Semiconductor devices are everywhere in our everyday lives. Semiconductor devices include consumer electronics like laptops, mobile phones, computers, telecommunications 5G cloud computing infrastructure, and vehicles.
Several systems for human-like sensing can provide vision functions in autonomous cars. Future cars are likely to combine two or more sensor systems. (Image courtesy Yole Développement)
In modern, technologically advanced vehicles that are made today, semiconductors are utilized for crucial tasks, including security features, sensing, power management, display, and controls for the car. There are many applications for semiconductors in electric and hybrid vehicles (EVs) that are growing dramatically, and more than one million EVs have been added over the past year worldwide 1.
The auto manufacturing industry was severely hit by the shortage of semiconductor chips worldwide. Carmakers with the highest profile reported a decrease in production of 40% due to scarcity. To address these shortages of semiconductor chips, government officials from the U.S. government took several initiatives, such as the CHIPS (Creating applicable Incentives for the Use of Produce Semiconductors) for America Act. The current shortages are attributed to cuts in the production of chips used in automobiles in the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the demand for cars slowed. However, the manufacturing of chips with high performance didn’t slow down. The need for consumer electronics such as smartphones, laptops, and display devices increased as the workforce worldwide shifted to remote working environments and quarantines due to the pandemic. Semiconductor manufacturing facilities focused on creating chips for electronics instead of automobiles.
Semiconductor devices are constructed from wafers containing gallium arsenide, silicon, or silicon carbide as the base materials. Nanoscale cutting-edge manufacturing techniques allow you to allow the removal and deposit of material in a controlled way, usually at the atomic level, through hundreds of manufacturing steps to create that final chip. Semiconductor devices are produced in cleanrooms, specialized facilities that require ultra-clean air-circulation. It is essential to minimize dust particles circulating in the cleanroom since particles can cause problems in the small-scale (nanometer) fabrication processes. Cleanrooms and semiconductor manufacturing equipment (often known as wafer fab equipment or WFE) are costly. The industry’s complicated manufacturing process for semiconductor chips is 500 billion dollars and is expected to increase. The semiconductor devices serve various functions like switches, microprocessors, sensors that detect heat or light, and amplifiers of signals. All are utilized in the modern automobile.
Photovoltaics or solar cells integrated with cars. (Photo courtesy Fraunhofer ISE)
We will look at some aspects of the way semiconductors are utilized in vehicles:
Driver assistance and safety: In modern automobiles, semiconductor devices can provide security and semi-autonomous driver assistance systems. The intelligent functions enabled by semiconductor devices include blind-spot detection systems, backup cameras, collision-avoidance sensors and adaptive cruise control, airbag deployment sensors, and emergency brake systems.
Electricity of vehicles: Several functions of automobile controls are now based on electronic rather than mechanical systems. Semiconductors are essential to achieve this. This electrification also helps improve the performance of the combustion engines in cars and battery management systems used in electric and hybrid vehicles, helping to recover energy from regenerative brake systems and enabling electric vehicle technology.
Entertainment and connectivity The increasing use of connectivity technology in today’s cars permits communication via the Internet and allows features like GPS maps of routes, closures of roads, as well as emergency services. These functions are all enabled through semiconductors.
Future vehicles with fully or semi-autonomous driving capabilities must include human-like sensing features like vision. Semiconductor technology is essential to processing and sensing the captured data with robust on-vehicle computing systems offering high-quality, precise, and rapid car control systems. The same human-like sensing capabilities can be accomplished using image cameras, radar sensors, light detection, and ranging or ultrasonic sensors. Future automobiles will incorporate several of these technologies.
With the growing mandates for and the increasing use of EVs, charging technologies need to be developedto replenish the EV battery or energy source. Semiconductors are crucial in the required quick charging to recharge EV batteries. Additionally, semiconductors could be used as energy sources through photovoltaics and solar cells. While charging infrastructures are accessible in urban areas and other areas accessible to the grid, there’s a risk of not having an electric charge on long-distance highways and off-grid sites. Based on the geographic location and the amount of solar radiation available, solar cells cancan produce green energy to charge EVs.
These solar cell charging systems decrease the burden on the electrical grid too. There are two possible ways to charge EVs with solar cells. The first option makes use of solar cells to capture stations. Passengers and drivers could use the charging stations in rest stop locations on the road while their vehicles are charged. The other option uses solar cells integrated into the EVs to produce electricity in the car. Even in areas where the sun’s radiation is seasonal, the research demonstrates the significant advantages of integrating photovoltaics into vehicles [33. These concepts are being developed into prototypes, as seen in the concept car designed in collaboration with Fraunhofer ISE. The manufacturers are currently attempting to integrate solar cells into future vehicles.