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Many of us have lived through a series of electronic industry growth spurts: from radios to TV and then to high-definition home theater; from vinyl records to cassettes to DVDs; from simple four-function calculators to today’s powerful PCs; from Pong and Atari games to today’s X-Box, PlayStation and monster gaming computers. Each of these and other segments rely on advances in electronic technology design and manufacture and each of them spurs growth in the industry. One other such segment has also added to the scope of the industry and that segment is automotive electronics.
We started with AM and then FM radios, then full stereo systems complete with tape, then disk, then SSD storage; we added speed control then GPS, and then mapping. The higher-end vehicles now have collision and obstruction warning, back-up cameras, driver fatigue warning, maintenance and component failure warning and some have self-parking that actually works—well. But in the automotive segment, as the man once said, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
First of all, the devices we have come to expect in luxury and high-end vehicles are now becoming available and even common in lower priced ones. That alone will significantly increase automotive electronic device manufacture volume. The next wave, however, will dwarf what we have experienced to date. Soon, we will be considering the self-driving, fully connected and self-learning vehicle that is part of a network that teaches and learns from its peers. Controlling your own car in a traffic jam may soon become a thing of the past, and that is only the next step. The rapidly moving world of auto connectivity is moving more quickly than the typical four- to five-year development cycle of new cars. Because of this, carmakers cannot keep up with the overall development and progress regarding the capability and power of electronic components and systems. For years, automakers resisted this, but that’s changing. Industry experts say their surveys indicate most consumers think that's OK, as they want their car to act as an extension of their phone for music, contacts, navigation, and more.
As the I-Connect007 group has increased its consumer electronics coverage over the last year, we have come to realize that our readers are very interested in many aspects of the end-user market. Cell phones, tablets and PCs of course and now also drones, sports cams, etc., but also the new and rapidly advancing fields of advanced automotive electronics (and not just GPS and Bluetooth cell phone connectivity) are topics that have garnered a great deal of interest; but what is coming in automotive electronics has the potential to eventually dwarf them all. The road will be long, however, due to the life cycle of a vehicle being significantly longer than a cell phone or tablet. And yet, one has to ask how long before it is no longer cool to replace your phone every few years, but keep it over a reasonable life cycle just as you do your car.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of The PCB Magazine.