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Seeking Autonomy

Seeking Autonomy
by Tom Simon on 07-24-2017 at 12:00 pm

I’d wager that if I mention autonomous vehicles, the first thing that you would think of would be autonomous cars. The truth is that we will see many other kinds autonomous vehicles in the years ahead. Their applications will range from package delivery to saving lives on the battlefield. Of course, to some extent they are already used on the battle field for less than benevolent purposes.

We have heard that Amazon is experimenting with the idea of package delivery using drones. Their Prime Air service is already delivering packages within 30 minutes in England. Their website features several videos of the service operating today. They have even gone so far as to watermark the videos with “Not Simulated”. The drones they are using fly presently only in clear weather and at an altitude of 400 feet.

Another fascinating application for autonomous vehicles in battlefield rescue. The army has been working on this for over a decade. The system most talked about is called BEAR for Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot. While these are not going to be fully autonomous they will be able to receive commands and execute them with some degree of autonomy. An interesting human engineering aspect of the rescue robots is that it was discovered that solders felt vastly more comfortable with robots that look less mechanical and more lifelike. The prototypes have faces and appendages that look like arms. Yet the propulsion mechanisms are hardly anthropomorphic and are highly optimized for moving over rough or uneven terrain.

The final category of autonomous vehicles I want to touch upon is flying cars. In March it was reported that Dubai is planning to offer autonomous airborne taxis service. They are going to be using the Ehang 184 which is being developed in China. It can carry one person with 8 rotors on 4 arms, thus ”184”. Pilotless air flight raises many questions about safety and practicality. Nevertheless, it seems that we are headed in that direction and it is only a matter of time. In congested urban areas, autonomous flying taxis would be highly sought after.

I am sure in reading above about the potential applications for autonomous vehicles that reliability and safety are the two things that immediately come to mind. It’s not hard to image many potential sources of errors, causes of failures and other factors that could cause safety and reliability issues. Sidense has been talking about security and reliability for autonomous systems for quite a while. Their non-volatile memory (NVM) can help contribute to improved reliability and safety in a number of ways. It’s important to understand the role that NVM can play in these systems.

NVM is used to store boot code, encryption keys, trim information, unique identifiers and many other sorts of critical information. System design requirements often dictate constraints on area, power, process technology, and durability. Instead of adding off chip NAND flash or resorting to exotic processes for storing mission critical information, Sidense One Time Programmable (OTP) NVM uses minimal real estate and can be implemented inside SOC’s on standard planar and FinFET processes. It also offers impressive durability due to its uniquely designed 1-T bitcell. In fact, it can tolerate extremely harsh operating environments.

Data stored with Sidense OTP NVM is extremely secure. There is no way to physically examine the silicon to determine its contents. The write operation causes atomic level disruption to the oxide layer that is impossible to detect through mechanical or visual means. Reverse engineering is thwarted by numerous features that defeat techniques like side channel attacks or other electronic hacking.

Designers of autonomous systems are pushed to meet multiple and potentially mutually exclusive design goals. At every step in the design process conflicting criteria and objectives need to be balanced. It’s good that for many NVM needs in these systems there is a robust, reliable, secure and low overhead solution. Sidense works with foundries to develop comprehensive qualification reports and information to ensure that their technology works well within spec. If you want to learn more about how Sidense OTP NVM can be applied to demanding applications like autonomous vehicles, I recommend looking at their published article on their website.

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