Globalfoundries Speaks Car Talk

Source:Junko Yoshida
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Engineers in Silicon Valley are flocking to Munich this week, but not necessarily to attend Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference which opened Tuesday. Globalfoundries is hosting a “rival” — or perhaps a follow-up — powwow, called the Globalfoundries Technology Conference (GTC), later this week in the capital of German automotive industry.

Clearly, both Nvidia and Globalfoundries are gunning for mindshare among German automotive engineers. The world’s second largest foundry is unveiling “AutoPro,” the company's new automotive platform to offer carmakers a full range of technologies and manufacturing services.

Gregg Bartlette
Gregg Bartlette

Gregg Bartlett, senior vice president of the CMOS Business Unit at Globalfoundries, told EE Times that his company is picking “new customers in the automotive space,” as carmakers and Tier Ones scramble to “figure out software/hardware partitioning and interfaces” in the Wild West of connected, highly automated electric vehicles.  

The new customers appear to include Audi. Audi's head of semiconductor strategy, Berthold Hellenthal, provided a quote in Globalfoundries’ press release, saying: “To deliver an unmatched mobility experience the need for strong semiconductor manufacturing partners is greater than ever. The GF Automotive portfolio and program, focused on providing innovative technologies and manufacturing capabilities combined with an automotive mindset, is important for the automotive industry. It is an essential program to deliver our next generation car electronics faster and reliable.”

But why skip Tier Ones and SoC vendors? When car OEMs come directly to foundries such as Globalfoundries, this is not business as usual.  Bartlett said, “Yes. That’s why we find it a really exciting time.”

Asked what exactly carmakers expect from Globalfoundries, Bartlett said, “They are looking for silicon solutions, automotive-qualified standards they must meet, and if they can get full turnkey ASICs designed for their systems.”

Provided by the AutoPro service package are a gamut of technology offerings that range from silicon germanium (SiGe) and FD-SOI to CMOS and advanced FinFET nodes, in addition to a range of ASIC design services, packaging and IP.

Bartlett explained, “We think we are well positioned to offer a level of integrations in silicon technologies and RF performance … with a blitz of solutions for radar, lidar, computer vision, high-voltage capabilities for power trains with a path to supporting 48 volts, and all the way to ADAS solutions at 7nm FinFET.”

Evolving business for connected intelligence (Source: Globalfoundries)
Evolving business for connected intelligence (Source: Globalfoundries)

Globalfoundries also takes pride in the fact that AutoPro service package is built on the company’s proven quality and operational controls. “We have infrastructure to support our customers to meet strict automotive quality requirements defined in the ISO, International Automotive Task Force (IATF), Automotive Electronics Council (AEC), and VDA (German) standards,” he added. “We can assess what our customers need and we can provide solutions.”

But isn’t this the sort of automotive platform that other foundries also offer?

Bartlett said, “I’d say we are among an exclusive club.” He suggested that the only other foundry offering an automotive platform with similar breadth in its technology portfolio is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

System-level architects

Globalfoundries believes where it’s making progress is the cultivation of new customers among OEMs, Tier Ones and SoC vendors in the automotive industry. As more auto tech companies explore ways to bring intelligence to systems, partition hardware and software and figure out where to store and how to manage system data collected by connected cars, “a lot of system-level discussions need to take place,” noted Bartlett. “And we have system-level architects who can discuss such issues with our customers.”

For several years, Globalfoundries has been developing resources for the design enablement, complex IP and quality standards necessary for cars, according to Bartlett. “That was augmented in the last two to five years by a number of system-level architects coming into Globalfoundries from IBM Microelectronics," he said. 

Mark Granger
Mark Granger

Further, Globalfoundries is hiring new talents experienced with products by SoC suppliers, who can speak the customers’ language with Tier Ones. A case in point was the hiring of Mark Granger earlier this year, Bartlett pointed out.

Granger spent 17 years at Texas Instruments on projects that include its OMAP roadmap and product definition. He joined Globalfoundries at Nvidia as senior director of product management for deep learning and AI. Granger is one of the featured speakers at Globalfoundries Technology Conference Friday.

Smartphones on wheels?

A few years ago when autonomous cars were first discussed, many people described them as “smartphones on wheels.” Now, as in the early days of smartphones, every OEM wants a proprietary design for its smart cars, Bartlett observed.

Globalfoundries enables customer design teams, ASIC and third party design houses to develop automotive devices. (Source: Globalfoundries)

In the smartphone market, although Qualcomm ended up grabbing the big share, Apple has taken back complete control of the platform with its own hardware and software. In the emerging market of highly automated cars, the market reshuffle has just begun, with every carmaker and new entrant in the industry maneuvering for control over “autonomy” technologies. Globalfoundries wants a piece of the action.

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