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Automotive Opportunities Present New Challenges for IC Verification

By Matthew Hogan, Mentor Graphics

The automotive electronic landscape is changing. Some of the changes are being driven by an increase in the number of safety and critical systems controlled by electronic control units (ECUs) [1], while others are from the explosion in in-vehicle infotainment systems. Back in 2009, it was estimated that even low-end cars had 30-50 ECUs [2], driving not only the complexity of the underlying hardware platform, but also that of the software used to control complex user interactions.

Some plans aimed at improving safety require complex systems to interact not only within a single vehicle, but also in concert with the surrounding traffic. One such system is the upcoming proposal (requirement?) of the US Department of Transport (DOT) to mandate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications [3] [4]. Many positioning pieces have been written on this topic, both for and against [5] [6] [7], expressing not only privacy concerns, but also technical challenges on product feasibility and implementation within such a short time. A number of established automotive partners have already begun research in this area [8] [9], working in tandem with the US government.

A common theme for these safety systems involves increasingly complex integrated circuits (ICs) and the need for exceptional reliability. While in-vehicle infotainment systems need high-reliability IC designs as well, out-of-specification performance for these ICs results in customer inconvenience (sometimes significant), but not the degree of concern felt if an air-bag controller, brake sensor, or other critical operational IC should fail. The harsh environment present in automotive electronics [10], combined with the high reliability expectations required for verification of these ICs [11], provides additional design and verification challenges that may not be of concern when designing and developing ICs used in gentler or less demanding scenarios. One common example where reliability in electrical overstress (EOS) environments plays an important role is protection and verification against time-dependent dielectric breakdown (TDDB) in interconnects (often called voltage-aware DRC [12]), or providing additional protection in the form of guard rings around devices to prevent possible latch-up scenarios. Both types of issues require larger design areas to avoid failure, but both are critical to mitigate in high reliability IC designs.

Understanding the reliability needs of these ICs can be challenging, particularly for companies just entering this market. Presently, the automotive market seems very attractive, with high growth and IC requirements for multiple new application areas. Questions on which electrostatic discharge (ESD) or EOS compliance standards need to be met are often answered in standards documents. What’s not exposed are the challenges, design trade-offs, and best practices used to achieve these standards. Speaking for myself, I have found that interactions with individuals who are experienced in these fields provide the greatest insight on many of these topics. IEEE conferences are one place where these experts congregate; another, somewhat less-tapped resource is that of “workshops.” These are often smaller events with a narrowly focused topic field. Two such upcoming workshops include the International Integrated Reliability Workshop (IIRW) [13] and the International Electrostatic Discharge Workshop (IEW) [14] [15]. The latter deals with more than just ESD (as its name might imply), including EOS and other issues ranging from IC design, test, and implementation all the way from the device to the entire system. Full disclosure, I am the general chair of the upcoming 2015 IEW event.

This is a time of incredible change in the systems and number of ICs used in our automotive vehicles. New players entering the marketplace, together with new expectations of how cars are built and driven, present an exciting time for those involved in the design, development, and verification of the ICs used in these systems. Everything from driver safety aids to “driver-less” cars is being implemented and trialed. How fast will new capabilities emerge, and how quickly do you think we will progress? How do you see the adoption of these new systems going mainstream, given the complexity and reliability verification challenges you see ahead? It will certainly be an exhilarating and interesting time!













[12] Using Static Voltage Analysis and Voltage-Aware DRC to Identify EOS and Oxide Breakdown Reliability Issues, 2013 EOS/ESD Symposium, Matthew Hogan, Sridhar Srinivasan, Dina Medhat, Ziyang Lu, Mark Hofmann,




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