Electric and Electronic (E/E) Systems and Functional Safety have been present in different markets like defense, aerospace, and medical for some time now. However, the growing relevance of Functional Safety within the automotive market is pushing the semiconductor industry nowadays to drive innovations faster —at almost the same pace of consumer electronics.
Engineers are being required to trade off between cost and safety while developing E/E systems: making design-constrained complex solutions and keeping them affordable to build. System developers must ensure that chips are working (functional verification) but also have to guarantee that they will work if something unplanned happens and let those chips inoperable (functional safety verification). Their verification tools have to evolve and meet the new requirements that the market is demanding: testing software and testing the whole system before the silicon is available. Those tests need to consider the system perspective beyond the SoC and the IP; also doing early developments before the physical hardware is ready.
In general, two type of companies are going after the next-generation of SoCs (more challenging than previous automotive chips and more complex than any other ICs developed for safety-critical markets):
- Those that know how to build complex SoCs but have no functional safety consideration and are now struggling to apply its principles from concept and architecture to the complete development.
- Those with functional safety knowledge that were doing MCUs but small experience with complex power-, secure-, or networking-demanding chips.
As automotive chips are now leading innovation, those challenges are also creating opportunities for further automation to make the process more efficient. The key to deploying an existing chip within the automotive industry is to understand functional safety is not an end-of-the-line activity, the architecture level and its mechanisms should go first. This approach avoids not only performance issues and area degradation but also mitigates the negative impact on the Safety Integrity Levels (SIL) to achieve.
Tier 1 companies are not focusing on functionality anymore. Instead, they are asking for the procedures used to define the requirements and how the chips are built, in response, semiconductor companies are bringing traceability of SoC in addition to their quality processes. Safety must be considered a first-class issue, from project planning to the complete development process as Functional Safety is a critical part of chip design.