ARM's braking chip will help keep you safe in autonomous cars

ARM's Cortex R52 chip will take charge of braking in autonomous cars

ARM Cortex R52
Credit: ARM

Autonomous cars don't have the benefit of humans slamming on brakes to avoid accidents; chips will need to swiftly crunch sensor data and algorithms.

The new ARM Cortex R52 processor design, announced Monday, will allow self-driving cars to avoid trouble with the police. It will improve the timing and precision of braking systems so autonomous cars can avoid collisions and stop at red lights.

Autonomous cars are equipped with new types of computers to recognize objects, navigate, and cruise the streets responsibly. Functional safety of autonomous cars is critical for rider and pedestrian safety; a sluggish processor that takes an extra second to brake can be the difference between life and death.

Manually driven cars have microcontroller units (MCUs) that quickly respond when drivers hit the brake pedal. Autonomous cars need a far more sophisticated processor like the Cortex-R52 that can automate braking by interpreting data fed to it by cameras, radar, lidar, GPS and other sensors, and GPUs and other chips. All the chips combine to recognize objects, guide a car, and complete other artificial intelligence tasks.

The Cortex R52 is designed to be one in an amalgam of chips that make up the computing systems of an autonomous car. In part, it'll be a chip that will decide whether it is safe for you to play Pokemon Go and let the car drive itself.

Many cars like Volkswagen's Passat come standard with emergency braking. These cars have braking systems that combine MCUs and sensors. But autonomous cars gather far more data, and the Cortex R52 will have to deal with a lot more sensory and visual information in real time to make braking decisions.

Autonomous car safety has come under the microscope after accidents involving Tesla vehicles, which have a feature called Autopilot that can self-drive a car. But the feature requires a human to be at the wheel.

Autonomous cars in the future will have two types of computers: one for infotainment, the other for command and control, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Regular command-and-control chips like CPUs and GPUs could provide braking functions in autonomous cars, but using those chips could be overkill. Smaller and sophisticated chips like the Cortex-R52 may be best suited for such functions.

Braking systems are getting more responsive but need to react even quicker in autonomous cars. For example, command-and-control systems connected to the cloud could feed road condition data to braking systems, which could react on the information.

But braking is a critical function, and there are questions on how isolated or connected the function should be, McGregor said. Exposure to external data sources could make it vulnerable to attacks or information overload.

The Cortex R52 has safeguards to protect braking systems, said James Scobie, senior product manager at ARM. The chip design can isolate code critical to the braking system in a car.

The chip can also improve the safety of drones and robots, which require high levels of autonomy as they interact with the real world, Scobie said.

The Cortex R52 is based on the ARMv8-R architecture. ARM will license the design to chipmakers, and STMicroelectronics has adopted the design for future automotive chips. Other companies making chips for cars include Intel, Renesas, NXP, and Freescale.

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