With more electronics in the vehicles than ever before, we’re seeing the industry move from a basic set of electronics applications, with some automation for safety and road assistance, to high and full automation and complete comfort driving. To make this work, the transportation industry is capitalizing on developments in other areas, including 3D video, virtual reality, AI and gaming (which helps innovation in self driving vehicles), smart cities and the Internet of things.
Navigant research says that 4.8 million autonomous vehicles will be in service by 2025. But to make this possible, innovation and rapid development of GPUs and video technology, sensors/ Lidar and more are taking place. Autonomous vehicles will have to be connected with anywhere from five to no more than 50 mS of latency to enable cooperative maneuvering and trajectory planning, predication of situation and intention, plus cooperative perception. This means connected cars will be communicating with the infrastructure: traffic signals, other vehicles, other sensors (smart city sensors), IoT devices and a backend server. And as the drive train and body electronics become ever more sophisticated, soon our cars will be communicating with the “cloud.”
Meanwhile, the consumer electronics market is merging with transportation electronics more than ever, with hopes of making traffic accidents and vehicle theft a thing of the past. However, there are – and will be – many problems to be solved in the many interdisciplinary areas. The good news is that the technologies that are needed to drive all the associated parts and pieces are already evolving quickly. The leap from driver-assisted vehicles to autonomous vehicles is a progression; however, the growth in the electronics content along the way will provide lots of content growth in the transportation market.
At the top of the list for design engineers to consider will be safety and security. For instance, what if a bad actor or nefarious entity decides to get rid of someone or several ‘someones’ at once by taking control of a vehicle and driving it off a cliff? Or what happens if hackers are intent on wreaking mischief? Or, more mundanely, what if advertisers want to tap into the big data on the back end to access our personal information – with the vehicle becoming a connected mapping sensor who owns the data? Other problems to be solved involve reliability. With critical safety systems you need high reliability and ASIL-D functionality. Your cell phone can’t kill, but a vehicle can, so the entire system must be thought through very carefully.
The additional good news for those of us in power electronics is that all of these interrelated systems will need innovation in power to work efficiently, reliably and effectively with 5, 9’s uptime or more. From energy harvesting in IoT sensors, to communication systems, vehicular-based mobile power and propulsion to the 5G systems, power electronics will be a part of the innovation. That means we are integral the explosive growth in automotive infotainment and the trajectory electrified, connected and autonomous transportation.