Cars of future are supercomputers on wheels

In an interview with Mr. James Colby, Senior Manager, Business Development, Automotive Electronics Business,  Littelfuse Inc talks about the electric vehicle market, its growth, vehicle safety and Littelfuse solutions in the market.
James Colby, Business Development Manager, Automotive Electronics Business, Littelfuse, Inc.
James Colby, Business Development Manager, Automotive Electronics Business, Littelfuse, Inc.
James Colby is a Business Development Manager for the Automotive Electronics Business of Littelfuse, Inc.  His responsibilities include identifying and developing strategic growth markets in the Automotive Electronics Sector, as well as introducing new products into those markets.  He has been with Littelfuse for almost 20 years and in the electronics industry for more than 25 years, and can be reached at
Electric vehicles adoption in market

As governments strengthen regulations on CO2 and particulate emissions, automotive manufacturers are under pressure to accelerate their shift to electric vehicles. With its advanced technology expertise, extensive supply chain, and established quality infrastructure for electric vehicles, the global market is ready to embrace a rapid progress in the spread of electric vehicles, and we can expect steady growth.

The adoption of electric vehicles will be different by region. If you look at the States and you look at Europe, you see a focus on automobiles, including compact cars, sedans, crossover SUVs and even some larger vehicles like pickup trucks and cargo vans. China is the global leader right now in terms of Electric Vehicle manufacturing, with a focus mostly compact vehicles. When I take a look at India it’s going to be quite different. There are four wheelers, small automobiles as well as two wheelers, three wheelers, bikes, scooters and so forth. So the types of vehicles and types of form factors are much wider than other global markets.

It will give India a bit of an advantage in terms of how quickly the adoption can take place. Because certainly right now in those other countries, especially over in Europe and North America, the adoption rate for consumers is still fairly low and a lot of that is of course because of cost. In India, we will see a much higher percentage of small, personal vehicles like two-wheelers, eScooters and eBikes.  Because of the much smaller power plant and smaller battery packs, the vehicles will be much more cost effective and should see faster adoption.  In addition, the battery packs will be removable so they can be taken into residences for re-charging.  Being able to take them out of your vehicle and into your residence for charging essentially makes charging stations universal. You know everybody has an ability to plug into the grid or connect to a local power source like solar panels at their home. So I think the adoption rate will be much quicker. The other aspect of adoption that’s going to be a large consideration of course is government policies.

Government policies of course have an effect because they can facilitate or possibly even motivate the industry and consumers to change their transportation behaviors. So it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in terms of EV. This is true, not simply for India, but globally as well; we are seeing very broad acceptance and broad support from governments and the existing suppliers of automobiles and vehicles.

Automotive safety, reliability and circuit protection

The Battery is the driving force of EVs. As you look at higher voltage battery packs, they’re going to need layers of safety and reliability solutions like fuses.  They will ensure that the battery pack and power system fail gracefully if there is some kind of failure – an accident being the most relevant form of incident. These fuses have to be able to disconnect the extremely high power, high energy source, and make sure that there are no uncontrolled thermal events.

Fuses that are able to disconnect the battery in the event of an accident, including overload and short circuit events are critical. Littelfuse is growing and developing such high-voltage fuses that will ultimately be handling extremely high amounts of energy that are available from the fully charged battery packs.

When considering the overall safety and reliability of a modern car that is fully packed with electronic circuits and modules, a persistent threat that’s going to exist during its lifetime is ESD, or static electricity. And surprisingly, it’s often generated by the driver, passengers, or technicians, as they get in and out of the car, and interact with it.

You can picture many parts of the world where it’s very, very dry in summer and winter. As people slide in and out of the car seats, they’re generating a high level of static electricity. If that charge is accidentally discharged into any open ports, irreparable damage can be caused to the circuits behind them.  Many cars today include consumer ports like USB for charging portable devices and listening to music, or an AUX port (audio input) on the dashboard.  If those ports are accidentally touched and you discharge ESD into that socket, you could cause irreparable damage to that circuit. One way to lessen that threat or to eliminate it would be with the use of board level, PCB-mounted, ESD protection devices. Of course, the selection of those depends on the nature of the circuit itself.

Cybersecurity is a concern for automakers

The physical body of any car is important to its functionality, but when we think about connected vehicles, we also come across the issue of hacking. A car equipped with infotainment systems adjusted to your liking and storing private data is personal, and with connected cars storing more and more personal information, cybersecurity is a concern for automakers.

It should go without saying that cars represent a different type of security challenge from mobile phones, laptops, and servers, in which corruption or data theft is the hacker’s objective. Since using machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to spot malware after hackers infiltrate a car is too late, the approach must be to prevent an attack when hackers are attempting their crime. Of course, putting safety ahead of cost and keeping your car’s software up to date are two ways to keep a vehicle’s defense systems alert.

Cars of future are supercomputers on wheels

Today’s vehicles are literally stuffed with electronic systems designed to take on functions once performed by these earlier systems, or that were simply not available. New safety and passenger entertainment functions — such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), parking assist, lane departure, and forward collision warning systems — were once available only on high-end vehicles, if at all. Today, they’re increasingly considered standard equipment on vehicles at a wide range of price points. As electronic systems have replaced mechanical and hydraulic systems, the cost of implementing these functions is significantly lower, making the jump from luxury vehicle to mass market vehicle faster than ever before.

With electronics now being used to control an ever-higher percentage of vehicle functions, it is obvious that the circuit protection devices required to prevent hazardous over-voltages and over-currents would be forced to evolve rapidly to keep up with the transition from a mechanical/hydraulic/electrical system to what is essentially a supercomputer on wheels.

Although automotive fuses, junction boxes, and wire harnesses remain essential to automotive electrical systems, today’s system component designers need a wider array of Automotive-Grade circuit protection options (electrostatic discharge, system-generated surge transients, etc.) from which to choose to safeguard all these new systems over the 15- to 20-year expected lifetime of the vehicle.

Littelfuse leadership

Founded in 1927, Littelfuse Inc is the world leader in circuit protection with growing global platforms in power control and sensing. The company serves customers in the electronics, automotive and industrial markets with technologies including fuses, semiconductors, polymers, ceramics, relays and sensors. The Littelfuse portfolio, backed by industry leading technical support, design and manufacturing expertise, has made significant investments in R&D and Manufacturing capabilities and capacity to ensure that we not only have the world’s broadest and deepest line of circuit protection solutions, but also the most advanced, recognized circuit protection brand in the world.

We work closely with our customers to understand what solutions are most appropriate for their situation, and if there’s not a solution on the market today, we partner with our customers to develop that needed solution.  By taking this system level approach we’re able to provide the market with innovative solutions when necessary and continue to drive our new product development through these activities and relationships.

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