Safe electronics for autonomous driving

Our living environment is becoming increasingly digitalised. This also applies to cars, where modern electronics play a central role in the reliability of vehicles, the safety of passengers or the efficient control of the drive systems and is becoming increasingly important on the path to future autonomous mobility. Fraunhofer CAM has a leading role in contributing to material diagnostics and microstructure analysis as well as developing new, more efficient test methods, which make automobile electronics safe and durable.

Autonomes Fahren Chip Diagnostik Test
© MEV-Verlag/Fraunhofer IMWS
Electronics have become a significant driving force in the automobile industry.

Sensors control the inflation of airbags or engine performance. Chips regulate ABS, ESP functions and other assisting systems. Hybrid and electric cars cannot do without performance electronics for their motors. Car functionality and efficiency, but in particular the safety of passengers, have depended on electronics for a long time - and therefore also on the reliability of all materials, components and systems from semiconductor to system parts. Reliable function, therefore, must be guaranteed throughout the car’s entire lifespan, even under extreme conditions such as enormous heat in the engine space, fog, dirt, frost, dense traffic or frequent changes in temperature. Industry and research, therefore, require efficient diagnostic processes, whereby potential risks and causes of failure as well as material properties and their stress related changes in the evermore complex and smaller electronic components can be detected and analysed.

The Fraunhofer Center for Applied Microstructure Diagnostics CAM, one of the business branches of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS in Halle (Saale), has established itself in this field as an important partner for the automobile industry, electronics suppliers and manufacturers of semiconductors. The microstructure of materials and components is researched here with the state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment in order to examine the quality of manufacturing processes and to understand their operational behaviour in smallest detail, as even the tiniest fault at the atomic level could result in components not functioning properly or even failing.

Customers from industry value the independent know-how of the Halle researchers and the specialised high-tech equipment of the institute. A great variety of the most diverse methods are linked and applied, from x-ray to ultrasound investigations or thermal imaging techniques, as well as the most efficient of preparation methods, with ion beams and laser techniques for instance, to sophisticated high-resolution imaging and verification techniques, for example by means of electron microscopy and mass spectrometry. All aspects are targeted to the respective solving of problems. In its field, Fraunhofer CAM is one of the leading suppliers in Germany. There is some know-how from Halle in about half of the new vehicles sold in Germany, as estimated by the Fraunhofer researchers. Evidence for this status is also the annual CAM workshop as a prominent date for industry, which annually attracts more than 150 international participants to Halle, including equipment exhibitors, the majority from industry.

Aided by microstructure diagnostics, Fraunhofer CAM supports its customers not only when applications fail but also as early as the developmental phase, perhaps when new materials are to be introduced or production processes are to be improved. This is how the customers’ new technologies and optimised manufacturing processes are brought to market readiness faster. Apart from the field of automobile electronics, Fraunhofer CAM is also active in other market areas. For example, consumer and industrial electronics are gaining in importance for the intelligent control of our home environments or for networking production processes, whereby less energy and material is consumed, for instance, and resource efficiency is increased in society.

As, at the same time, efficient microelectronic components are becoming increasingly smaller, more complex and, as far as materials are concerned, ever more versatile, the demands on material diagnostics and microstructural analysis increase simultaneously. Therefore, the Halle researchers are developing new innovative methods and devices so that the necessary quality control mechanisms can also be facilitated to the smallest detail for the new materials and technologies. For example, this includes 3D Lock-In-Thermography, acoustic microscopy up to a GHz high frequency range, even more precise and faster preparation techniques with laser and ion beams, various electron microscopic specialist techniques or new micro mechanical tests. The extension of the CAM site in Heideallee is currently creating even better conditions for these research projects: An investment of 9 million Euros is going in to expanding Frauenhofer CAM. Making new technologies fit for the market – this is how Fraunhofer CAM supports its clients to achieve this aim.

The importance of microelectronics will increase in future; especially for the automobile industry. Trends such as electro mobility, which require the appropriate semiconductors to control electric power or the networked car that communicates independently with the car park, other vehicles or the Cloud, are proof of this. The most important driving force for longer term development is, however, the vision of autonomous driving: A car that steers, brakes and navigates independently only works with efficient electronic components.

The speed in development is high here – demand for ever-greater performance of the components is accompanied by ever-shorter cycles of innovation in the automobile industry. New technologies used to be first deployed in the consumer-electronics sphere, perhaps in mobile telephones or play station consoles, where a product had a lifespan of two to three years and then could be further improved bit by bit. They are now applied in the automotive field, where a lifespan of 15 to 20 years is required. Today the latest technology goes straight into the car: Customers expect entertainment systems in the cockpit delivering the same performance as a home computer – with correspondingly short innovation cycles. If we really want to trust technology to make the right decisions and to take on the responsibility for the safety of the passengers, then hundred per cent component reliability is essential. Only when all components interact reliably can autonomous driving become a reality. Microstructural diagnostic methods are of the highest importance for this.

Fraunhofer CAM, therefore, actively continues to take a leading role in order to make the powerful and high-resolution sensors - required for the new assistance systems, the high performance processors for 3D calculations of environments or the fast accumulators - more reliable and efficient. This offers enormous potential, especially with regards to autonomous driving: 95 per cent of all fatal accidents or those with serious injuries are caused due to human error. Autonomous driving offers a great chance to save lives when electronic systems control a car. With its development of innovative microstructure diagnostic processes, Fraunhofer CAM supports robust and reliable electronics for autonomous driving.

Prof. Matthias Petzold on autonomous driving and the contribution made by Fraunhofer IMWS