Industry Voices: Flash Storage Helping Automakers Tackle Connect Car Data Deluge

Opinion piece by Russell Ruben who, as Western Digital’s Automotive Director, is responsible for the global go-to market and product strategies for the automotive market.

The automotive industry is going through profound changes as connected vehicles become the norm. With every technological development, innovation and smart addition to the vehicle, each car becomes in itself, a server on wheels. From increasingly centralized architecture, to in-depth infotainment consoles, the sheer amount of data cars now create presents challenges when it comes to the car’s storage requirements.
While urban infrastructure and the development of edge data centers will be key to the eventual success of connected and autonomous transport, the need for on-board data storage has never been more prevalent.  There are current on-board flash storage solutions such as the embedded Multi-Media Chips interface (eMMC) but the need for higher performance to transfer data to and from the systems in the car requires a faster interface.

To help manage the sharp rise in fast data, the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) interface offers a suitable solution for the next generation of vehicles but what are the benefits of flash storage and how is the technology solving the industry’s challenges?

Changing automotive architectures

Automotive architectures are transitioning from dispersed control units to one centralized system in a car. Previously, an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) had a specific function according to its use case. These ECUs eventually became connected to each other but the networks still acted independently of one another.

With gateways, it is now possible to achieve coordinated cross-network communication, enabling the handling of increasingly complex, data rich-tasks. Furthermore, in merging the individual ECUs into domain controllers (DCU), providing the ability to handle many demanding tasks at once, the architecture now can evolve even further. For the software, it means that in addition to the computing algorithms such as those used in artificial intelligence (AI), it also affects the operating system with its virtualization techniques like the use of hypervisors.

Therefore, the evolution of the architecture is now having an impact on important components in processors and flash storage. Regarding flash, the required ever-higher storage capacities can be supported by NAND flash technology. The unique requirements of the industry must also be considered, with the advanced algorithms increasing the need for NAND flash with its ability to provide very high capacity at very low cost in automotive applications.

Solving on-board storage challenges

UFS has emerged as the first choice for high data throughput, with shorter write and read sequences, in conjunction with high-capacity storage. Originally developed for mobile devices, UFS offers next-generation vehicles the benefits derived from its development and optimization in mobile radio technology, a field that is subject to high technical demands, and the processing of large amounts of data.

Alongside the benefits of high-level data throughput and storage capacity, UFS provides the opportunity for an industry standard platform. The standardization consortium JEDEC, continues to drive the development of UFS Technology, with UFS 4.0 expected in 2022 and further versions set to follow.

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