The brains behind automotive storage in the connected car

The brains behind automotive storage in the connected car

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

It’s no question as to how swiftly the automotive industry has accelerated in the past years, moulding the landscape for the complexities of autonomous driving.  The vehicles of today are more than just modes of transport. They can be seen as hubs of information, entertainment and communication.  What started with GPS/ navigation systems, shifted to trends of infotainment, driver recorders, data event recorders, telematics, DMS, ADAS and ultimately the self-driving car. Many vehicles can already perform certain functions autonomously – and in a few years, they will run with little to no human intervention.  At the heart of these advances and aside of increasingly detailed map data is data from the sensors and monitors that are continuously collecting and communicating information on their surroundings.  Self-driving cars already generate about 4TB of data in just an hour and a half of driving. Further technologies such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) also use masses of data to ensure driving comfort and safety by reducing the potential for human error.

All these advances demand more storage modules in cars for infotainment, navigation systems, telematics and redundancy. With approximately 3-8 storage modules expected in cars in the coming years, manufacturers need to plan efficiently to tackle the specific use-case requirements of the individual storage modules whilst maintaining a handle on the overarching challenges the industry faces.

Challenges are what have shaped the booming automotive industry. They are what continue to drive it forward. While the overall landscape is characterised by environmental decisions, notions of car ownership, and constant infrastructure developments on the roads, the technology behind storage modules has its own set of unique challenges. The most sought-after storage modules must be able to address the individual use cases within the car, behave flexibly, operate powerfully under wide temperature ranges, demonstrate considerable power efficiency and above all, be reliable.

Fig. 1: Challenges to electronics in automotive environments

Reliability is, however, an umbrella term, and can be understood differently depending on who you ask. While one may believe it reflects the error correction capabilities within the NAND flash controller, the other could acknowledge reliability can not be achieved through one singular function or feature. While the controller is the key ingredient in ensuring that these automotive (eMMC, SD, microSD or NVMe) storage modules achieve longevity without hindering endurance, this reliability is reached through an eco-system of features, to name a few, Read Disturb Management (RDM), Dynamic Data Refresh® (DDR), Read Retry  and Near-Miss ECC.

The automotive industry demands operation under wide temperatures of −40 °C to 125 °C and higher due to the heat and energy produced by the motor and the environments a vehicle can operate in. The amounts of data processed also drives storage modules to high temperatures and the device and especially the memory controller must operate unscathed through these demanding requirements. Innovations of today must also consider their environmental footprint. However, when it comes to power, it is not only the efficiency which is valuable but managing the risk of unstable power and sudden power fails. This is also the job of the flash memory controller which carries out a feature commonly known as ‘Power Fail Management’. 

Unstable power is a common issue across industrially demanding markets. However, when it comes to cars and human lives it has never been more important. In Hyperstone’s case, the controller is designed with an internal voltage detector which monitors the supply of voltage and can be customized depending on the use-case. If the voltage drops below a certain level the internal reset detector triggers, the firmware will finish current commands and assert the flash write-protect signal, making sure the data in the memory cannot possibly be compromised.

While fairly hidden within modules, the flash memory controller is an integral component in automotive storage modules, if not the most important, as it is ultimately the deciding factor as to how reliable, long lasting and efficient data processing will be carried out within the system. The controller must handle environmental issues such as unstable power, temperature variations, shock vibration and ESD as well as application usage which effects data integrity. Manufacturers who want to offer high quality storage should be considering controllers that have not only been designed for these environmental requirements but tested not only with qualified flashes but unique use cases, depending on write and or read demands of the storage module.

The information and support systems in the cars started with GPS-/ Navigation- and In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) systems and over the years, drive recorders, telematics and Advance Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) were added. These systems have different demands regarding the data systems’ strengths. For example, the data on GPS and Navigation systems is usually read more than written because these systems provide maps that are read constantly in order to give the shortest or fastest directions. In contrary, drive recorder or telematics spend significantly more time writing than reading, as they are continuously collecting data from various data sources (e.g. cameras) and recording what is happening during the trip.

On the other hand, the write and read cycles for ADAS systems are almost equal as they continuously collect data from numerous sensors that monitor and perceive what is happening inside and outside the car to execute decisions that can ultimately save lives.

Fig. 2: A look into the future of automotive electronics: More complex functions shift the focus on connectivity, reliability and safety.

Systems on which data is written and read almost equally are edge gateways. Gateways basically function as bridges, meaning that data goes to and comes from the cloud. It also allows data to be stored, analysed and processed at or closer to the data source rather than in a centralized cloud-based location. This also improves the workload of the network, reduces cost and optimizes the collected data that is necessary to make a swift response. Common ADAS technologies enable vehicles to perform some functions autonomously or with very little human interaction such as automatic breaking, lane departure warning or self-parking. Self-aware vehicles that are equipped with a Driver Monitoring System (DMS) provide real time information of the driver’s state and can make instant decisions according to the situation to ensure the driver’s safety. Especially errors caused by humans can be reduced, for example with driver drowsiness detection.

Depending on the chosen form factor, the qualified flash and the controller, performance and reliability can be very different. Connected and autonomous vehicles have a diverse range of data storage needs, so storage devices should be chosen wisely based on what they will be used for. The selection and decision a company makes in regard to their storage solution provider in the automotive is paramount. Commonly used eMMC, SD, microSD and NVMe solutions must be flexible, support wide temperature ranges, boast an incredibly reliability eco-system, power efficiency and longevity. These are all valuable talking points one should be having in house or with their provider. Ultimately, the selection of flash memory controller is the answer to this question as no controller is made the same.

While on the road, vehicles face numerous challenges. Unpredictable weather shifts, vibration, humidity and extreme temperatures. Storage modules for the automotive market should perform consistently, and reliabilty. As such, they need robust flash memory controllers that can withstand these rigorous environments and use case specific challenges to ensure safer and more comfortable driving.

About the author:

Axel Mehnert ( ) is Vice President Marketing of Flash Controller developer Hyperstone. He is responsible for marketing, product strategy, and business development across product lines and market segments at Hyperstone. He has been involved with the Flash industry for over 15 years. Before joining Hyperstone, he held various positions at technology and semiconductor companies in product marketing, sales, and strategic planning with Siemens, Evergreen Technologies, and Texas Instruments. He holds a BS in economics from Kiel University, Germany and an MBA from Oregon State University.

Images © Hyperstone

If you enjoyed this article, you will like the following ones: don't miss them by subscribing to :    eeNews on Google News


Linked Articles