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Samsung 5nm Fab Tech for Ambarella ADAS Controllers

Cutting-edge fabrication technology from Samsung brings Ambarella's ADAS system-on-chip to the forefront of technology.

Dan Carney

March 28, 2023

6 Min Read

As the world economy attempted to sputter back to life following the Covid-19 shutdown, carmakers suffered particularly acute semiconductor shortages.

Some of this was due to simple allocation issues, as consumer electronics companies grabbed available semiconductor foundry capacity when carmakers cancelled orders early in the pandemic. Some of this was attributed to carmakers’ reliance on older semiconductor technology that used larger-scale lithography than the latest consumer electronics products.

If that was the case, automotive semiconductor supplier Ambarella will have no such concerns, as the company has contracted Samsung Electronics to make its new CV3-AD685 system-on-chip (SoC) for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) using leading-edge 5-namometer technology. This processor promises a single-chip solution for multi-sensor fusion and autonomous vehicle path planning.

Samsung boasts that its 5nm process technology is optimized for automotive-grade semiconductors, with extremely tight process controls and advanced IP for exceptional reliability and outstanding traceability.   

“Ambarella and Samsung Foundry have a rich history of collaboration, and we are excited to bring their world-class 5nm technology to our new CV3-AD685 SoCs,” said Fermi Wang, President and CEO at Ambarella. “Samsung’s proven automotive process technology allows us to bring new levels of AI acceleration, systems integration, and power efficiency to ADAS and L2+ through L4 autonomous vehicles.” 

Design News thought it might be good to ask Marco Chisari, Executive Vice President of Samsung Semiconductor Innovation Center (SSIC) and Foundry Business in the United States, about the potential benefits of building the ADAS SoCs using its advanced foundry technology.

Design News: What makes this Samsung fabrication technology ideal for an AI controller? 

Marco Chisari: Flexibility. AI architectures for cars are changing, from distributed to domain-based to centralized controllers and the fabrication process technology needs to accommodate for these needs. Samsung offers a broad range of process technologies to give applications the balance of performance, reliability, safety, and quality needed for these applications. 

Samsung Foundry manufactures ADAS and AI Domain Controllers on EUV-based Advanced FinFET technology and optimized IPs for top fabless companies with highly trained know-how to implement them in automotive systems. Samsung’s technology is ideal as it offers the PPA (performance, power, and area) and specific industry standards in multiple process nodes needed to address today's and the next generation of AI controllers.

DN: When will these chips start being delivered? 

Marco Chisari: Advanced chips for the automotive industry are already in mass production. Samsung has long been in the automotive market providing chips to the industry.  More recently we have shipped chips in 14nm and 8nm in mass production, while the most advanced have moved to the 5nm automotive process. As the industry continues to develop and the requirements increase, we evolve our technologies to provide the latest and greatest support to new generations of AI domain controllers. We also recently announced the development of our 4nm process to support the next generation of automotive requirements. 

Design News; During the supply chain crunch, there was talk of how automotive products were reliant on older fabrication technology. Does moving these controllers to 5nm technology help keep Ambarella on the leading edge of chip technology? 

Marco Chisari: Clearly, the supply chain did not help anyone in the industry. Yet, the move to 5nm and beyond is a sign of the times as with any industry. Driven not so much by the supply chain, but by the natural growth and demand from the market. Like all key growth industries, technology migration is driven by data and the car is no different. The car has at times been referred to as just a smartphone-on-wheels. The new perspective is it is a datacenter-on-wheels and AI chips like this just re-enforce this notion. The need for greater capabilities is driving the move toward more advanced technologies and Samsung Foundry is working with leading-edge companies like Ambarella to help deliver these solutions.

The trend of dozens of low-cost modules, with smaller MCUs for every option needed in a car, are giving way to a lesser number that run on more powerful Domain Controllers. These lower-cost MCUs are primarily on traditional planar semiconductor technology, whereas Domain Controllers are being developed on Advanced FinFET technology. AI Domain Controllers are a high-performance computing application that require leading-edge process technologies. 

Although not immune to the effects of the supply chain crunch, being at leading-edge technology such as 5nm has also helped a number of customers stay in a leading-edge market position. Samsung Foundry customers benefit in scaling-down technology that brings higher performance at lower power with less silicon area. 

DN: Are there benefits of scale when using 5nm tech that lets Samsung make more chips from each wafer? 

Marco Chisari: Samsung extracts the benefits of scaling from one process technology to the next but is only one part of the solution we have to deliver to customers. Scaling is not enough in itself and we optimize the process with finer metal pitch, tighter diffusion breaks, and even FinFET contacts over active logic, just to name a few.

We continually work to give our customers all the benefits of scaling and more to deliver the flexibility they need to achieve the next generation of chips. 

Samsung Foundry 5nm technology scales down with process optimizations (e.g., finer metal pitch, tighter diffusion breaks, closer FinFET contacts) and scales out with SAFE (Samsung Advanced Foundry Ecosystem) partner IPs and designs to make the most of each customer’s wafers.

Customers can adjust these and other parameters for an optimal PPAC (performance, power, area, and cost) that meets their design criteria. Given the nature of AI workloads, there is a tendency to increase die size to enable greater computing power such that the emphasis tends to be on increasing computing power per unit area. Samsung Foundry’s 5nm technology offers more scaling that helps enable greater computing power in the same given unit area.  

DN: What other benefits are there of using this technology for automotive components? 

Marco Chisari: For components in cars, it is not just about the technology but about the mindset. You need to have an automotive mindset and that is really the value and benefit in partnering with Samsung Foundry. The technology is a key part, but it really is about solutions and the customer experience, from having an automotive tool flow, to IPs, to having the foundation of ISO 26262, to AEC-Q100, to working with people that understand the challenges. Automotive is more challenging than consumer. 

True design for automotive begins with automotive-centric process technologies that go beyond what is required for consumer electronics and other applications. Samsung provides customers a comprehensive set of IPs and available ASIC services to enable their latest innovations for the automotive market. 

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