Terabyte Vehicle Storage Demands Will Increase Flash Memory Usage

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【Summary】Researchers predict vehicle storage requirements to exceed a terabyte by 2020, calling for more flash memory.

Mia Bevacqua    Aug 10, 2017 6:46 AM PT

A terabyte is a lot of memory. To put things in prospective, first generation NASA space shuttles had 416 kilobytes of storage. Most modern automobiles have around 10 gigabytes of storage space. But by 2020, as much as a terabyte may be required.

Data hungry systems

If you drive a Mercedes, there's a good chance your car may soon be smarter than you. Most late model luxury cars are governed by around 100 million lines of code. That number is predicated to soar with introduction of advanced technologies, such as autonomous driving.

Sophisticated, data gobbling digital systems require more than current embedded flash memory can provide. Most ECUs currently hold 4 to 8 gigabytes of embedded flash. As such, engineers are looking towards adding more discrete flash memory (memory that can retain data in the absence of a power supply and also be electrically pre-programmed). 

Martin Booth, Product Marketing Director at Western Digital, points out that in current vehicles, the infotainment system requires the most data storage. But, that may soon change. By 2020, Booth predicts other parts of the vehicle, such as safety system, will require more memory than infotainment. Multiple systems vying for information will cause overall memory requirements to skyrocket. Experts expect the demand to be at least a terabyte, especially in luxury vehicles.

In addition, insurance companies and manufacturers may start pushing engineers for more data. With the introduction of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), more crash information might be needed. The question is how much data will be needed to accurately document a crash.

Nina Turner, Automotive and Energy Research Manager at IDC Research, feels ADAS will really push the boundaries of flash memory.

"There's got to be someplace to store the input while data is being processed," she commented.

Information handling strategies 

Soon, vehicles will be bombarded with incoming data from sensors, other vehicles and infrastructure. As a result, buffering may become a necessity for DRAM as well as for flash. Over the air updates may also add to the need for buffering.

Some information will be stored in the cloud, but that won't work for all data. After all, streaming from the cloud consumes bandwidth and uses connections that aren't free. Plus, anyone who's ever made a phone call knows that cellular links aren't the most reliable. "Can you hear me now" is not exactly a way you'd want to transport safety related data.

Turner predicts that memory will grow at about 9% compounded annually and that most chips will be embedded. Having any kind of removable memory card increases security risks – anyone remember Stuxnet?

Looking toward the future

Hopefully in the end, we will be behind the wheel (or at least the dashboard) of a safe, self-driving car. More memory will surely be one ingredient needed to get there

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