Western Digital Is Betting Big On Automotive Storage Business

Interaction May 2018 Western Digital SanDisk Storage

The automotive industry has been witnessing rapid adoption of electronics and connected technologies, resulting in the accumulation of piles of data. Such trends only accentuate the increasing importance of data storage in the automotive space. Western Digital Corporation (WDC) has been working on offering automotive data storage solutions. Auto Tech Review met up with Vivek Tyagi, Director – Business Development, Embedded and Enterprise, Western Digital Corporation – India and South Asia Region to know more about the role and future of data storage in automotive applications.

Over the years, Western Digital has undertaken a couple of acquisitions, including Hitachi’s hard drive business called Hitachi Global Storage Technology (HGST) in 2012. Subsequently, it acquired SanDisk in 2016. HGST has been known for hard drives for data centre space as well as vibration-proof, niche hard drives for certain automotive applications. SanDisk on the other hand has had a presence with flash memory. There is a rapid increase in the storage needs of a car, which explains why the company is seriously looking at this market.

STORAGE IN AUTOMOTIVE SPACE

There was no connectivity of the car to the outside world about a decade back, but over the last few years connected technologies have mushroomed into vehicles. At present, cars have features, including maps for navigation or telematics that is connected to GPS/GSM networks, and infotainment systems with smartphone connect, voice streaming and videos. The moment there is connectivity, data transfer takes place between the vehicle and the outside world, and that data needs to be stored somewhere.

Looking ahead, there are a few new trends witnessed in certain countries and such trends will be subsequently seen in more countries. The most significant of these trends relevant for storage is dashboard cameras, which point towards the road, said Tyagi. This camera records videos continuously during driving, and is mandated by insurance companies in certain countries, in order to act as evidence during accidents and disputes. Tyagi said this makes the whole legal process simple. However, in order to record videos for several hours, dashboard cameras require large storage space in the camera, where SanDisk or equivalent SD cards come into the picture. This is a completely new emerging application, which may spread to more countries, observed Tyagi.

Tyagi also said there are discussions happening globally to install a black box in every car, especially for insurance purpose, just like the ones in airplanes. This system would constantly record various important parameters while the vehicle is being driven, so that in the case of accidents, the data could be brought up and analysed in detail. This also creates a large storage requirement.

The use of maps for navigation is another growing trend in the automotive industry that is already available in 3D in certain markets. 3D maps provide more accuracy, in terms of distance, turns and other features, which also lead to consumption of a lot more storage space than 2D maps. Additionally, maps or telematics are also provided with the possibility of over-the-air updates by technology service providers, where again more storage space is required, Tyagi explained.

The advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that provide a 360° view of the car from the inside use six to eight cameras embedded in the car, constantly streaming images or video, said Tyagi. This data too has to be stored safely – another focus area for WDC. There are several other applications emerging inside a car that are streaming a lot more data, which requires more storage, he added.

WDC offers both types of flash storage solutions – cards that are removable storage solutions, and embedded storage solutions that are flash memory chips that sit next to the processor. The company works with Tier I suppliers in the design cycle itself to design and test these flash memory chips, since they are not the regular chips that are supplied for applications like mobile phones. These are specially designed and tested as per automotive standards for semi-conductors, such as AECQ100 (standard for quality and reliability), explained Tyagi. These chips have unique features for the automotive industry, like having the capability to retain data for a minimum period of 10 years, Tyagi pointed out.

FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES

As far as future technologies are concerned, cloud storage is growing rapidly, and WDC is a leading supplier of storage media to such service providers, Tyagi said. The company provides standalone hard disk drives, standalone flash drives, storage platforms and a variety of solutions for cloud storage providers. The challenge lies in segregating the data into what needs to be acted in real-time, and what can be stored in history, Tyagi explained.

While the former needs to stay in the car, the remaining data can be pushed back to the cloud. Data will stay more economically on the cloud over the long-term, but depending on the network, there will also be latency to fetch the data from the cloud, which is why only non-critical data should make its way to the cloud. All safety and ADAS-related data cannot depend on the latency on the cloud, and need to be stored in the vehicle itself. Both types of storage will have their respective roles to play, Tyagi noted. The company’s global R&D centre in Bangalore has around 1,200 engineers working on different products, technologies and aspects, making it the second largest for WDC globally.

TEXT: Naveen Arul