How Semiconductors are Reinventing the Automobile

Why do they matter? / Why should I care? / June 22, 2014

Imagine that while you sleep at night, your car is monitoring weather and highway conditions. Because of impending problems in the morning commute, it sends an alert to your mobile phone to wake you 20 minutes ahead of your normal schedule.

When you get into your car, it asks you for a destination. You instruct it to take you to your office. As you sit back and begin reading today’s news on the dashboard display, the car starts automatically, pulls out of your driveway and begins the journey, crunching additional weather and traffic data to determine the proper route, adjusting the braking, suspension, steering and fuel mix to give you the best possible performance—all without any assistance from you.

This is not science fiction. As automotive companies rapidly integrate cloud computing, sensor networks, wireless connectivity, and GPS navigation, the driverless car will soon be commonplace. In March, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk said he aims to implement autonomous driving capability into the Model S within three years.[1] Meanwhile, Google’s autonomous vehicles have now driven more than 700,000 miles.[2]  At the heart of this tremendous transformation? Ultra-powerful semiconductors.

Many cars already have advanced capabilities that sense and respond to their environment. With adaptive cruise control, for example, your car automatically slows down if another car enters your lane too close ahead. Lane-departure warning systems use cameras to alert drivers if they drift off course. Blind-spot monitoring systems use sensors to alert drivers to cars that are not easily in view. And several automakers, including GM, Audi, Ford, and Lexus, offer cars that park themselves.

Widespread adoption of driverless vehicles could save an estimated $1.3 trillion a year, according to a 2013 report from Morgan Stanley.[3] This includes a $488 billion reduction in accident-related costs and another $507 billion in productivity increases, since drivers could work instead of focusing on the road. GSMA estimates that the worldwide connected car market will reach $54 billion in 2018, as software platforms and data networks become ever more closely connected.[4]


[4] Connected Car Forecast: Global Connected Car Market to Grow Threefold Within Five Years; GSMA, Feb. 2013.

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