, CEO of Mentor Graphics, noted in his keynote that the “biggest problems still occur in the system integration phase of the V-diagram life cycle.” The integration phase is traditionally the part of the system or product life cycle stage where hardware and software subsystems first come together. Not surprisingly, this is often where interface problems first appear.

Interface definition means connecting the right bits to the right bus, activities that are best modeled in the early architectural design phases of the life cycle. Such models include virtual prototypes, which simulate the yet undeveloped hardware – usually via IP and libraries. But virtual constructs are still relatively new to the automotive industry, where prototypes are still predominantly physical. However, the complexities of electronic systems are making physical prototypes a thing of the past.

Paul Hansen, in his annual report at the end of the IESF, noted that automotive giants like Ford are relying on newer players like Bsquare, an embedded software vendor, to help create infotainment players. Apparently, Tier 1 software provides are struggling with the hardware-software challenges of ever more complex and integrated infotainment systems.  Here is yet another segment where hardware and software IP reuse can bring significant benefit.

One doesn’t need to look very far to find a growing market for automotive infotainment IP. Common elements in this segment include ARM, ARC and Tensilica (among others) processors for audio systems, audio amplifier, communication controllers for automotive specific networks like CAN and more general standards like Bluetooth, DACs, microcontrollers, memory, and even embedded security.

Automotive FPGA IP related is also growing, such as Ethernet Audio Video Bridging (AVB) IP for network connectivity, MOST and Flexray network controllers, and even stepper motor controller IP for the simultaneous operation of two phase stepper motors.

IP continues to play an important role in automotive electronics, even if the phrase is seldom used at market events.

[First published on IPInsider at ]