Automotive Tech Advances Cast a Wide Net for Semiconductor Growth

This past January brought a wealth of tech impetus each year; exciting and tempting us with the next series of must-haves to whet any consumer or enterprise technology appetite. This year, the darling of both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 and the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) 2016 were the debuts by on-board automotive electronics. Certainly, the flying car is a dreamer's favorite, but as it is, we're still a good ways off from even the driverless car, despite the continuous updates on progress for this capability. Smart technology is deepening and widening, not only through the home and enterprise but certainly also in the automotive space.

The growth in smart technologies is more than a catch phrase though, there are real waterfall opportunities and implications for how and where the latest technology advances are being made. In the case of automotive, there is truly some interesting and serious electronic advancements being made in semiconductors that are pulling the auto sector out of its long-held niche. While the allure for the self-driving car is high and enhanced by the slew of images of commuters reading the newspaper and eating breakfast while their personal vehicle whisks them independently to their office, that's not happening this year nor next. What is happening is just as exciting from an industry perspective: expansion across sectors with follow-on demand increases to support all of the smart growth.

In the case of automotive technology, the current real opportunities are already debuted in the market: lane departure warning, parking assistance, distance and proximity warning systems, geotracking for traffic and routing, and not to mention the increase service and performance information systems, many now becoming standard and/or mandatory. These seemingly banal steps are part of the pathway towards autonomous driving, but already demand significant on-board electronics as well as a newly growing set of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-base (V2B) communication capabilities.

Here we have seen the growth in LIDAR systems that send and receive “[…] laser beam refraction patters to allow a car to 'see' its surroundings,” which were on display at CES 2016 again, but now at lower costs, US $200 to 300, which will improve wider and more rapid adoption, as The Financialist noted.

The competition at these support levels for autonomous driving and Smart Cars is heating up, encouraging technology innovation and solutions for sensing and data transfer to correctly interpret and inform responses to driving situations. There is a significant amount of software partnered with the many hardware components to realize these capabilities. Among the top challenges are the V2V and V2B networks and the data transfer infrastructures and security. The ability to “learn” about the environment and anticipate conditions includes receiving continuously updated mapping, traffic, geographic information (number of lanes, construction, sidewalk, medians, etc.), and so forth. This information is gathered through sensors and interpreting the surroundings, and when available from municipal data, but importantly from shared cloud networks populated by other vehicles.

The data transfer and cloud storage points are critical and they hold real security risks and challenges. Solving the data/cloud security challenges is essential to V2V communication that, in turn, is essential for “driverless cars” to be able to communicate and navigate around and with each other, as drivers do presently.

Beyond the challenges though are significant opportunities for a broad set of companies along the semiconductor and electronics supply chain. We are already seeing a real growth in the number of companies engaged in presenting and competing for individual technology solutions (software, hardware, or some combination of both) that make up the array of on-board automotive electronics today. As vehicles continue to see their real differentiators in electronics based features and capabilities, automotive semi will continue to grow and offer real sustainable opportunities during the current phase where PC is no longer the vertical that can carry the industry forward. 

Clearly, we've gone from putting the computer on our lap, to sitting on it in our cars – at least there is plenty of room for new growth and lots of seating options. Let us know how these trends are affecting y

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