Without a doubt, modern expectations for automotive performance, safety, and comfort are pushing "intelligence" throughout the vehicle, with microcontrollers showing up in a variety of devices that draw together chassis control, driver assistance, and risk management. At the SAE Convergence electronics show, Patrick Leteinturier from Infineon talked about the trends that we might expect for these tiny semiconductor brains.

Moore's Law may dictate growth in computational power of about an order of magnitude (10x) every five years or so, but that's not a reasonable assumption for automotive devices, according to Leteinturier. The reasons are numerous - the harsh automotive environment, customer expectations for longevity (20 years), and the heat generated by increased clock speeds (where as a PC CPU might dissipate 60W, something in the neighborhood of 1W is considered acceptable for automotive microcontrollers). Expect instead something more along a doubling of power every five years, with current engine management devices going from 250 million instruction cycles per second nowadays to about 2 billion/second by 2020. Memory will grow at a similar rate from 2MB to 16MB over the same period of time. Process geometry shrinks will also occur, but also not at the same rate of other electronic devices. The problem here once again is reliability, but another factor is the heavy use of analog circuits in the automotive environment - such devices can't be shrunk in the same manner as digital circuits.

Adding to reliability will be multiple redundant processors, although how these will be packaged is yet to be determined. Techniques such as built-in self test (BIST) and built-in self repair (BISR) will improve memory integrity (ever more important as storage space grows), and new memory storage technologies such as FeRAM might replace Flash in the next decade.

This might not be the most exciting innovation, but it's the sort of steady improvement on the component level that enables technology that's a bit more obvious in its impact on our driving experience.

[Source: Infineon]