Chevy Volt Teardown: Infotainment

I recently attended the “Chevy Volt Teardown: Infotainment” session presented by Al Steier from Munro & Associates and John Scott-Thomas from TechInsights at San Jose Design West 2012 Conference.  In this session they revealed the key components of the communication board, body control module, instrument cluster electronics, and the infotainment system.   It was great to see Spansion chips highlighted on both the communication module and the instrument cluster board.  I knew that there were more Spansion devices in the navigation unit, but it was not highlighted in this session.

Spansion Flash holds most of the firmware responsible for the communications module. Our NOR flash  provides the fast boot, high performance, long term reliability required for GM’s Onstar Telematics units.

The software stored in the Spansion Flash provides the instructions to calculate, gather or report critical information; everything from the battery state of charge, amount of fuel in the vehicle, tire pressure variables stored, etc.  

Another Spansion’s Flash memory headliner was on the instrument cluster board.  Located right next to the Freescale’s display controller, the role of this Flash memory is to store and provide the bitmaps used to generate the graphics, letters, numbers, overlays that is shown on the TFT/LCD displays.

From an electronics perspective, GM has taken a real global village approach in the overall manufacture of the Electric Vehicle.  It was clear the presenters of the session realized that Spansion Flash memory plays an important role in the infotainment and instrument clusters.

Those interested can check out a time-lapse video of the Chevy Volt teardown here.  The real teardown took three days, but the video has compressed it all into five minutes.

A View from the Driver’s Seat: Automotive Technology in 2012

2012 is shaping up to be the year of automotive innovation. For years, the automotive industry has been chasing the tech-savvy, connected consumer, and we’re finally starting to see some exciting progress. Automakers are racing to put connected cars on the road with systems that allow drivers to do everything from updating their Facebook status to making reservations to finding directions to their favorite restaurant – all while keeping their hands firmly on the wheel.  Continue reading

Technology is Racing Inside the Car

Time flies.  I can’t believe it is almost the end of the year already.  For many, that means the shock of holiday shopping starts to set in, but for me, it is time to start watching the parade of announcements from the automakers as they roll out new models and announce their latest technology breakthroughs.  TV commercials, magazines, social media and of course, the car shows, will all be a buzz about the newest must-have features and 2012 models.

I work closely with many of the major auto companies in my role at Spansion so I get to see what’s coming before most.  Some of the trends that you will hear a lot more about over the coming months are advanced applications of Bluetooth, cloud-connected electronics and advanced safety systems.

I personally am most excited with what’s happening behind the steering wheel.  The dashboard is undergoing a major upgrade.  Your classic speedometer, odometer, warning signals, known as the instrument cluster, is moving to TFT (thin film transistor) displays.  The mechanical gauges are going digital.  We’ve already seen the change in some luxury cars but it is making its way into mainstream vehicles.

Riding the Smartphone and Tablet Wave

Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, the price of TFT displays has dropped significantly over the last couple years.  The affordability of displays has allowed the automakers to use them more widely within the car and throughout their product line.  It is no longer a luxury for the auto elite.

I’m excited about TFTs, not because of the “cool factor,” but for safety.  The screen will provide important data to enable safer and smarter driving.  The information will be the most relevant data depending on the driving environment or health status of the car.  It will be a smart display that knows what to tell you and when.  It will have to support rich graphics, 3D imagery, multi-languages, and even high resolution video.

Bringing High Technology Mainstream

Advances in automotive electronics will make the roads a safer place, but only to the degree the technology proliferates throughout all car segments.  Collectively the industry needs to optimize systems to make it affordable.

Spansion is doing its part by focusing on the memory subsystem with our chipset partners.  Our newly announced Spansion® FL-S family is great example of this.  We are using the low pin count serial interface to strip out complexity in the printed circuit board, simplifying the connections to the microcontroller.  And by delivering a high-performance double data rate serial Flash memory that is capable of 66 MB/s reads, automotive designers can simplify designs further by removing DRAM altogether in the TFT display and execute and render graphics directly from the Spansion FL-S memory.

