Data centers servers reside in temperature-controlled environments—essential given the fact that a single server processor might consume 200-450 watts. So, imagine if that server was inside a car, where wide ambient temperature ranges can reach 125 degrees Celsius or higher.
Demands for in-vehicle processing power is growing with the increasing popularity of applications such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and infotainment. As a way to meet these challenges, NVIDIA has announced what engadget is calling a “liquid-cooled supercomputer for cars.” Its Drive PX 2 chip offers the power equivalent of 150 MacBook Pros, with 12 CPU cores, 8 teraflops worth of processing power, and the ability to achieve 24 trillion operations per second. Just what sophisticated algorithms—including those for deep learning—require in order to perform the computations that enable vehicles to do more autonomously.
Unlike data center servers, in cars, keeping things cool is a big challenge. Liquid cooling, used in our earlier NVIDIA chip example, provides one way to lower operating temperature. With this technique, fluid coolants are pumped through microfluidic channels on a chip. Consider the new generation of automotive processors: they require anywhere from 60 to 90 to 100 watts of power and are practically server processors in the car. As the automotive industry moves up the levels of autonomous vehicles, automotive processor power requirements are only going to increase. That’s why automotive power management ICs (PMICs) are critical in helping to meet some of the challenges.
Power management for cars has become even more important with the emergence of autonomous driving functions.
Meet Thermal Constraints, Minimize EMI
As an example, let’s take a look at automotive infotainment systems. PMICs for these systems must provide high switching frequencies to minimize the solution size. They also must minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI), since EMI can adversely affect the performance of a vehicle’s many sub-systems. These types of PMICs are typically attached to the main vehicle battery. Based on this connection topology, these parts should be able to withstand high input voltages (>36V) and also be able to reliably perform through load-dump events for the life of the vehicle (even though separate circuitry generally manages this battery-related phenomenon). In addition to very specific load transient requirements (typically from half to full load within a microsecond), automotive PMICs must also meet thermal requirements and constraints.
Now, let’s talk about IC voltage regulators. Regulators are typically attached directly to the battery power mains and are rated for 28VDC to 40VDC to handle the transients that slip through the surge and overvoltage protectors. (Downstream regulators that aren’t attached directly to the battery don’t need high-voltage input specification.) Switching regulators with high efficiency (> 90% efficiency at full load) and low quiescent current can help extend battery life while generating less heat and taking up less board space—both important points for automotive applications.
Maxim has a broad portfolio of automotive-qualified PMICs that work with any microprocessor or microcontroller. They’re designed to address increasing power requirements while also meeting automaker specifications for small footprint, high efficiency, and affordable solution cost. If you’re dealing with a power management challenge in your automotive design, please contact your local Maxim sales representative to learn how our PMICs can help. To learn more, read our application note, “Auto Radio Head Units: More Demands, Harsh Environment Drive Need for Sophisticated Power-Management ICs.”