News Article

A Road Paved With Silicon

By Pedro Alcalá | Tue, 11/09/2021 - 14:25

The trend is clear: semiconductors will now play a central role in the automotive industry’s future technological development, most crucially in the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the larger mobility infrastructure that they will enable, as detailed by Intel Mexico Director General Santiago Cardona, at the International Mexican Automotive Industry Congress (CIIAM), an event organized by INA, in collaboration with Mexico Business. "At Intel, we are actively working to cover the growing demand of semiconductors in the automotive sector with investments of millions of dollars."

The ongoing semiconductor shortage has been impacting the automotive sector, its manufacturing capabilities and its supply chains. Cardona made clear that Intel is already working on making these shortages a thing of the past: "In this year alone, we announced investments of more than US$50 million to prevent the current semiconductors shortage from happening again." The use of semiconductors in vehicle design and assemblage has not only been increasing, but it is expected to quadruple by the end of this decade: “By the end of 2019, semiconductors represented 4 percent of the list of materials used in the construction of high-end vehicles. By 2025, we expect that number to be 12 percent and then 20 percent by 2030.” Cardona also noted that these percentages were mirrored by investment volumes, since by the end of 2021, semiconductors represented US$50 billion of the Total Automotive Marker (TAM). By 2030, that would more than double to US$115 billion.

In his previous collaborations with MBN as an Expert Contributor, Cardona has already made clear the role that semiconductor innovators like Intel will play in a post-pandemic future, with the automotive industry reaping part of the benefits: “The development and implementation of emerging technologies such as AI, advanced data analytics or 5G telecommunications networks has the potential to enrich businesses of all sizes in practically all industries.”

The use of semiconductors has gradually evolved in automotive production, with the first step in complete digitization having already been achieved, according to Cardona. “There needs to be an omnipresence of computers and computing components in automotive products; that part has certainly been achieved.” After that, the industry must focus on ensuring connectivity between all of these computers and systems. The third step is to have the mechanisms in place to make sure that all the data being generated by these connected devices is making its way to cloud storage and processing, which Intel has enhanced with Smart Edge solutions. “Finally, you have to make sure that artificial intelligence is ready to take on the decision-making processes that will enable autonomous vehicles.”

Autonomous technologies need innovation but they also need time and resources to ensure the presence of entirely new standards and regulations, a challenge of equal if not larger magnitude, according to Cardona. These would also spur the development of new business models. “One of the best examples of this is the change in farming technology. While most tractors in the world are still mechanical, automated vehicles able to make their own calculations in terms of crop distribution and yield predictions are growing. Soon, they might be the only vehicles you see in the fields and their global presence will require each country to develop new normative and regulatory environments,” said Cardona.

New technologies to address current and future challenges are already being developed by companies like Mobileye, a tech startup focused on software and hardware for AVs acquired by Intel, which is currently implementing its technologies in over 88 million vehicles. These AVs have been tested in extreme driving environments, such as India and New York. “We wanted to test these vehicles in these environments because we want to prove not only that they are usable but that they can make roads safer. India, in terms of road safety, is an extreme case at a global level. An average of 17 people die every day in automotive accidents and 11 percent of highway deaths happen in India despite the county housing only 1 percent of the world’s highway vehicles.”

Robotaxis are expected to be deployed commercially next year depending on the evolution of the artificial intelligence’s safety standards and the perception of regulatory authorities. Companies continue to improve their technology and artificial intelligence systems are also trained to ensure the highest degrees of safety. “When an AV sees its view of a walkway blocked, it acts on the assumption that there is a person crossing that walkway that it cannot see and it slows down immediately until it can confirm this. These are the kinds of priorities that we want these technologies to have.”

Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst