Automotive systems in flux

Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor



Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor

The yearly figures for electronics in the automotive and transportation market continue to grow, as vehicle tech push the envelope on quality and reliability almost as stringent as mil/aero applications. Interestingly enough the automotive market is also the largest application user/consumer of motors. 

This means that one of the largest market segments for the control of motors using semiconductors is also then in automotive motion applications.    Power electronics are prevalent not only in the drive train, where bi-directional charging systems are being designed to act as grid storage devices, and batteries and supercapacitor technology is pivotal to automotive electronics. 

In this as in every other industry, semiconductors are needed to manage the charging, protection and discharging of energy storage devices. Even the wire harness industry is impacted, as the fuses and circuit breakers involved are replaced with intelligent load switches and other next-generation protection.  

Since today’s car is a connected computer on wheels, the importance of connectivity such as cellular connections in order to report the status of the vehicle, provide driver entertainment, and communications, is growing. Since everything needs power, wireless charging for portable devices in the vehicle is another recent development that is gaining interest. 

Not only is communications of data and voice & video more popular than ever, the modern vehicle is a sensor array on wheels as well, from backup video systems to radar and proximity warning systems. Todays’ automobile is full of these electronics, and of course  they all need power systems to operate properly.

With all these systems on board we still want our car to start when it’s been at the airport for a week or two, so standby bias power is a significant consideration.  Power for charging is migrating everywhere we would like it to be.

Electric vehicles such as the Volt and the Tesla will soon be met with other offerings, as the ecology builds out to support such fully electric vehicles with bi-directional converters for charging systems.  From the power delivery into the vehicle to the resulting output of motion and passenger interactivity and safety, there is simply a plethora of opportunity for power electronics in these systems.  

Safety is proximate in everyone’s mind – for example one local municipality has reported that 60% of the collisions which occur for their risk management to pay out occurs when backing up the vehicle – so video and sensors are critical to take over when human judgment fails.   As we move towards the self-driving car, assuming we can secure it against hackers and other potential issues, this could certainly reduce accidents and increase passenger and driver safety by using more intelligent electronics.   With the number of people I see on the roads with distracted driving for all reasons, texting, phones, dogs in the lap, putting on makeup… what-have-you, self driving cars full of electronics systems enabled by power electronics systems could reduce traffic accidents and fatalities significantly.