A key trend in recent times, and especially during the pandemic, is for automotive manufacturers to talk directly to semiconductor manufacturers in order to better understand the scope of emerging chip technologies and more significantly to align supply chain requirements. Reaffirming this in a recent statement, STMicroelectronics announced a collaboration with Volkswagen Group’s software unit, CARIAD, to jointly develop an automotive system-on-chip (SoC) that will be used as a standard chip for all electronic control units (ECUs) in CARIAD’s zone architecture.
Together, CARIAD and ST are developing what they said is ‘perfectly tailored hardware’ for connectivity, energy management, and over-the-air (OTA) updates, to make future generations of vehicles built on the chip fully software-defined, secure, and future-proof. The planned cooperation targets the new generation of Volkswagen Group vehicles that will be based on a unified and scalable software platform. At the same time, the parties are moving to agree that TSMC will manufacture the SoC wafers for ST. With this move, CARIAD aims to secure the chip supply for the Volkswagen Group’s cars years in advance, the company said.
CARIAD and STMicroelectronics have agreed on the key points of the cooperation. The details of the cooperation will now be finalized between the companies and cast into detailed agreements.
As part of its semiconductor strategy, CARIAD will enter into direct relationships with semiconductor suppliers at the Tier 2 and Tier 3-level for the Volkswagen Group for the first time. In the future, CARIAD plans to direct Tier 1 suppliers of the group to use only the SoC co-developed with ST and ST’s standard Stellar microcontroller for CARIAD’s zone architecture.
CARIAD has been looking at rationalizing future architectures for performance, security of supply, and cost-effectiveness and scalability. Since connected cars of the future will demand extremely high levels of computational power, the group is looking to optimally match hardware and software so that it can optimize the performance efficiency of the central computer systems.
The carmaker’s software group is already looking to significantly reduce the number of ECUs – currently there are typically up to 25 ECUs in cars on the market today. CARIAD will consolidate individual ECUs into larger units, with a zone architecture based on microcontrollers in the smallest expansion stage. In addition, a new high-performance computer will control the infotainment system and automated driving.
SoC co-development a first for CARIAD and ST
The co-development of the SoC is a first for CARIAD and ST. CARIAD CEO Dirk Hilgenberg said, “With the co-development of the system-on-chip with ST ahead of us, we are consistently pursuing our semiconductor strategy. The SoC we are designing will be optimally matched to our software – without compromise. In this way, we can offer our Group’s customers the best performance for their cars. The use of a single, optimized architecture in all Volkswagen electronic control units will give us an enormous boost for the efficient development of our software platform.” This efficiency will allow all electronic control unit (ECU) devices – from microcontrollers to SoCs – to run on a common basic software in the future.”
Murat Aksel, Volkswagen Group’s board member for purchasing, added, “We are about to launch a groundbreaking new cooperation model for the Volkswagen Group. With the planned direct cooperation with ST and TSMC, we are actively shaping our entire semiconductor supply chain. We’re ensuring the production of the exact chips we need for our cars and securing the supply of critical microchips for years to come. In this way, we are setting new standards in strategic supply chain management.”
Marco Monti, president of ST’s automotive and discrete products group, commented, “ST designed its Stellar architecture specifically to facilitate the transition to software-defined vehicles and CARIAD’s decision to work with ST to fit the requirements and functionalities of the Volkswagen Group’s next-generation vehicles highlights the success of our approach. The combination of CARIAD’s software competences with ST’s design expertise and innovative Stellar automotive architecture will position the Volkswagen Group to deliver best-in-class, connected, software-defined vehicles.”
The new SoC aims to complement ST’s Stellar microcontroller family by extending its power-efficient real-time capabilities to service-oriented environments. CARIAD is contributing its specific target requirements and functionalities for the Volkswagen Group vehicles and will help extend the architecture of ST’s 32-bit Stellar automotive microcontroller.
CARIAD will include both the jointly developed SoCs based on Stellar and the standard Stellar microcontroller in its new AU1 processor family. Its range offers CARIAD flexible scaling for various applications in the car to meet the needs of all Volkswagen Group brands. The chips are being designed for all applications in the areas of networking, drivetrain, energy management, and comfort electronics – in zone controllers or in servers in VW’s operating system, VW.OS.
The companies said the entire AU1 processor family will be powerful enough to easily map future function extensions via over-the-air updates. Using a common device architecture will enable CARIAD experts to develop only one basic software for all ECUs, substantially reducing complexity and accelerating development. Additionally, the Stellar architecture encourages the integration of numerous functions into individual ECUs. This significantly reduces the number of ECUs in the car, increasing the cost effectiveness and reliability for the software company.
The next step of the collaboration between ST and CARIAD, according to CARIAD CTO Lynn Longo, is to enter into the co-development of high-performance semiconductors for complex functions.
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