12 Major Japanese Firms Team Up for Automotive SoC Research Initiative

January 05, 2024 by Duane Benson

As automobiles get more complex, the "Advanced SoC Research for Automotive" (ASRA) initiative teams up a dozen automotive, electrical, and semiconductor companies to further develop automotive SoCs.

Today’s motor vehicle is essentially a mobile computing platform. A typical new car contains around 1,000 semiconductors built into computing, motor control, entertainment, sensor, and safety systems.

The near future will bring in wireless connectivity and artificial intelligence. The need for the automotive industry to push innovation in computing power brought a dozen automobile and electronics companies to form Advanced SoC Research for Automotive (ASRA).

ASRA launch participants include: 

  • Automotive Manufacturers: Honda Motor Co., Ltd., Mazda Motor Corporation, Nissan Motor Corporation, Subaru Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation
  • Electrical Component Manufacturers: Denso Corporation, Panasonic Automotive Systems Co., Ltd.
  • Semiconductor Companies: Cadence Design Systems, Japan, Mirise Technologies Corporation, Renesas Electronics Corporation, Socionext Inc., Synopsys Japan

ASRA’s goal is to bring together the customers (auto manufacturers) and suppliers (semiconductor and component manufacturers) to ensure that the automotive industry can utilize leading-edge technology without compromising on quality, reliability, and longevity.


In the Electronics Game Since the Beginning

Cars have always been about getting somewhere and impressing someone, but driving today is not what it used to be. And that’s a good thing. It wasn’t all that long ago when the primary factor used in evaluating a motor vehicle was the amount of fuel and air that could be shoved into a combustion chamber, lit off, and converted into motive power. First, it was how much, then how little. 

Motor vehicles are still about getting somewhere and, in many circles, impressing someone, but they are so much more. The motor vehicle industry jumped on the semiconductor bandwagon almost as soon as it was possible—with radio, receivers, rectifiers, and voltage regulators. It’s been running with the advancements in electronics ever since.

Cars use electronics to get the most distance from the least fuel with the lowest pollution possible. They help us communicate, navigate, and correct our driving oversights. They keep us safe and comfortable and soon will be communicating with other cars and infrastructure and ultimately taking over the driving from us entirely. Soon, our cars will essentially be thinking, decision-making personal robots with seats and cargo space.


Typical uses for electronics in cars

Typical uses for electronics in cars


All the computing power needed for the up-and-coming automotive intelligence systems far exceeds what is available today. Car electronics need to be capitalizing on the same advanced techniques that data centers and artificial intelligence (AI) server farms use to increase computing power.


Motor Vehicles Have More Stringent Requirements

One might wonder why the automotive industry can’t just utilize the same advances appearing in general computing technology. The challenge is that most automotive electronics are essentially life critical.

They also must operate in a harsh environment and be reliable for decades to come. Most fall under a special set of design and manufacturing standards to ensure resilience from electrical, mechanical, and environmental stress over a long operational life.

Ordinary semiconductors do not need to meet such requirements, thus automotive electronics have not yet been able to capitalize on some of the most exciting advances in computational power.


SoCs and Chiplets to the Rescue

Traditionally, processing units have gotten more powerful by shrinking the size of semiconductor geometries and increasing the size of the chip wafer. Both of those factors can put yields at risk and increase raw material costs. Larger chip areas also lead to power distribution challenges and data bottlenecks.

The current preferred solution for moving to the next level in computing power is to employ chiplet architecture. Computing blocks, memory and specialized functional blocks are each put on their own semiconductor die, known as chiplets.

The chiplets are then connected via traces on an interposer layer. The interposer can be constructed for more efficient power delivery and faster data movement. From the outside, a chiplet based processor or system on chip (SoC) may look like a single monolithic chip. But it is a carefully architected system with multiple chips that has the potential to deliver more computing power with a greater level of functionality than can monolithic chip architectures.


Chiplet architecture
Chiplet architecture


Mission-critical automotive applications will require higher manufacturing standards as well as additional quality control and predictive reliability analysis. Automotive electronics typically rely on mature technology to ensure suitability to the task.

While chiplet architecture may not yet be considered mature technology, ASRA will be working to ensure that the systems get to a level of technological maturity sooner than would be the case without automotive industry participants.


ASRA Vision

ASRA plans to get up and running with vehicle chiplet electronics by 2028 and have chiplet SoC devices ready to install in quantity by 2030. With continued advances in chiplet based automotive components, ASRA plans to ensure that automotive electronics are reliable enough and powerful enough to keep up with overall computer technology and deliver the safest and most (electrically) powerful vehicles possible.


All images used courtesy of ASRA