STMicroelectronics

<p>The status of blacks in engineering has always concerned Mitchell, who was one of the founding members of his campus' chapter of the Society of Black Engineers (SBE). We're underrepresented in the engineering industry,” Mitchell said. There are not as many of us out there to be seen by high school and college kids as they're coming through” the academic system — especially kids like Mitchell who hail from towns like Hartsville, S.C. As a result, groups like the SBE can offer invaluable assistance and encouragement to students, as well as a chance for them to network with well-established black engineers.</p>

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These emerging technologies are already having a dramatic impact on the electronics infrastructure within the modern vehicle. Escalating computational requirements are driving the widespread adoption of 32-bit microcontrollers in automotive design and pushing processor clock rates to 40 MHz and beyond. Increasingly complex telematics and multimedia subsystems are accelerating the demand for larger blocks of flash memory on-chip.

Although automobile manufacturers typically employ microcontrollers with 256 kbytes of on-chip flash memory, applications to be introduced over the next several years promise to push those requirements to 512 kbytes and beyond. Communication capabilities are also becoming crucial. Some new microcontrollers, such as NEC's proprietary controller-area network (CAN) gateway device-code-named CarGate-incorporate the functionality to serve as a gateway among various networks within the vehicle.

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There is an inherent contradiction in the power supply systems designed for today's automobiles. To power this growing proliferation of electronic subsystems and support the use of high-torque motors in electromechanical applications, automotive manufacturers are planning to migrate from the current 12.6-volt battery, 14-V charging system to an interim 24-V solution, with the ultimate goal being a 42-V-based alternative.

Automotive engineers have known for years that the current power system cannot provide the juice to support all the features customers want. Without additional power resources, designers eventually would have to face some undesirable trade-offs and would find it difficult to support the increasing number of electronic controls for power train, braking and safety systems.

At the same time, however, advances in microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing are moving in the opposite direction. Driven by high-volume, battery-powered consumer applications where low current draw dictates market success, leading semiconductor manufacturers are moving quickly to sub-quarter-micron CMOS process technologies and lower operating voltages. To reduce the power consumption, chip vendors are reducing logic levels from 5 to 3.3 V. Yet the automotive industry continues to rely on the traditional 5-V interface at the component level.

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This migration to lower operating voltages by semiconductor manufacturers has become so prevalent that many high-volume ICs are now more widely available in 3.3-V versions than their older 5-V counterparts. Moreover, this progression to lower voltages is expected to accelerate. As they move their processes to finer design rules, semiconductor manufacturers likely will drop to even lower operating voltages.

All that presents an intriguing problem for the designers of automotive electrical subsystems. Sub-quarter-micron CMOS process technologies promise to lower cost and improve performance. Yet to conform to the traditional 5-V interface within the average automobile, IC designers must often add a 5-V regulator on-chip, which largely negates those cost advantages.

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Smart or discrete How can automotive electrical system designers solve this problem and reap the cost advantages that semiconductor improvements are already bringing to other industries? One option lies with the continual evolution of smart-power processes. Some leading semiconductor manufacturers are continuing to explore the development of processes that integrate logic devices in the same substrate as power semiconductors.

Perhaps a better option lies in a discrete approach. As semiconductor manufacturers move further down the process path, the cost of integrating a 5-V regulator on-chip will continue to rise relative to the use of a discrete device. With a voltage regulator on the controller board or external module, designers could latch down the power to all components that require a 5-V supply. In turn, that would allow automakers to take advantage of the cost reductions inherent in each CMOS process enhancement.

Renesas Electronics and STMicroelecronics have dropped several places down the rankings as their mobile operations have lost out to Qualcomm, Samsung and vertical integration. Samsung has risen from 14th place in 2008 to fourth in 2012 and is within striking distance of passing Broadcom for third.

1.Intel . . . . . . . . 12.1%2.Qualcomm. . . . . . 10.9%3.Broadcom. . . . . .  7.2%4.Samsung. . . . . .  6.5%5.Texas Instruments . .  5.2%

Top 5 total . . . . . .  41.9%Others total. . . . .  58.1%2012 market size = $90.7-billion  

Embedded processor vendor market share ranked by value. Source: Semicast Research.

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But compared with a number of small players crowding the so-called IP-based content-delivery network market today, Kasenna is unusual and might have an edge, said Miao, Because it does not play favorites” when it comes to streaming technologies. They've developed a network-management technology that allows them to take content in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media, RealNetworks' RealVideo, Apple Computer's QuickTime or MPEG-4, however it is encoded.” The Kasenna platform also comes with some unique hooks that may smooth out the delivery of video and may make Hollywood rights holders feel more secure, said Miao.

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