Powering the Technological Transformation of Automotive, Communications, and Industrial Markets

By Steve Ong

Director of Worldwide Applications

Lattice Semiconductor

March 26, 2024


Powering the Technological Transformation of Automotive, Communications, and Industrial Markets

In today's rapidly evolving technological landscape, the Automotive, Communications, and Industrial markets stand at the forefront of digital transformation. Advanced technologies powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have ushered in a new era of innovation, where technologically advanced vehicles redefine driving experiences, 5G connectivity enables unparalleled processing speeds, and smart manufacturing facilities revolutionize industrial workflows with automation.

Amidst these dynamic changes, Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have emerged as a key technology to empower the innovative solutions that are shaping the future of automation. FPGAs are driving this revolution by offering in-field re-programmability, security, low power operation, high performance, and real-time networking to ensure that organizations can remain at the cutting edge of digitalization.

As digital adoption continues within Automotive, Communications, and Industrial organizations, it will be critical to capitalize on FPGA features and applications to unlock the full power of innovation. Below, we break down how technological advancement is increasing the need for FPGAs across these three industries.

Driving Automotive Flexibility

In the past several years, the automotive sector has shifted toward software-defined vehicles (SDVs), including electric and autonomous vehicles. According to McKinsey & Company, the global automotive software and electronics market is expected to reach $462 billion by 2030. This reality represents a significant shift in the future of mobility.

SDVs rely on new advancements like zonal architectures, improved sensors for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), autonomous driving, and the use of high-quality displays across vehicle models. However, these innovations have increased the amount of information and computational power vehicles need to operate. Automotive manufacturers need flexible hardware and software solutions that support the connectivity and synchronization of displays while simultaneously processing data with the least amount of power possible.

FPGAs are a transformative solution for meeting this need as they enable unprecedented levels of scalability, flexibility, and efficiency. Further, FPGAs are known for their ability to provide high-performance hardware acceleration while also being relatively low power, especially compared to other hardware solutions.

For the Automotive industry in particular, FPGAs benefit complex vision processing tasks by utilizing hardware-centric parallel processing capabilities to process complex tasks like object detection, lane tracking, pedestrian recognition, and sensor fusion, contributing to safer and more reliable systems. FPGAs can also be reprogrammed as algorithms evolve, providing developers post-deployment flexibility and adaptability that is crucial in the Automotive industry.

Reference Design of Using an FPGA to Upscale or Downscale a DisplayPort video, Commonly Utilized to Process Videos from Rear/Front Cameras for the Vehicle’s Infotainment Display

FPGAs are a powerful hardware platform for accelerating AI and computer vision applications on Edge devices to enhance the efficiency and safety of modern vehicles. Additionally, FPGAs enable manufacturers to be flexible and accommodate change amid the combination of evolving architectures, new sensor technologies, and supply chain crises.

Enabling Secure 5G and ORAN Adoption

The relentless pursuit of faster data transmission, reduced latency, and greater network reliability has pushed the Communications sector to innovate at an unprecedented pace. FPGAs have emerged as a versatile solution, enabling rapid reconfiguration of hardware to adapt to evolving communication standards and requirements. With 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Edge computing on the rise, FPGAs offer essential flexibility and processing power for handling complex signal processing tasks and maintaining a market advantage.

A surge in 5G network deployment is changing the way telecom networks are designed and implemented. This is highlighted by the rise of Open Radio Access Network (ORAN), an open and disaggregated network architecture. The ORAN model is more flexible but also more vulnerable to exploitation due to its highly decentralized and distributed networks. Telecom leaders need secure solutions that can maintain these powerful networks without compromising critical data and information.

FPGAs have emerged as a versatile solution for cyber resilience, enabling rapid reconfiguration of hardware to adapt to evolving communication standards and security needs. By providing zero-trust, hardware-based authentication, FPGAs ensure that multiple components within a connected system can authenticate requests before enabling a full connection.

Components of an ORAN Security System

In addition, 5G networks carry an incredible amount of data across a broader and denser network of users, requiring industry leaders to leverage low-power small cell technology like microcells, picocells, and nanocells. This technology is ideal for facilitating 5G adoption because it can handle high-performance data for mobile broadband and consumers, as well as high densities of low-speed, low-power devices for IoT. FPGAs support small-cell applications because they offer several key advantages over traditional application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms, as their reprogrammable nature allows for power optimization within custom communication protocols.

Since small cell networks are often deployed in highly dynamic environments where network conditions change, reprogramming flexibility is critical to maintaining efficiency. FPGAs also enable developers to toggle between high performance (HP) and low power (LP) modes, depending on the process and system, to meet specific power and performance needs of each small cell application.  As 5G and ORAN networks continue to evolve, the role of FPGAs in amplifying network performance and scalability, while maintaining security, will accelerate even further.

Supporting Industrial Innovation

Digital transformation has changed the game for the industrial sector. AI and machine learning are opening new pathways to enhance human productivity and performance within facilities -- Gartner estimates that by 2030, 75% of operational decisions will be made within an AI-based application or process. Industrial organizations must be at the forefront of AI adoption to harness the power of predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, collaborative robotics, and more.

FPGAs provide a crucial advantage in this context, enabling flexible LP and HP support to facilitate multi-channel motor control within AI-based predictive maintenance processes. FPGAs can be customized to implement AI models and algorithms directly on hardware, significantly reducing computational latency and improving overall performance compared to software-based solutions. This allows predictive maintenance applications to conduct real-time data analysis and generate actionable insights that drive human decision-making within facilities.

It's important to remember that industrial automation designers need low-cost, real-time embedded designs to meet the complex production requirements of industrial automation systems. FPGAs provide a hardware platform that enables them to develop, evaluate, and deploy these designs, which can include RISC-V processor-based implementations with communication over embedded Ethernet networks – supporting features like low power operation and high availability with deterministic performance and real-time networking. This allows designers to improve production throughput, efficiency, and safety while accelerating the time to value of their AI-based applications.

Example FPGA Implementation of an AI-based Predictive Maintenance System

Building an Efficient Future

Now is the time for organizations to embrace an FPGA-centric future. FPGA adoption is a proven game-changer in the realm of digital transformation, perfectly suited for organizations across Automotive, Communications, and Industrial manufacturing to address new power, performance, efficiency, security, and adaptability needs. As automation accelerates in the years to come, FPGAs will serve as a foundational component of digitalization by providing flexibility and agility to thrive in evolving environments.