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Automotive semiconductor technologies

Tap into imec’s expertise to speed up your development of components for tomorrow’s supercomputers on wheels.

The automotive industry shaped the economic and urban landscape of the 20th century. Today, it needs to reinvent itself to rise to 21st-century challenges, such as decarbonizing, reducing accidents, and enabling mobility changes such as autonomous driving.

The industry looks towards semiconductors to achieve this. The computer chips in our mobile devices, such as laptops and smartphones, enabled the free movement of people and goods through cyberspace. Now, they’re poised to revolutionize movements through physical space. Clearing the way towards safer, richer and greener mobility.

Increased technological features and complexity

The new driving experience will be characterized by:

  • a fully electric drivetrain, without range anxiety
  • advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that, in a first phase, prevent or minimize human driving errors and pave the way to fully autonomous vehicles
  • a host of in-vehicle entertainment options that are intuitively accessible, for instance, through gesture-based interaction
  • in-cabin attention and health monitoring, an essential feature for vehicles with level 3 autonomy, where the driver must still be able to take over control at all times

All these features will bring new layers of complexity to the vehicle's connectivity, sensing and computing units. The processor hardware will need to support millions of lines of software code. And all these applications will require continuous, secure updates.

Cars defined by semiconductors

The cars of the future will be high-performance computers on wheels. This requires car manufacturers to change how they’ve worked for more than one hundred years.

If not horsepower but teraflops become the unit that expresses a car’s unique strength, the industry must put semiconductors at the heart of its development strategy. Co-developing hardware and software, working closely with all layers of the chip industry’s ecosystem, and helping to define the semiconductor research roadmaps.

Read this in-depth article about the need for enhanced collaboration between car manufacturers and the semiconductor industry

As the world’s leading semiconductor research hub, imec is committed to helping the automotive industry establish this paradigm shift. To be a trusted technology advisor and accelerator with a clear view of all levels of a car’s technological architecture, from sensing and compute to connectivity and energy.

Let’s talk

Overview of semiconductor technologies for automotive

Imec has unique expertise in many technological domains that are covered by the car of the future. Let’s look at some examples.

Computing hardware

By 2030, an average car will produce 10 to 12 TB of data daily, which must be processed locally and rapidly in order to make safe driving decisions in real time. That can only be achieved by the next generations of chips with significantly improved processing power and – to avoid draining the battery – energy efficiency.

Enabling these advanced ICs is the goal of imec’s core CMOS programs, which tackle subjects such as:

Such supercomputing abilities can no longer be achieved using monolithic IC design. Like data centers and consumer devices, cars must move toward chiplet architectures. This also presents an opportunity to create a more diverse and resilient supply chain.

Why are chiplets attracting the attention of the automotive industry?

The power of of chiplets should be amplified by standardization across the industry, as this will open up a chiplet marketplace from which automotive compute systems can be brought to market more quickly and at a lower cost. Such a vibrant eco-system will also accelerate innovation in, e.g., AI accelerators. This is why imec has initiated the Automotive Chiplet Alliance to bring together all of the ecosystem’s major players. And imec’s automotive chiplet research program investigates how chiplets can meet the automotive industry's stringent quality and reliability requirements.

Discover imec's automotive chiplet program


Can semiconductors help to realize the widely shared ambition of reducing the number of casualties on our roads to (almost) zero? The key lies in advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that allow a car to become aware of its environment and take the necessary actions to avoid collisions and other harmful situations.

ADAS and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles will require the gigantic processing capabilities mentioned earlier. But everything starts with the sensing technologies that gather the data needed to construct a faithful representation of the environment – in various weather and lighting conditions.

We will need more advanced sensing modalities (such as lidar, imaging radar, multispectral cameras beyond visible light) and more physical sensors in our cars. This means they will have to shrink in size and cost – exactly what semiconductor technology can achieve like no other.

Imec’s portfolio of sensing technologies includes:

You have the opportunity to validate imec's next-gen automotive sensors in the SENSAI research program. It expands digital twin technology through physics-based sensor modeling and by leveraging the power of AI.

More about imec's SENSAI program

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Digital experience

With ADAS technologies gradually releasing the driver from some of his duties, car manufacturers increasingly focus on the driver’s and passenger’s experience to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Here are some technologies that can contribute to a safe and comfortable ride:

  • Micro-location technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy and ultra-wideband enable applications such as smart locks, in-car infant detection and automatic adjustment of personalized seat positions. Find out more.
  • Using hyperspectral sensors and radar, a driver’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and heartbeat, can be tracked.
  • Mid-air haptics and holographic projection – such as the technology from imec's spin-off Swave that will dramatically improve heads-up displays – can make the in-cabin experience more fluid and intuitive.
Press release PLL radar

Imec’s 140 GHz radar platform. This high-frequency radar can be used to track a driver’s vital signs.

Power and energy

The role of fossil fuels and internal combustion engines in our transportation systems is ending. The shift towards more sustainable energy sources and fully electric drivetrains poses challenges that nanotechnologies help to address:

  • By constructing switches and converters with wide-bandgap materials such as GaN, they can operate at higher switching frequencies and higher temperatures, leading to higher efficiency. Find out more.
  • Imec spin-off SOLiTHOR develops safe, clean and environmentally friendly rechargeable all-solid-state lithium battery technology for the electromobility sector. Find out more.
  • The direct conversion of CO2/H2O to syngas could boost the availability of e-fuels, especially for heavy transport. Find out more.
  • Vehicle-integrated photovoltaics (VIPV) can support heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and, in time, contribute significantly to the driving range of electric cars. Find out more.

To unlock the full potential of GaN power technology, imec monolithically co-integrated a half-bridge and drivers in one GaN-IC chip.

Semiconductors are essential for making the switch towards a more sustainable transport system. But what about their own environmental impact? To assess and ultimately reduce the footprint of the chip industry, imec has set up the sustainable semiconductor technologies and systems program (SSTS).

Work with imec on next-gen automotive semiconductor technologies

Imec enables its partners to create breakthrough technology through various collaboration models:

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