It is innovation like this that is needed to advance the start of the art, affordably, so it can reach the masses.  I’m very excited to see the new crop of cars that are coming in 2012 and the coming years.

The LA Auto Show is right around the corner, November 18-27.  All of the latest advancements and a look into the future will be on display.  I’ll be watching all the excitement and will share my thoughts with you after the event.

Automakers Ratchet Up Performance Requirements

My colleague Anthony Le and I have both been blogging about the transformation of the car in recent months for Memory Matters.  Truly, the car is turning into one of the most advanced consumer electronics devices on the market.  The dashboard is morphing from gauges and dials into a digital display, the center console’s nobs and buttons is replaced with a touch screen interface and cameras and sensors are scattered throughout the exterior to help actively protect your safety.  Today it seems like there are more processors and memory in a car then you’ll find at your local Best Buy.

The car is definitely changing and so are the requirements from the world’s automakers.  In order to enable this shift, automakers are ratcheting up the performance requirements of its electronic systems.   For instance, the call for instant-on performance is getting louder.  Automaker specifications for next generation digital instrument clusters and infotainment systems are cutting boot time requirements in half, increasing the need for higher performance memory and processing.

Spansion announced samples of its new Spansion® GL family in mid February and we met our commitment to move into production in the second quarter with 1 Gb and 512 Mb versions of the Spansion GL-S NOR Flash memory.  With industry-leading read performance, Spansion GL-S NOR Flash is delivering the fast boot times, real-time feedback and high reliability automakers require for a safe driving experience.  Spansion GL-S solutions are actively being qualified with leading automotive electronics customers in North America, Europe and Japan.

Of course, the automotive industry is just one example.  The benefits of the family extend beyond automotive and are bringing innovation to consumer electronics, gaming, and telnet applications as well thanks to a 45% read performance advantage and the fastest programming speed over competing NOR Flash products.

A datasheet on this NOR Flash family is also available to download from our website.

You can learn more about the family in this SlideShare presentation on Spansion GL-S NOR Flash.

NVIDIA in the Driver’s Seat?

When you think of NVIDIA, most consumers have thoughts of advanced graphics chips for PC gaming.  Its GeForce line has long been heralded for its realistic 3D visuals, screaming performance and fast interactive game play.  That type of innovation is what NVIDIA has been known to deliver.  So what’s a graphics processing unit (GPU) doing inside the car?

The Car: The Most Advanced Consumer Electronics Device Around

It’s not that odd of pairing if you think about it. Look at all of the changes happening in automotive electronics.  Behind the steering wheel, the mechanical gauges are being replaced with digital screens.  The center console is no longer the series of nobs and switches to control a CD player, stereo and air conditioning, but rather a large touchscreen display that lets you manage many of the car’s systems.

These new displays are also becoming a key safety element of the vehicle.  Information is being collected throughout the automobile and from external conditions and fed to the driver so they are fully aware of the car’s health and potential hazards on the road.  Advancements in auto electronics are enhancing the driver’s ability to navigate a vehicle while making that journey more comfortable and entertaining for the passengers.

Given these changes, it makes a total sense for NVIDIA to bring its technology to the car.  These advanced displays demand instant-on performance and rich 2D and 3D user interfaces.  NVIDIA has been providing those features to gaming for years. 

NVIDIA: A Welcomed Addition

For those that follow semiconductors, you probably already know NVIDA has been catering to profession and science markets for some time.  They have been making steady inroads in automotive as well, which was very apparent at this year’s consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas.  NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 processors are making its way into Audis, BMWs and the upcoming Model S form Tesla.  Check out NVIDIA’s automotive page to read more on their automotive focus. 

NVIDIA has some formidable competitors in automotive including Freescale, Infineon, Renesas and Texas Instruments.  These companies have been focusing on the auto market for decades so the competition will be tough.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with all of these companies over the years as Spansion brings its NOR Flash memory solutions to market to support these continual advancements in automotive.  It is an exciting segment and NVIDIA is a welcomed addition.