Global AV & Advanced Driver Assistance Efforts Gain Momentum

Fully AVs (Autonomous Vehicles, a.k.a., Driverless Vehicles and ADS/ADAS advanced driver assistance systems) are still works in progress with different global proponents pushing competing technologies and strategies. Technical hurdles certainly remain as do legislative agendas to control the AVs or near-AV ADS vehicles already roaming some of the streets worldwide in tests.

Until AVs are around in large numbers, however, we will likely see more assisted driving ADS vehicles that require the driver to pay attention and intervene as needed per the vehicle’s rules. For ADS, some carmakers are looking at implementing head-up displays (HUDs) on the windshields, much like some military fighter and commercial aircraft pilots have had for some time. This permits critical information such as speed or warnings to be displayed without drivers taking their eyes off the roads and nearby traffic. Unlike military or commercial aircraft applications, HUD costs will certainly be major considerations in vehicles. Of course HUDs could evolve much like TVs where the old grainy pictures of the past have evolved into affordable HDTV and 4K HDTVs—incredible resolution at prices that keep dropping.

Caption: The NXP S32 Auto Processing Platform


NXP Semiconductors N.V., one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive semiconductors, has a control and computer system for connected, electric and autonomous cars. The NXP S32 platform claims to be the world’s first fully-scalable automotive computing architecture. Soon to be adopted by some premium and volume automotive brands, it offers a unified architecture of microcontrollers/microprocessors (MCUs/MPUs) and an identical software environment across application platforms.

This system addresses the challenges of future car development with an architecture that allows carmakers to provide custom in-vehicle experiences while bringing automated driving functions to market much faster than before.

“Traditional and disruptive automakers, even more than Tier ones, seek a standardized way of working across vehicle domains, segments and regions to meet increasing performance demands while contemporarily ensuring fast time to market and control over skyrocketing development costs,” said Luca DeAmbroggi, senior principal analyst, Automotive Electronics & Semiconductors at IHS Markit in London. “A common architecture and a scalable approach can cut development time for critical applications in domains like ADAS, autonomous driving or connectivity from both the HW and the SW perspective.”

Vehicle Automation—AI Enabled

AI itself is getting much smarter as a recent MIT Technology Review news item explained. “AlphaGo Zero Shows Machines Can Become Superhuman Without Any Help. It explains that AlphaGo wasn’t the best Go player on the planet for very long. A new version of the masterful AI program has emerged, and it’s a monster. In a head-to-head matchup, AlphaGo Zero defeated the original program by 100 games to none.

“What’s really cool is how AlphaGo Zero did it. Whereas the original AlphaGo learned by ingesting data from hundreds of thousands of games played by human experts, AlphaGo Zero, also developed by the Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind, started with nothing but a blank board and the rules of the game. It learned simply by playing millions of games against itself, using what it learned in each game to improve.

“The new program represents a step forward in the quest to build machines that are truly intelligent. That’s because machines will need to figure out solutions to difficult problems even when there isn’t a large amount of training data to learn from,” per the Technology Review description.

Machines that are aware and learn are not new but this iteration is very impressive. Since AI and Machine Learning (ML) are essential for advanced AVs, this may accelerate their mastering the challenges and produce more road-worth systems soon.

Massive AV and AI Investments

What casual observers may fail to realize is just how many huge corporations are making multibillion dollar investments to get an early adopter advantage. Every major automaker needs AVs. All automakers worldwide are looking for what will work plus the tech firms that are hoping to lock in the next Windows, macOS/iOS, Linux OS or other competitive computer systems for these vehicles.

We may well see a mix of systems as we do with computers now but all must comply with driving rules and regulations—current and planned. There are certainly considerably different driving rules in various countries so one system may not work everywhere.

Large countries, China for instance, has terrible air pollution problems caused primarily by automobiles and power plants. China is really pushing photovoltaic solar panel production and implementation for several reasons: it is a clean non-polluting energy source and their manufacturing and installation expertise opens worldwide market opportunities.

China is making a big push towards electric vehicles (EVs) that will use photovoltaic recharging. If you are already going EV, why not use this transition as the ideal time to automate traffic flow and eliminate the problems of pollution, congestion, gridlock and accidents at the same time?

How serious is China about AI? The country has a development plan to become the world leader in AI by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion.

Smart Connected Cars (SCCs)

NXP Semiconductors, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and the China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s Subsidiary CAICT in Shenzhen recently signed a strategic cooperation agreement on Smart Connected Cars (SCCs). NXP was granted Official Pilot Company Status for Intelligent Transportation and Securely Connected Vehicles in China. CAICT is a subsidiary of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the agreement will foster innovation in intelligent transportation and securely connected vehicles. CAICT was appointed by MIIT as project lead for the “Sino-German Intelligent Manufacturing Cooperation program” in 2016.

The CAICT-NXP partnership is focusing on strategic research and development, the development of standards, quality and testing, and talent exchange. It aims to advance China’s car industry with secure connectivity and infrastructure solutions, such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications for smarter traffic.

The two parties will work on state-of-the-art networking technology and product development, while jointly promoting international standards across automotive applications such as information service terminals, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and other automotive networking applications.

