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Intelligent airbags
“The end consumer will have a large range of new choices to consider beyond the usual handling and cup holder considerations.”

Improved memory technology is making vehicles safer through the deployment of “intelligent” airbag systems. “Smart airbags” are designed to increase or decrease deployment force based on accident event parameters such as the severity of the crash, the weight of the occupant and the interaction with other safety systems in the car.
According to Colorado-headquartered Ramtron International, parametric data sent to the car’s electronic control unit by sensors throughout the cabin, enable the airbag to deploy ‘intelligently’. As more sensors are designed into the car, more data needs to be collected. The supplier of nonvolatile ferroelectric random access memory or FRAM and integrated semiconductor products, recently announced that its M25C160 – a 16Kb, 5V, SPI FRAM memory device – had received the AEC-Q100 (Automotive Electronic Council’s Stress Test Qualification for Integrated Circuits) certification.
The AEC-Q100 program helps meet the automotive industry’s growing need for better non-volatile data storage solutions in automotive sub-systems. FRAM devices play a vital role in high-content applications such as intelligent airbags, occupant sensors, infotainment systems, anti-pinch/trap sunroofs, automatic transmission, adaptive cruise control, steer-by-wire and so on because it is faster and more durable than EEPROM and Flash, according to Ramtron.
The FM25C160 reads and writes at bus speeds up to 20MHz with virtually unlimited endurance (1 trillion writes), and 45-year data retention. It operates at 5V over the industrial temperature range (-40C to +85C) and is available in a ‘green’ 8-pin SOIC package. It was Ramtron’s third FRAM device to be AEC-Q100-qualified. The company is also developing various FRAM configurations specified for the Grade 1 (-40C to 125C) operating range. “The FM25C160 has already been designed into smart airbags by top automotive system suppliers across the United States, Europe and Asia, including Korea’s Hyundai Autonet,” says Mike Alwais, director FRAM at Ramtron International.
Automotive Industries (AI) caught up with Alwais to discuss the future of in-vehicle electronics:
Alwais: From our point of view the vehicle electronics package is taking an enormous leap in complexity and sophistication. Smart airbags, stability control, improved navigation, vastly improved comfort and convenience – the end consumer will have a large range of new choices to consider beyond the usual handling and cup holder considerations.
AI: What are Ramtron’s automotive OEM capabilities and future objectives?
Alwais: We’ve been revamping our organization to support the demanding automotive customer. At roughly 18% of total sales in 2006, the automotive market is becoming very important to Ramtron. We are beginning to engage customers to drive products specifically designed for automotive applications.
AI: What makes Ramtron different?
Alwais: All of our end market experience is an outgrowth of the memory technology and its application. Over time we have come to specialize in applications where FRAM offered the designer a real benefit. There were normally applications where the system needed to collect data. I’d say we are the only memory supplier that is uniquely focused on these selected markets and applications, and that we are committed to gaining an increasing expertise to help our customers be successful.
AI: What are some of the products Ramtron is working on that will impact the future of automotive electronics?
Alwais: Automotive design engineers have been very constrained until now. Incumbent memory technologies are too slow and wear out so the systems have been unable to collect and store data. FRAM has been on the market for years but was not mature enough for the automotive customer. This is changing. We will shortly have enough different configurations automotive qualified for +85C and +125C operation that this constraint will be lifted. There is no telling how large the impact could be as clever engineers identify new solutions.