Last September, several major car and automotive systems manufacturers, including Daimler, Nissan, and Tesla, announced plans to commercially introduce autonomous self-driving cars by 2020. These manufacturers join a list of companies, like Toyota and Audi, who have already announced similar development projects.

Self-driving cars are no longer considered just a dream or an advanced research project (like the famous Google car); what was once a seemingly far-fetched idea is now moving into the industrialization phase. This advancement is based on an integrated suite of technologies being developed for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication networks.

The evolution of technology and communication has initiated a major social change: the car is becoming like a second home. Today, most of us are used to connecting anywhere, anytime via phone call, email, or Internet applications. In a car — either as a driver or a passenger — we like to remain connected. Our portable smartphones offer this ability, and we expect the infotainment and telematics systems in our cars to do the same.    

Unfortunately, with this automotive evolution come safety hazards. Calling and/or texting while driving can generate driver distractions, which are statistically the most common cause of car accidents. Road safety regulations in almost all countries prohibit texting or emailing while driving and only permit phone calls with hands-free audio systems to mitigate these hazards. However, drivers do not always respect these rules.

Self-driving cars will aim to almost completely remove human error from the driving equation. In the near future, we will be sitting comfortably reading the news, calling, emailing, participating in conference calls, and using cloud applications while our cars autonomously and safely drive us home. They will do this without any human intervention, relying only on information gathered from the environment—including the road and other vehicles—and from the smart road infrastructure. All of these factors working in conjunction will result in the ultimate automotive innovation.

Enabling automotive innovation
Reaching this level of innovation will not be simple. It will require advanced automotive-grade DRAM and nonvolatile Flash memory solutions and wider availability of integrated systems that support driving assistance modules and V2V and V2I network possibilities.

V2V Communication: By exchanging vehicle-based data regarding position, speed, and location, V2V communication enables one vehicle to sense the position of other vehicles and obstacles that may pose a threat, to calculate the risk, and to issue driver advisories or warnings or take preemptive actions to avoid accidents.

V2I Communication: V2I communication enables the wireless exchange of critical safety and operational data between vehicles and highway infrastructure, transforming road networks into smart infrastructures. V2I is primarily intended to avoid/mitigate vehicle crashes, but it also enables a wide range of other safety, mobility, and environmental benefits. V2I incorporates algorithms that use data exchange between vehicles and infrastructure elements to calculate high-risk situations in advance, resulting in driver alerts and warnings through specific countermeasures.

While car-driving enthusiasts may never completely hand over control to an electronic system, these communication systems can significantly improve safety.

Automotive-qualified memory solutions needed
In addition to the need for sensors, signal processing elements, and image recognition engines, advanced automotive applications are memory-hungry, and they are driving the explosive growth of both volatile and nonvolatile memory devices.

The main processing units in digital audio applications use high-density DRAM as a buffer for data and information displayed on the dashboard; high-density DRAM is also used as a working space for the processor. Demand is also growing for low-power DRAM to support the many automotive electronic systems that are "always on" (in standby mode), even when the engine is off, enabling all relevant information to be immediately available on the dashboard when the car is started. Higher-end processors with multitask/multithread capabilities in most newer cars require faster memory, and the bandwidth requirements of many new applications are also driving the need for high-performance DRAM, such as 2Gb DDR3.

Memory devices contain all of the underlying code (the parameters and the data) needed for systems to function, and they must provide low power consumption, high density, speed, and performance, combined with top-notch reliability. For example, integrated circuits used for automotive applications must perform reliably in harsh environments with a wide operating temperature range, typically from −40°C to +85°C, and in some cases, up to +105°C. This level of quality is not easily achieved and requires a dedicated quality and reliability process that is specifically tailored to the automotive industry.