What Is A Semiconductor & What Is Its Use In Cars?

Educational

Feb 01st, 2021

What Is A Semiconductor & What Is Its Use In Cars?

Semiconductors form a significant pillar in today's information technology (IT). It's been critical to the continuous advancement of inventions like the light bulb, telephone, wireless telegraphy, and computers. 

The automobile industry isn't left out either. It's not an exaggeration to say that semiconductors are the underpinning of the rapid improvement that we see in car performance today. If you own a car, you might want to know some basic facts about semiconductors and decipher their benefits as they relate to vehicles and automobiles. It must be your lucky day because this article is all about that. 

What is a semiconductor?

Also called integrated circuits or microchips, semiconductors are materials (often solid chemical components) that partially conduct electricity. That's why it's called a semiconductor. In essence, under some conditions, a semiconductor will conduct electricity, but it won't do the same under other circumstances. 

This is because a semiconductor's conductivity falls between an insulator (a material that doesn't allow the passage of energy) and that of a conductor (which allows free passage of energy.) This property is what makes them ideal for controlling electrical current.

The materials from which most semiconductors are made include pure elements like germanium and silicon, the most popular. Compounds like gallium arsenide can also be used as semiconductors. 

When small quantities of dopants or impurities are introduced into these pure elements during a process known as doping, it causes the material's conductivity to change drastically. 

Semiconductors are useful in manufacturing different electronic devices, including phones, computers, televisions, LED bulbs, digital cameras, transistors, and vehicles. Many of these devices are popularly used because they are reliable, compact, power-efficient, and low cost—qualities that may not be achievable without semiconductors.

What are the uses of a semiconductor in a car? 

The automotive industry has so evolved that, today, cars are almost like computers on wheels. Think about it. Many modern vehicles now come with autonomous driving aids, heads-up displays, cell phone integration, and high performance. Don't you ever wonder how this has been possible?

Amongst other things, we have semiconductors to thank for these refinements. In fact, semiconductors are fueling the majority of the innovations in vehicle advancement and development. Now that the world has become more technology conscious, the demand for automotive semiconductors is at its peak, and it's all because they're incredibly useful.

What are semiconductors used for in cars?

1. Vehicle Electrification

Semiconductors make it possible to replace mechanical systems with electric systems. This is what they've helped achieve with electric vehicles. Not only that, advancement in the semiconductor industry increases the possibility of creating EVs with longer battery life. 

Meanwhile, as this technology enhances electric vehicles' logistical appeal, it also prepares a ripe market for semiconductor manufacturers. This is especially so because vehicle electrification is also the key to reducing carbon emissions, increasing vehicle efficiency, and minimising oil dependency. People are eager to become part of this revolution.

2. Driver's Assistance

There's been a strong demand for driver assistance systems, ensuring that more advanced semiconductors are incorporated into cars. Manufacturers are now fortifying cars with safety electronics that help drivers stay in their lane and monitor objects when backing up. Also, chips with built-in intelligence help send signals to the airbags in a vehicle whenever it's time for them to deploy. All these are made possible through semiconductors. 

3. Connectivity

Cars nowadays are more appealing and connected than they used to be 50 years ago. For instance, most new vehicles come with computer systems that operate more than a hundred million software code lines. Cars now incorporate a range of infotainment and telematics capabilities, and this is what transforms vehicles into mobile hotspots. Plus, it gives drivers information about avoiding collisions and free parking spot locations. Semiconductors make this possible.

4. Safety

Semiconductors are also very helpful in meeting safety regulations. It enables intelligent functions like blind spot detection, back-up cameras, lane change assist, adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking systems. Each of these systems requires semiconductors to work.

What automotive systems are affected by semiconductors? 

Semiconductors provide power for battery management, in-car entertainment, driver assistance systems, and much more. They are behind everything from connectivity platforms to mapping applications, graphics processing systems, and advanced driver warning systems. It is therefore not surprising that a standard vehicle can have $330 worth of semiconductor content. On the other hand, hybrid electric cars have between $1,000 and $3,500 value of semiconductors.

Conclusion

Innovative trends in vehicles and automotive semiconductors will continue. One can only imagine what the cars of the future will look like. Hopefully, this post has given you insights into the critical function of semiconductors in automobiles today, as well as the role they are likely to play in the future. 

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By Damilare Olasinde