SoftBank’s British chip-making giant Arm has launched what it describes as the “world’s first autonomous-class” processor for driverless vehicles.
The Arm Cortex-A76AE has been designed exclusively for automotive applications. The processor is the first in Arm’s new Automotive Enhanced (AE) line and includes specific features for in-vehicle processing.
The move opens the door to the design of safety-hardened chips that combine both the processing performance required for autonomous applications and high-integrity safety features.
Arm counts Nvidia, NXP, Renesas, Samsung’s Harman business, and the Siemens Mentor unit among its driverless-car industry customers. The company expects the first autonomous vehicles using the new processor to be on the road by 2020.
Introducing Split-Lock to autonomous vehicles
The Split-Lock concept is not new to the chipmaking business, but Arm is the first to introduce it to a processor specialised for autonomous vehicles.
The design provides greater flexibility than previous lock-step CPU implementations and can be configured in one of two modes. ‘Split mode’ offers higher performance, with two or four CPUs working together, while ‘lock mode’ synchronises CPU pairs for less error-prone processing.
In a blog post outlining the announcement, Lakshmi Mandyam, VP of automotive at Arm’s embedded and automotive line, explained the reasoning behind the move.
“Safety is the highest priority for carmakers we talk with, for both the obvious technology factors associated with autonomous systems controlling all aspects of driving, but also to ensure that human passengers can trust their automated driver.
“If consumers don’t trust the autonomous systems in their cars are safe, then mass market acceptance of this technology will be slow to happen,” he wrote.
Arm’s Cortex AE chips are built with seven-nanometer circuit wiring, opening up more space for extra features, while operating with a fraction of the energy of other chips powering driverless-car prototypes.
It is estimated that ARM-based chips are being used in 85 percent of car entertainment systems worldwide and almost two-thirds of collision-detection processors.
Since its acquisition by Japan’s SoftBank in 2016, Arm has expanded its reach to autonomous driving applications, alongside its domination of the smartphone chip market.
Plus: Ford unveils autonomous truck concept
In related transport news, Ford has unveiled an autonomous truck concept to rival Tesla’s Semi. Both companies now look set to compete in the development of long-haul, heavy-duty vehicle prototypes.
Launched at the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2018 show in Hannover, Germany, Ford’s F-Vision is an electric, Level-4 autonomous truck capable of operating independently or ‘platooning’ – driving in convoys.
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Staying with Ford, earlier this year the company launched a $4 billion driverless division, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. The move highlighted the company’s ambitions in the autonomous vehicle space with a huge investment commitment covering self-driving systems integration, engineering, research, transportation as a service network development, and more.
The new division has also taken control of Ford’s stake in Argo AI, the Pittsburgh startup into which Ford invested $1 billion back in February 2017.