Image credit: Murata
In this interview, technical staff from Murata discuss with Ian Dickson about the importance of robust testing and outline their vision for the autonomous vehicle industry. Download the full report to read all our sponsor interviews.
Hackl: There's a lot going on in the autonomous vehicle industry these days; lots of development and testing. Many manufacturers (OEMs) and many tech companies are involved. Recently, there were also many news about OEMs collaborating with IC companies and even Tier 1s. Focusing on what's happening on the road today, you can see Level 2 (partial automation) or Level 2+ (L2 with enhanced ADAS) cars, additionally to the “standard” cars with no (Level 0) or just simple ADAS functions (Level 1).
There are also instances where Level 3 (conditional automation) has been granted. For example, the Mercedes S-Class has been granted L3 autonomous driving in Germany end of 2021 (with market release in spring 2022) and since early this year also in the US in some regions, under certain conditions. This still faces some challenges, but maybe we can discuss them later. As for Level 4 (high automation) or more highly autonomous driving, these would be found in robotaxis, operating now for example, in San Francisco, California.
These driverless cars have been allowed to operate 24/7. However, just recently, it was announced that there will be a limit on the number of driverless cars allowed to operate in San Francisco due to an accident, where an autonomous vehicle collided with a fire truck. As a result, they reduced the number of autonomous vehicles allowed to operate to fifty per day (and 150 during nighttime). Basically, you can see there are still some limitations to using autonomous vehicles and operating them.
Takura: I’d like to add something here. In terms of the mindset, you can see quite a difference between Europe, the US, and China. I joined a conference in the US a month ago. The feeling was that Level 4 or Level 5 cars would be on the road in about two years. The acceptance and belief in this is quite amazing compared to the mindset here in Europe. In China, for sure, they want to go even further. I mean, they want to take initiatives to be world leaders technology-wise. The willingness to develop faster is quite different from what you see in Europe, which is quite interesting.
Hackl: Well, as a component manufacturer, Murata can be found in various sensors like cameras, LiDAR, RADAR, etc…and also in ECUs - the brains of the vehicle. For example, for a Level 3 car equipped with all the sensors and technologies needed for safe driving, Murata could provide up to 8,000 components, including passive components like capacitors, inductors, and thermistors. These cover just the ADAS functions. As for electrification, an electrified car or a connected car would have many more components, like our Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules.
Takura: The number of components has been really, really increasing quite a lot. At first, there used to be about 1,000 components or so. The combustion engine didn't have an ADAS system. Our main business for automotive is IVI (in-vehicle infotainment), but the number of components has been increasing rapidly from about 1,000 to an expected 15,000 or even 20,000 components per car for EVs with ADAS functions in the next 3-4 years. That's a significant change.
Hackl: There are many challenges. One is, of course, regulations. Each region and country has its own regulations. In the US, it's even more fragmented than here in Europe, where, I believe, it seems quite good, as we have particular regulations that allow autonomous driving under certain conditions. But there are also technical challenges to consider. You need to have redundancy and fail-safe operation of sensors as they work together. There are infrastructure needs where you would need to ensure the communication between the sensors and also between vehicles.
With that, safety concerns arise. Generally, you need to ensure that the sensors are working well under all conditions, no matter what the weather is or what may happen during operation. This also leads to other issues to consider, such as ethical concerns, legal issues, and consumer acceptance. Basically, there are a lot of challenges to be addressed, not to mention that people also need to feel safe while using an autonomous vehicle. Of course, each manufacturer has to address such challenges carefully.
As for Murata’s involvement, we are mainly component-oriented, but we also communicate and collaborate with a lot of partners and industry players. We keep aware of what they need and we also contribute to the safety concerns. In the end, it's more on the side of the vehicle manufacturers and tech companies to ensure and spread the acceptance of safe autonomous driving.
Furthermore, Murata also contributes to the trend in the automotive industry towards size and weight reduction by downsizing the sensors or ECUs. In fact, about 90% of autonomous miles in California are already supported by Murata’s inertial measurement units (IMUs).
Takura: There are many tests for autonomous driving over there in California, like what Waymo and some others are doing. They of course need high accuracy and high performance. Murata’s IMU is a dead-reckoning sensor, and customers need such a high-accuracy solution, especially to ensure safety in this market. When the market develops in a later stage, the entire system may mature, and thus the number of sensors could be reduced a bit, but accuracy remains the key, anyway. That’s why we believe that companies will keep selecting our solutions.
Hackl: As I mentioned earlier, we read in the news all the time that Qualcomm is collaborating with this OEM or with that OEM...Tier 1s are working with this OEM and providing this and that. Partnerships and collaborations play a crucial role here in evolving autonomous vehicles and combining the strengths of each party. Murata is, of course, in contact with all of these stakeholders to have a better outline of the ecosystem, what's going on in the market, and to also be able to provide the best solutions. One collaboration, for example, is with system integrators like Nordic Inertial.
