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Infineon intends to regain the lead in automotive chips

Interviews |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

eeNews Europe: Recently, there have been statements from your company that Infineon intends to become the number one in the automotive electronics market. To do so, Infineon would have to overtake NXP which probably will soon be united with Qualcomm and possibly even Broadcom. How are you going to get past these heavyweights?

Peter Schiefer: Infineon has been outgrowing the market for automotive semiconductors for many years. For example, since 2010, the market has grown by about 6 %, but Infineon has grown by about 10 %. I am convinced that we will be able to continue our growth in relation to the market and thus further increase our market share. In addition to increasing vehicle production and vehicle equipment, I see two major megatrends. One is automated driving, the other is reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Infineon is very well positioned in both areas. We have everything in our portfolio that automakers need for increasing the efficiency of electric consumers in cars, for the electrification of the powertrain and for automated driving functions from level two to level five (according to the SAE definition): sensors, microcontrollers, power semiconductors and modules in combination with a deep understanding of the system and reliable automotive quality. With us, the car becomes “clean, safe and smart”.


eeNews Europe: Will you be able to achieve your goal of becoming number one with purely organic growth?

Schiefer: With our strengths in system understanding, we have already shown that we can achieve growth well above the market. We are very well positioned when it comes to electromobility as well as automated driving. The increasing level of automation makes it necessary to install more sensors in the car. We are the market leader in radar sensor chips and we are also very strong in the associated real-time data processing and actuator electronics. For example, take data fusion at Level two: We are very well represented with our multicore AURIX microcontroller family enabling data fusion and signal processing. For higher automation levels three to five, the ASIL-D capability of our microcontrollers is very important for functional safety in the system.

Automated driving and increasing networking require reliable data security. Here, the automotive industry benefits from the security expertise of our Chip Card & Security division, which we combine with over 40 years of automotive experience and adapt for the car. The result is a broad product range for hardware-based security. Our AURIX microcontrollers with built-in safety functions are, for example, key components for embedded IT security in vehicles. They control the communication processes, perform monitoring and security tasks and support security protocols. In addition, we offer separate external security components. Depending on the application, different security levels can be implemented in the vehicle. We understand the car as a system and help to introduce security along the entire value chain.

eeNews Europe: Isn’t there no technology area where Infineon would have to buy additional expertise? What about idar?

Schiefer: The acquisition of the Dutch start-up Innoluce was an important step for us in lidar technology. Redundancy of three complementary sensor technologies is the basis for automated driving. In addition to camera and radar, this is lidar – and Infineon can offer all three of them. We will replace and reduce today’s macro-mirror-based systems with micro-mechanical mirrors using MEMS technology. The Lidar MEMS know-how comes from Innoluce and the manufacturing expertise from us. We want to offer solid-state MEMS chip components with which our customers can build a system. Our goal is to make Lidar an affordable feature for every new-built car, worldwide.


eeNews Europe: In the area of connected car and autonomous driving, Infineon is hardly noticed. For example, for application fields like sensor fusion, pattern recognition or AI, Infineon has no offer at all. What is your strategy for this area?

Schiefer: This perception does not correspond to the facts. In the semi-automated and fully automated vehicle, Infineon’s key sensor technologies will be used for both the vehicle and the infrastructure. We offer sensors for radar, lidar and interior cameras. For example, our time-of-flight chips sense the position of passengers in order to adequately trigger airbags. In the field of radar-based driver assistance functions, we are the leading chip manufacturer with a total of more than 50 million 77/79 GHz radar sensor chips sold. In sensor technology, Infineon is also strong in signal data preprocessing. We support camera systems in which our AURIX microcontroller is used as a safety host controller. In the area of sensor fusion for automation level two or two plus, no high-performance processors are required; AURIX microcontrollers are used as a decisive safety compute element for automated driving, as well as a communication interface to the vehicle and for sensor data fusion. Processors, e. g. from Nvidia, are then required for the higher automation levels three, four and five. AURIX asssits to achieve the highest ASIL safety standard for automated driving,. We also offer specially developed safety power supply solutions that support ASIL-D systems.

We have been working closely with Nvidia in this field for many years. Together with Nvidia processors, the AURIX microcontroller is provided on every AI development platform worth mentioning. And not to forget the security aspect: Whenever software updates have to be implemented in automated vehicles, security has to encompass the entire architecture. Every control unit in the network must be included. AURIX microcontrollers have security functions at the hardware level. This allows secure booting, flashing and debugging. With its symmetrical and asymmetrical encryption mechanisms, such as AES-128, ECC 256 or SHA2, the HSM improves tamper protection, for example of vehicle software or internal and external data transmission. An HSM helps prevent loading of malware and unauthrized software updates. 

eeNews Europe: While we are talking about AI: Would it be conceivable that Infineon would enable AURIX to perform AI tasks through further development?


