driverless cars

Arm, Toyota and GM join forces to make driverless car chips

British tech firm Arm, best known for creating the architecture behind mobile CPUs, has announced a partnership with General Motors (GM) and Toyota to develop common computing systems for self-driving cars.

The company said it was helping to create the Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium, or AVCC, along with Bosch, Denso and Continental AG. Also helping found the group are semiconductor companies Nvidia and NXP Semiconductors, both of which embed Arm’s technology into their chips.

The new body said its first step would be to develop a set of recommendations of system architecture and a computing platform that “reconciles the performance requirements of autonomous systems with the vehicle-specific requirements and limitations in terms of size, temperature range, power consumption and safety”.

These recommendations will be specially developed to move autonomous vehicles from today’s prototype systems to deployment at scale.

“The future of mobility and the safe, scalable deployment of advanced driver assistance systems to fully autonomous vehicles for mass production requires unprecedented industry collaboration,” said Dipti Vachani, senior VP at Arm’s automotive department.

“The AVCC brings together leaders from across the automotive industry landscape to tackle complex foundational technological and computing challenges to accelerate our path to a truly autonomous future.”

Arm supplies the underlying technology for the processors found in today’s smart phones but does not make chips itself. Its ties to the automotive industry go back to the late 1990s, when automakers began to add computer chips to vehicles for functions like engine control and diagnostics.

“As well as the development of hardware, there is a large and sophisticated autonomous vehicle software stack required,” said Michael Meier, a director at Bosch. “As part of the AVCC, Bosch will help to develop recommendations for software APIs for each building block in an autonomous system.”

With automakers and tech companies working on self-driving vehicles, analysts expect the number of chips in cars to expand.

But the current test vehicles being used to develop self-driving software are using the same kind of large, electricity-hungry chips found in data centres. Across the industry, chip firms and automakers agree that the power diet and size of the gear must be cut drastically to fit into cars for the general public, to perhaps a tenth or less the levels of current systems.

Nvidia has already been working on chips for driverless cars, unveiling its Drive PX Pegasus chips in 2017 that are capable of level 5 autonomous control.

“I just came back from trips in the US and China and had the opportunity to ride in four different types of autonomous vehicles. They were great prototype platforms for proving the software, but when I asked to look at the electronics powering these vehicles, it literally was servers in trunks,” Chet Babla, Arm’s vice president of automotive, told Reuters in an interview. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

The AVCC will be an independent group funded by membership fees from the companies that join. Arm officials said its work will be open to non-members.

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