Automotive memory: Many types and applications

-June 26, 2013

When most people think of memory being used in a car, they think of the control programming for the engine or the preference setting on the interior. The vehicles now have many types of distributed memory in the vehicle - SRAM, DRAM, ROM, FLASH and, in some vehicles, tests of MRAM.

Automotive memories are similar to commercial memories in function, but have a different form of operation. They are closer to ECC (error correcting code) memories where it is important that the result that comes out from a memory access is correct, and that the information stored is correct. As more microprocessors are being used in the cars, distributed DRAM that is local to the signal, and information processing and SRAM or FLASH storage memory, are being used to transfer information between functions in the car.

The new architecture for the cars is to have a main centralized processor with a large memory configuration similar to a standard computer. This unit processes and makes systemic decisions based on the information from all the driver's assistance, engine and drive train subsystems.

Unlike with home and business computers which have a 2 to 5-yr operating life, memories for automotive applications need to operate for 12-20 years on a daily basis. For typical computing memories, the life cycle is based on a low duty cycle ratio of "turn-on" and "turn-off" cycles compared to operating time. In corporate applications it is not unreasonable to have a unit do a power up or power down cycle only once a month. In an automotive application, the power up and power down cycles are multiple times per day, with a short (under 1 hr) operating period as the average. This results in a different reliability and design model than for conventional consumer memories.

The popular belief is that semiconductor memories just get smaller, cheaper and larger in capacity automatically with advances in process technology. The reality is that many aspects of these devices require design changes, as the processes scale, for both performance and reliability.

At the 2013 DAC Conference, held in Austin, TX, the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society (CASS) recognized one of the key developers of these technologies. The 2013 recipient of the Industrial Pioneer Award is Dr. Rajiv Joshi of IBM Watson Research Center (photo). The IEEE Circuit and Systems Society (CASS) Industrial Pioneer Award honors one individual who has provided exceptional and pioneering contributions in translating academic and industrial research results into improved industrial applications and commercial products.

Dr. Rajiv V. Joshi received a B. Tech degree from Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay, India), an M.S degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Doctorate in Eng. Science from Columbia University. His recent activities focused on the development of novel interconnect processes and structures for aluminum, tungsten and copper technologies, which are widely used in IBM for various technologies from sub-0.5µm to 14nm for high-performance and high-reliability memory designs at these very small process nodes.

The award referenced his expertise in technology, circuit design, CAD, and predictive techniques and interest in predictive analytics. The award and recognition follow his prior three Outstanding Technical Achievement (OTAs) at IBM, three Corporate Patent Portfolio awards for licensing contributions. He holds 54 invention plateaus and has over 185 US patents and over 350 including international patents. He is an IEEE and ISQED fellow and distinguished alumnus of IIT Bombay. He served on committees of ISLPED, IEEE VLSI design, IEEE CICC, IEEE Int. SOI conf, ISQED and Advanced Metallization Program committees, as well as a role as the Associate Editor of TVLSI.

These efforts and other fundamental process research, helps bring these innovative consumer technologies to the high reliability, extended operating range and life cycle applications in the automotive sector. Traditionally, automotive electronics were considered a separate class from commercial, industrial, military and avionics. The incorporation of new technology in-cabin has seen a closer adoption to consumer grade technology, but the extended life cycle of the vehicles still requires the modified designs and statistical reliability testing that are the mainstay of "automotive" grade electronics.

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