Schiefer: In general, the architecture of our AURIX TC3xx microcontrollers already includes a radar sub-system  with up to two signal processing units. The radar algorithms are calculated with a clock frequency of 300 MHz, for example in the area of radar signal processing. RF radar chips can be directly connected via a high-speed digital radar interface. We will not build processors like those offered by companies such as Nvidia; this is not our ambition. However, we will continue to increase performance and computing power in the next generation of AURIX, also with hardware accelerators for algorithms that support, for example, the data processing of AI and neural networks.

eeNews Europe: Electric driving should be Infineon’s home turf. But it is not only about high-voltage technology in the electric power train, 48V technology is certainly also part of electromobility. What about Infineon? And how does is Infineon’s roadmap for the future technologies silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) look like?

Schiefer: We see ourselves as a technology leader for hybridization.  We have the industry’s broadest range of modules and a variety of components for mild hybrid vehicles with 48V technology as well as for classic hybrid, PHEV or pure electric vehicles: sensors, microcontrollers, power supply and bus ICs, drivers, IGBTs, MOSFETs – including those based on SiC. For 48V, we use silicon-based MOSFET technology today. There GaN could play a role in the future. Today, however, GaN technology is not yet as robust and reliable in relation to the load profiles occurring in cars to be used here. With regard to hybrid, PHEV and battery electric cars, we have a very broad portfolio of IGBT products. Of the ten best-selling cars with PHEV and EV drives in 2016, eight are using power semiconductors from Infineon. Especially for vehicles with a higher battery power range, i. e. with batteries larger than 40 kWh, SiC components have great potential to make electric driving more affordable in the future. Chargers and inverters become more compact, lighter and more efficient with SiC: the range of the vehicle increases. Raising the battery voltage to 800 V and the respective high-speed charging systems makes SiC more attractive.


eeNews Europe: What does this mean in practice?

Schiefer: We already sell SiC in industrial applications and are in the process of qualifying SiC for automotive applications. Currently, about 15 customers are testing a first SiC module. In my opinion, SiC will not be used on a larger scale in the market until around 2020 at the earliest – first in premium vehicles; in the mass market probably not before 2025.

eeNews Europe: And GaN?

Schiefer: Gallium nitride clearly plays an important role at Infineon. Our CoolGaN product family is already being used in high-performance power supply units for data centers. CoolGaN makes them more cost-efficient and compact and enables them to consume significantly less power. In the field of automotive electronics, we do not yet see any suitable areas of application in which GaN would have an advantage. Among other things, costs are currently an exclusion criterion. It is therefore difficult to say when there will be automotive-qualified, robust GaN components. In any case, the deployment of GaN in vehicles is more a thing of the future than SiC; so the introduction should not be expected before 2020.

eeNews Europe: In the automotive industry, there is talk of getting away from the many ECUs distributed in the car and to provide for several domain computers or even central computers, which then depict these ECUs virtually as software. This development would have a significant impact on the semiconductor content of cars. How do you see this development at Infineon?

Schiefer: With the increase in comfort and functionality as well as in-vehicle communications and automation, the computing power of the vehicle must also increase. This task could either be done by several powerful domain controllers or additional ECUs, of which there are already around 100 in the premium vehicle, for example. Automated driving and IoT functions are expected to bring further ECUs into the vehicle. However, this additional complexity can hardly be handled. It is therefore indeed advantageous to define two to four domains in the car where the domain controllers take over communication and complex computing functions. Such a domain structure can also assume functionalities that are added to the car. Classic ECUs will, continue to be needed; they are responsible for individual real-time tasks such as steering and braking. It is not yet conceivable that, for example, an airbag control unit could be implemented as a virtual ECU in software. Most of the ECUs, of which an average of around 60 currently communicate with each other in a medium-sized car, will continue to be implemented as classic ECUs in the car.

eeNews Europe: So there is no hope of simplifying the electronics architecture in the car?

Schiefer: I would put it this way: the complexity continues to increase. The domain structure will help to manage this additional complexity. A complete simplification seems difficult to be achieved. With or without simplification of the electronics architecture, however, one thing is quite clear: the car of the future will drive CO2-free, autonomous and data-secure.

 


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