“Every year, 1.3 million people die in road accidents around the globe. The implementation of V2X and other intelligent transport systems will significantly reduce accidents, hours spent in traffic jams and CO2 emissions in China. However, safe and secure mobility can only come to life if there’s a commitment to collaboration. NXP is honored to be appointed as official collaboration company in the pilots, jointly working on this high-impact societal change. We look forward to supporting the transformation of the Chinese automobile industry by providing advanced secure connection and infrastructure solutions for a smarter life,” said Kurt Sievers, NXP Executive Vice President and General Manager of BU Automotive.

Next time: The AV discussion continues with some AI downsides.

Sputter Deposition of Thin Films: Introduction

Sputtering, in its simplest form, is the ejection of atoms by the bombardment of a solid or liquid target by energetic particles, mostly ions. It results from collisions between the incident energetic particles, and/or resultant recoil atoms, with surface atoms. One of the major advantages of this process is that sputter-ejected atoms have kinetic energies significantly larger than evaporated materials. The growing film is subjected to a number of energetic species from the plasma. Figure 1 shows a comparison of the energetics of thermal evaporation and sputtering processes for Cu [1]. Figure 2 shows the general sputtering process. In this process, atoms or molecules of a solid material (a target or sputtering source) are ejected into a gas form or plasma due to bombardment of the material by energetic gas ions and deposited on a substrate above or to the side of the target. A vacuum is required to initiate a plasma whose ions bombard the target. The sputtering process is essentially a momentum exchange, shown in Figure 3 [2], between the gas ions; the more intense and concentrated the plasma in the region of the target, the higher the atom removal rate (or deposition rate). The number of atoms ejected per incident ion is called the sputtering yield, and is dependent on the energy of the incident ion. A measure of the removal rate of surface atoms is the sputter yield Y, defined as the ratio between the number of sputter ejected atoms and the number of incident projectiles. The mass of the ion is important compared to the mass of the atoms in the target. Momentum transfer is more efficient if the masses are similar. Inert gases are used to generate the plasma. The most common (and cheapest) sputtering gas is argon (Ar), followed by krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), neon (Ne), and nitrogen (N2). There will be negligible sputtering with light atomic weight gases such as hydrogen and helium. Reactive gases typically used are oxygen (O2), nitrogen, fluorine (F), hydrogen (H2), and hydrocarbons (methane, butane, etc.).

Figure 1. Comparison of thermal energy distributions for Cu evaporated at 1300 K and energy distribution of sputtered Cu [1]

The major sputtering techniques are diode, planar magnetron, cylindrical magnetron, high power impulse magnetron, and ion beam sputtering. All these methods have a number of variations. Diode sputtering, shown in Figure 2, is the simplest configuration of this family. Both RF (poorly conductive targets) and DC (conductive targets) power is applied to the sputtering target. This type of sputtering is typically performed at higher chamber pressures than its cousins, 0.5 to 10 Pa (5 X 10-3 – 0.1 torr). Substrate heating is often required to obtain high quality adherent films. RF sputtering has the advantage of higher deposition rates and a wider range of materials that can be deposited. Both methods, however, can be used for reactive deposition. As with all sputtering processes, deposition rate depends on a number of factors, such as chamber pressure, power to the target and substrate target spacing.

Figure 2. Diagram of the sputtering process.


Figure 3. Diagram showing momentum exchange in the target during the sputtering process [2].

As the name implies, planar magnetron sputtering in its simplest form utilizes a flat sputtering target in a cathode enclosure. Magnetron targets can be as small as 1 inch or as large as several meters. Figure 4 shows the geometry of a basic planar magnetron cathode. Magnets (called magnetics) are placed under the target in various configurations to confine the plasma or spread the plasma above the region of the target. The magnetic lines of force focus the charged gas atoms (ions). The stronger the magnetic field, the more confined the plasma will be (consequences are discussed below). The magnetics focus the plasma at the surface of the target and an erosion pattern, commonly called a “racetrack”, is formed as sputtering proceeds. Magnet configuration is different for planar circular, planar rectangular, external and internal cylindrical magnetrons. Figure 5 shows an erosion pattern of a conventional planar magnetron cathode. This pattern is narrow and materials usage was poor, but second and third generation magnetrons use target material much more efficiently. Target utilization of cylindrical magnetrons can be as high as 80%. Other designs such as a rotating circular magnetrons and full face erosion magnetrons also have high target utilization.

Figure 4. Magnet geometry in a planar magnetron cathode.


Figure 5. Erosion racetrack in a magnetron sputtering target.


The advantages of magnetron sputtering are:

  • Wide range of materials can be deposited
  • DC and RF reactive processes possible
  • Lower chamber pressures
  • Higher deposition rates than diode sputtering processes
  • Dense, high quality thin films
  • Large areas can be covered
  • Good thickness uniformity
  • Substrate heating not required in many cases
  • Amenable to a wide range of substrates, including plastics
  • Deposition conditions easily controlled
  • Several cathode configurations possible


Disadvantages are:

  • Poor materials usage (this is improving with modern cathode designs)
  • Lower deposition rates than electron beam evaporation, ion beam sputtering, cathodic arc and CVD processes


The next Blog will address other magnetron designs and applications.



  1. Handbook of Deposition Technologies for Films and Coatings, 3rd Ed., P M Martin Ed., Elsevier (2009).
  2. Handbook of Deposition Technologies for Films and Coatings, R. Bunshaw Ed., Noyes (1994).