Since 1996, C.D. Tam has been senior vice president and general manager of the Transportation Systems Group of Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector. Tam joined Motorola in 1969 after teaching physics at Lincoln College in Hong Kong. He was promoted from applications engineer to business manager for discrete components in 1976, then became general manager of Asia-Pacific Marketing Operations in 1980. Later in 1980, Tam was elected to vice president and general manager of the Asia-Pacific Semiconductor Div. In 1988, Tam added corporate vice president to his list of titles. Since moving to Austin, he has amassed a growing collection of speeding tickets.
Eventually, semiconductors will replace most mechanical car systems, says Tam--even hydraulic systems.
Design News: What new automotive features are semiconductors enabling today?
Tam: Semiconductors have enabled four major trends in the automotive market: engine control, safety features, vehicle personalization, and connecting the car to the world of communications through the Internet, cell phones, and GPS units. This last trend is known as telematics.
Q: What new features can we look forward to in 10 years?
A: In the next 10 years a car will be programmable and a communications device. When you walk toward your car, your smart car key will program your seat and rear mirror, select your favorite radio station, or read your voice-based e-mail. Your engine will be more powerful, less polluting, and more efficient. Most maintenance will be done by software downloaded through the telematics system. You'll be able to order engine upgrades through software changes and charge them to your credit card--all electronically. Our embedded flash microcontrollers are key to enabling these new features. A car is becoming semiconductors and software running on wheels.
Q: What characteristics should an engineer look for in a chip before designing it into a car?
A: When an engineer evaluates a system chip, he should pay key attention to the chip system architecture; the security and robustness of embedded nonvolatile memory, such as flash devices; peripheral control blocks; and development tools. When you have to write thousands and thousands of lines of code, good development tools are a must.
Q: What challenges does the automotive environment pose for chip designers such as Motorola?
A: We have to understand more and more of our customers' system needs. Our solutions must meet the system needs, both hardware and software, as ultra-large-scale integration continues. Further, chips must be designed to operate under the most stringent temperature ranges and harsh environments without failure.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to the increasing use of electronics to control traditionally mechanical systems, such as braking and steering, in cars?
A: The last frontier will be the replacement of hydraulic systems in the car with semiconductor/electric motor systems. This will not take place until a new 14/42V system is in the car, which is a very hot topic now in automotive engineering. It will happen, even though it will take some time. Today most cars have more sensors, microcontrollers, and SMARTMOS systems than a PC. They are embedded and not as visible, though. An example is the Mercedes E Class car, which has more than 30 microcontrollers! The new S Class car coming soon has even more.
Q: Are automakers starting to use more integrated, higher-end chips in cars? What's driving this trend?
A: Several areas are driving the trend toward higher-end chips in cars. The continuing demands for performance with lower emissions and greater fuel efficiency place higher demands on CPU performance with advanced engine controllers using algorithmic-based control. The safety requirements of redundancy and multiple sensor input and processing increase the demands for peripherals on chips.
Q: How does Motorola plan to stay the top supplier of silicon to the world's automotive makers?
A: After the Motorola Semiconductor Sector restructure last year, a Transportation Systems Group was created to focus on the automotive market. Its mission is to continue to advance as the top supplier of semiconductors to the world's automotive makers. This group is structured around Powertrain, Safety and Chassis, Body Electronics, and Telematics systems. By understanding and listening to our customers' system needs, we will create more efficient devices, while integrating them into systems chips for future applications.
Q: On a more personal note, why do you drive so fast?
A: Speed is a crucial quality in delivering solutions to the automotive industry.