Murakami: With regards to Nordic Inertial, we invested in this company because they focus on the algorithm along with how to use our sensor inside of a vehicle. For future autonomous driving, algorithm understanding is one of the key aspects, and this is more easily achieved using our high-performance sensor. This is just the start. In the future, we'd like to do such collaborations with other players in the market in order to establish the value of the Murata sensor in the market.
Takura: Speaking about the general autonomous driving market, collaborations aimed at software development are really important for our customers, especially OEMs. This is quite common, but for Murata specifically, we collaborate with software companies and system integrators to be an integral part of the ecosystem of autonomous vehicle customers.
Hackl: Our most important philosophy is to provide high-quality products. We believe that's one of the main reasons Murata is chosen and what we are well-known for. Of course, we will continue to keep developing these cutting-edge products with high quality while also adapting to the market needs and trends.
In the future, we would also like to go more into the solution business by working together with OEMs, IC design houses, and system integrators. Through our module and mobile phone business, we already have a good relationship with IC makers, so we can build on that.
Hackl: Of course, we will continue to go along with the downsizing trend, but we also want to focus more on the application itself and not just on a single product. We aim to become a solution provider, specifically in terms of the sensor portfolio, and then be able to provide our customers with a concrete solution instead of just a single capacitor, inductor, etc.
Takura: Yes, speaking of sensors, we were an element supplier for ultrasonic sensors. We can be a module supplier. With algorithm, we can also become part of a system supplier. In the coming years, we want to be more integrated with the module, with algorithm, as a solution provider. That's one of the sensor trends for the upcoming years. [TH2]
Murakami: A little bit back to the basic things. Murata is a unique company. Product manufacturing is key. At Murata, we distinctly focus on manufacturing processes on our premises. Why? Simply, to make a high-quality product, we need to fully understand material and how to manufacture the product, and the best way to do so is to have the manufacturing site on company premises in order to have complete clarity of the manufacturing process. That is a key philosophy of Murata’s. Murata sticks to manufacturing. That is why it’s called Murata Manufacturing.
While many companies create their designs and miniaturized products without fully understanding the key parameter of manufacturing, Murata provides the manufacturing on its premises. This is one of our major advantages. Murata enables miniaturization with high-quality manufacturing of high-performance components. Even though the market requires cost reduction, quality remains the number-one priority, and Murata proudly provides that.
Hackl: To address the challenge for sensors to perform in all weather conditions, we are currently developing an ultrasonic cleaning device that keeps devices clean and reliable. The main focus for this product is the camera application, but it could also be adapted in the future to other systems, like LiDAR, for example.
Takura: Well, while we're not a system supplier, maybe I can answer you from our passive-component-supplier viewpoint. One way we are contributing to data processing quality and speed is with our noise filters, which help reduce noise and smoothen the data processing. We've been working with standard bodies to apply these products to areas like Controller Area Networks (CANs) and ethernet. Based on the corresponding requirements, we collaborate with OEM customers and make sure that even small components they need to qualify can be used properly, as these will contribute to better their gateway performance.
That's one example. Of course, talking about ADAS ECU, and high-speed processing, as Theresa already explained, we've been working with known semiconductor companies. These companies need thousands of components for their chipsets. We support their design activity as a passive component supplier.
Murakami: Of course, there are basic things. In Murata, we comply with the quality requirements and standards, like ISO and IATF. We also conduct the very-severe-condition testing inside Murata because reliability and quality are key in a Murata product. One key idea to keep in mind, especially in new areas like autonomous driving, is that no one knows exactly what kind of reliability requirements are going to be in the future. For that reason, we need to think ahead a little more and base that on the current situation. The most important point is to establish trust with vehicle vendors and customers who will be using autonomous vehicles in the future. As Theresa mentioned earlier, 90% of autonomous driving mileage in the US was realized with the Murata IMU sensor, - a good indication of our product reliability.
Takura: Just to iterate on the trust and quality aspect. As many people know, from time to time there are recalls and problems of car models. In order to ensure our customers’ parts selection, we are supporting OEMs and Tier1s by providing all the reviews of their BOMs and the right components from both the quality viewpoint and the long lifetime viewpoint. Otherwise, they may not pick the right parts, which can be an issue for the automotive sector, where it's not easy to switch components in the middle of a mass production period. Such kind of support is also contributing to the quality on a system level, which would also help on the market level to ensure trust by the consumers. Note: Since this interview Cruise has had its licence revoked following an accident.
Visit Murata’s website for more information about their product portfolio and their leading contribution as a component supplier to the evolution of AV technologies.