Cars today are high-tech wonders – and that is not only in the luxury segment. What drivers expect is a display monitoring speed, fuel level or tyre pressure, a system alerting to potential problems. All these connections need the right semiconductor. Munich-based company Inova Semiconductors GmbH is market leader in this field.

APIX, the Automotive PIXel Link Inova Semiconductors GmbH has developed, is a rather small, nearly imperceptible piece, but an important one. First implemented by the German manufacturer BMW, today it is also built into cars manufactured by Mini, Rolls Royce, Land Rover, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini or Bentley. APIX is a bus system that allows the transportation of large amounts of data at high speed, for example video or audio content. Inova Semiconductors GmbH was founded in 1999 and since then it has specialised in developing state-of-the-art products for high-speed serial data communication – especially for the automotive sector for which the technology that interconnects graphic sources and displays was originally developed.

APIX allows data transfer at GBit rate and since it uses rather ordinary cables and does not compress the data, it is less expensive, the picture quality is higher and data is transferred in real time. This real-time capability is essential for safe driving. Imagine, for example, a digital display with a speedometer that looks like an analogue one – with a needle showing the current speed. Of course this has to be depicted in real time or a driver might go too fast and will – at one point most possibly – pay a fine for speeding.

Data transfer of up to 12 GBit/s with the newest APIX series

Inova started developing the first APIX in 2004, but it needed one and a half years until the product was finished and a further 30 months until automotive companies and suppliers had implemented it. Currently, the second APIX generation is in series production and the company is starting to bring the third one to market. While the first had a capability of one GBit/s, the second managed three GBit/s and the third will have up to 12 GBit/s. “We work closely together with car manufacturers to know what they need. This helps us to understand their demands and to react accordingly with new products,” says Thomas Rothhaupt, Inova director for sales and marketing.
Inova’s APIX products are sold through a world-wide distribution network in Europe, Japan, China, Korea and America – the big centres of automobile production. About 90 per cent of Inova’s exports are in this sector and in these regions.

Licensing makes APIX technology attractive and flexible in use

Companies like Toshiba, Fujitsu, Analog Devices and Cypress for example have bought a license and have developed their own products based on APIX technologies. About 30 to 40 components are now on the market, so today about 50 million components in total are installed in cars driving on our roads. “And every year there are more,” says Rothhaupt. “We are a small company but fastly growing. Even now our product has de facto become an industry standard.”
Having a joined technology standard is an important factor for automotive companies and ancillary industries, because the fact that not only Inova itself but other companies produce the high-tech component as well, makes the technology available from several sources. Take for example Volkswagen, who recently after quarrelling with a supplier had to stop its production at its main production line in Wolfsburg. This proves how vulnerable a company becomes when relying on only one component manufacturer and how important industry standards are, since they allow different companies in different regions to make the same or similar components needed by the automotive industry.

The headquarters of Inova Semiconductors GmbH.

The future lies in light technology

Starting out with only four employees, Inova Semiconductors GmbH developed rapidly. Today the company has revenues of more than 12 million euros and over 30 employees and looks into a future of new technological developments. APIX in itself has already not only attracted the automotive sector but also other market segments like infotainment in trains and medical technologies. The newest Inova innovations aim at cars’ interior lighting. “LED technology has opened up many great new possibilities we are currently exploring,” says Thomas Rothhaupt. Together with other companies Inova Semiconductors GmbH is not only drafting new lighting concepts but also develops the necessary underlying technology.

inova-semiconductors.de

TEXT: JESSICA HOLZHAUSEN | PHOTOS: INOVA SEMICONDUCTORS GMBH

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