Modern Vehicles Call for Modern Solutions: How FPGAs Can Transform the Automotive Industry

By Lattice Semiconductor

Lattice Semiconductor

August 23, 2023


Modern Vehicles Call for Modern Solutions: How FPGAs Can Transform the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry is in the midst of a technological transformation and, in particular, a shift to software-defined vehicles.

With consumer demand evolving towards safer, autonomous, and technologically advanced cars, software-defined vehicles (SDVs) are a growing trend due to their higher quantity and value of software (including electronic hardware), and their ability to be continuously upgraded through a centralized architecture.

This focus on software is completely changing the automotive industry. A report from McKinsey suggests that the automotive software market is projected to more than double in size from $31 billion in 2019 to roughly $80 billion in 2030—a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 9%.

As the industry pivots towards SDVs, Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are a transformative tool that is enabling unprecedented levels of automotive scalability, flexibility, and efficiency.

The Impact of FPGAs on the Automotive Industry

Adapting to a wide range of ever-changing requirements serving as a key component of auto design, FPGA’s innate programmability allows them to evolve with changing needs and deliver critical—albeit oftentimes invisible—capabilities to the operation of modern vehicles.

Due to their benefits, there are five ways FPGAs can help car manufacturers enhance a variety of features:

  1. Enable emerging zonal architectures

Modern cars are starting to offer zonal architectures – groups of sensors, actuators, computing, and interconnected elements that are combined into zones and then sent to the main system on chip (SoC). As the number of cameras and other visual sensors on cars increases, FPGAs are a useful tool as they can control and route the signal from on-car cameras into the main computing element in the vehicle, typically some type of SoC.

Additionally, the bridging functions performed by FPGAs allow multiple high-resolution cameras or other sensors to have their signals combined or multiplexed together near where they are located—such as around the front or rear bumpers—and then have those signals separated again, or demultiplexed when they arrive at the SoC.

  1. Deliver high performance with low power

With FPGA's parallel processing capability, demanding applications like cars that support ADAS and advanced monitoring capabilities are able to deliver exceptional performance while consuming less energy. This aspect of FPGAs is particularly useful for electric vehicles (EVs). Since EVs run on batteries, power efficiency is critical. FPGAs are an ideal tool as they can operate at  lower power and lower frequencies while still meeting stringent performance requirements.

  1. Perform real time networking and motor control

FPGAs also have the ability to perform signal processing and analytics with low latencies and in a deterministic manner. In real-time-based applications like assisted driving or even simply operating a vehicle, this low latency and determinism is essential to the performance of the car and its functions.

In electric/hybrid vehicles, for example, FPGAs can be used to optimize motor control, power conversion, and inverters, because of their support for high performance PWM (pulse width modulation), all of which help maximize power and efficiency to extend the range of the vehicle.

  1. Comply with functional safety

Functional safety is integral to modern vehicles as it provides assurance that systems and equipment are operating correctly and minimizes any operational malfunctions or hazards encountered when operating a vehicle. To comply with functional safety, systems need to have appropriate monitoring hardware and software that operates in a safe and reliable manner even under fault conditions.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and critical information in display systems like backup camera visuals and driver warnings incorporate redundancy to ensure safe operation in case of a fault in the system. FPGAs not only support high speed video connectivity for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems and sensor data processing in ADAS, they also help ensuring safety critical information is reliably reproduced, thus enabling safe operation in case of component or subsystem malfunctions.

  1. Enhance human-machine interfaces (HMIs) for infotainment systems

Part of shifting consumer demands revolve around the new requirement of high end “infotainment features” which, in terms of modern automobiles, means integrating all the features you’d find in a next generation smartphone, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, streaming audio and video, and so on.

To provide these features, appropriate displays are needed in various locations throughout the car, including the central infotainment hub, the instrument cluster, heads-up displays, and the rear displays. LCD screens are the typical choice, however, as manufacturers add more, higher quality LCDs, local dimming technology is becoming a necessity. Local dimming is designed to enhance viewability in difficult lighting conditions as experienced in cars. It does this by increasing the contrast ratio and improve black levels by selectively dimming or turning off certain areas of the screen's backlighting.

FPGAs are an excellent choice for implementing local dimming in automotive LCD panels. They offer fast and responsive processing needed to analyze the content, adjust backlight zones, control LED brightness, and run complex or customized algorithms. They also support high speed I/O, and can withstand harsh environmental conditions, temperature variations, and shock and vibration of modern vehicles. Last but not least, they offer the flexibility and upgradability needed to keep up with changing algorithms, control strategies, and the desire to accommodate supply chain flexibility requirements.

FPGAs are Driving the Automotive Industry Forward

As the industry transitions to SDVs, it’s clear that modernization in the automotive industry is not slowing down any time soon. As technology continues to advance and grow more complex, consumers are looking for cars that follow suit, and it’s imperative that manufacturers leverage innovative tools to keep up.

FPGAs are key to staying ahead of the curve. With its inherent flexibility, scalability, and efficient features, FPGAs are the perfect enablement technology for this transformational moment in the ever-evolving automotive industry.

Lattice Semiconductor (NASDAQ: LSCC) is the low power programmable leader. We solve customer problems across the network, from the Edge to the Cloud, in the growing communications, computing, industrial, automotive and consumer markets. Our technology, long-standing relationships, and commitment to world-class support lets our customers quickly and easily unleash their innovation to create a smart, secure and connected world.

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