The exciting future of automotive electronics

Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor



Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor

The automotive industry is in a state of change, especially in the power & electronics of infotainment. Rental cars often have Bluetooth interfaces now, and I have often seen information like call logs, text messages, and other data from the previous driver.  I erase them as a courtesy to others and I erase my own for safety and security.  

Pandora provides the entertainment as AM and FM radio are pretty boring and commercial-filled these days, and the rental car companies are too cheap to offer XM for free. You can play Pandora and by the way you might want to navigate to your destination using your phone and maybe you want to use your phone to actually communicate at the same time.  

When I run my phone for navigation and entertainment simultaneously, it consumes more power than the USB connection can deliver or the phone can process, running pretty hot. Eventually the phone dies because it can’t absorb power and charge the battery as fast as I am consuming energy, usually when I need navigation the most.  

This brings up some key IoT issues that need to be solved, like powering the Connected Car and all the accessories, including connectivity and security.  How can we securely use our BYOD portable electronics, keep them powered, relevant, upgraded, and connected to the vehicle securely?  Or will the car have the electronics built-in that are upgradable as technology evolves? 

Recently Samsung purchased Harmon International to take advantage of the IoT and connected-vehicle interaction and the growth opportunity to ostensibly solve the aforementioned issues.  In the consolidation-o-rama of semiconductors and everything technology, we now see that Mentor Graphics was bought by Siemens also to take advantage of the Industrial IoT and connected everything. Motorola SPS-Freescale- NXP now bought by Qualcomm for the same reason –I could go on. 

Hopefully we can fix the issues of ease of use, functionality, security, connectivity and upgradability, Reliability and interoperability.   Don’t forget the vehicle also requires safety systems, body electronics, perhaps night vision, active suspension, TPMS, crash avoidance, battery and power system disconnects, anti-rollover, radar, driver assistance, networking – (both wired and RF) power train, alternative energy vehicle systems, as well as battery and charge management, in addition to infotainment.

The Autonomous driving vehicle industry reached a milestone as OTTO and Budweiser performed the first self-driving truck delivery. You can be sure that this is a trend which will continue and that lots of power electronics are enabling this.

As the electronics and technology industry landscape continues the traditional vehicle ecology is getting turned on its head and upside down. The legacy manufacturers are now competing with Tesla, Uber, Lyft (now owned by GM for a reason) Almotive, OTTO, and others. These upstart car companies are in Silicon Valley, or at software locations around the world.  

One question is, who will own and drive cars and trucks? In the near future you may very well use ride-sharing services and feel no need to own a car – you summon one when you like and the driverless vehicle takes you where you tell it to.  If you choose to own a car you will be able to do what you like while traveling – much like riding in a bus or aircraft.  

What about careers?  Designing the hardware, semiconductor SOC’s and software, security systems will be great, but being a truck driver might be a historical job such as an elevator operator – eliminated by technology.  Obstacles to be overcome but much opportunity for a better and safer world exist through technology and power electronics.  It’s going to be interesting what Silicon Valley thinking –problem solving and pace of change can do for transportation in the not too distant future.