Many diverse markets take advantage of semiconductor IP; so many that no one can recite the entire list without leaving off several. So why do we track all the vertical markets? They all have a unique set of requirements and value attributes differently. One major vertical market segment is ‘automotive’.
There are several major subsystems on cars and trucks today – engine electronics, infotainment, collision avoidance, transmission systems, active safety, passenger comfort, just to name a few. These subsystems still share several requirements related to chip design as integral parts of a modern automobile. They must be appropriately low power (low heat), they must be highly reliable, support robust security, and they must be programmable.
Programmable, you say? Yes. While the physical requirements in automotive subsystems such as footprint (form factor), power, wiring (pin outs), are typically established several years in advance, the features these systems need to provide will continue to evolve until very late in the design process. That late customization can only be done in software, FPGAs, or perhaps some other form of fast production semiconductor technology (think: gate array).
This is why microcontrollers have become so important in automotive planning and design. These microcontrollers must sit in a system-on-chip (SoC) type of architecture. Connected to the microcontrollers are memory and several other pieces of IP interfaced via the on-chip network interconnect. This allows the SoC designer to interface many types of IP, while easily handling the complexities of multiple clock and power domains. Sonics Inc., the pioneer in network-on-chip (NoC) IP, produces an on-chip network that, in addition to multiple interface types, supports a number of network services for automotive subsystem design such as on-chip firewalls for security, power management, and Quality of Service (QoS) management.
If you contrast the use of a network on chip (NoC) solution with the old days of ad hoc networks, it is easy to see the compelling reasons automotive subsystem designers are moving to commercial NoCs. Building or modifying custom networks by hand is error prone, difficult to verify, and is timing consuming to create. Commercial on-chip network IP and their associated tools allow for a layer of abstraction, which much more easily leads to a well-architected solution. The use of auto-generated netlists and verification environments supported by on-chip network tools, and their complementary design tool flows, greatly speed design and reduce errors while also creating a more efficient final result.
Several of Sonics’ customers are in the automotive space and have been particularly successful in delivering their products for their customers. One such Sonics customer, Autotalks, utilizes SoC-style design to deliver a breakthrough safety technology supporting the world’s first car-to-car communication. Another Sonics customer is Mobileye, a company that hit a record IPO of $890 million in August. Mobileye’s EyeQ2®, using Sonics’ network-on-chip IP, was the winner of the prestigious ‘Best Electronic Design 2008′ for Best Automotive Design, Best Vision Processor by Electronic Design Magazine. This product is available in Volvo, BMW and General Motors automobiles.
Today, many companies use network-on-chip IP to drive their automotive subsystems, though many keep this as a trade secret. So, the number is far larger than you are likely thinking. It is no secret that electronics are fueling the growth in automotive features and product differentiation and will continue to accelerate innovation in this space in the future. And full-featured NoCs, such as those provided by Sonics, will support the needs of these devices with a robust set of services including solutions for security, power management, and QoS management.
As featured in Design News