Semiconductor giant Arm today unveiled the Cortex-A76AE, a microarchitecture CPU designed for use in autonomous vehicles. The UK-based Softbank subsidiary hailed the new chip as the world’s first autonomous-class processor with integrated safety features.
The A76AE follows on the Cortex-A76, which was released three months ago to succeed Arm’s Cortex-A73 and A75 10nm processors. The A76 processors are built on a 7nm transistor scale with a clock speed of 3GHz — the cutting edge of semiconductor design.
Automotive Enhanced IP
The “AE” stands for Automotive Enhanced, meaning the chip has attributes targeting specific automotive use cases. Arm plans to extend its Automotive Enhanced IP solutions to a wider range of its products in the future.
Integrated Safety Features
Safety is the greatest concern for autonomous vehicles. The Cortex-A76AE’s Dual Core Lock-Step (DCLS) and Split-Lock are standout features that boost safety and robustness. “Lock-Step” is a dual-core computer system that executes the same code in parallel and looks for discrepancies between the two cores to identify error occurrence.
Split-Lock adds flexibility unavailable in traditional lock-step systems. When a vehicle encounters an error occurrence, Split-Lock can disengage the problematic core to allow the vehicle to operate in a degraded mode rather than shutting down the entire system.
Arm’s Other Autonomous Vehicle Chips
Arm has incorporated autonomous-class features into its other chip designs. Two years ago the company introduced Cortex-R52, a chip optimized for hard real-time and safety-critical applications. Cortex-R52 delivers up to 35 percent higher single core performance and 14 times faster context switching over its predecessor. The chip’s Armv8-R architecture also supports safety critical code independence, so changes to one module do not require wholesale recertification for all the software, thus saving time and effort.
Last year Arm announced its Mali-C71 Image Signal Processor (ISP) series, designed for the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in vehicles. Mali-C71 was developed with Apical, the UK computer vision and imaging processor company Arm acquired in 2016.
Softbank’s Autonomous Vehicle Ambitions
Arm parent company Softbank has been digging into the autonomous vehicle field for years. After its 2016 acquisition of Arm for £24 billion (US$31 billion), the Japanese tech giant pumped billions of dollars into autonomous vehicle startups, including intelligent camera provider Nauto, Israeli LiDar manufacturer InnoViz, mapping platform Mapbox, and autonomous vehicle company GM Cruise.
Softbank is also expanding its presence in the ride-hailing industry with investments into Uber, Didi Chuxing, and Grab — industry leaders in Silicon Valley, China and Southeast Asia respectively. Softbank also took a US$4 billion stake in GPU & AI chip manufacturer Nvidia, the US chip company dominating the autonomous vehicle computing market with products like its Drive PX2 supercomputer and autonomous car development platform.
Safety Ready Program
Arm also announced its Safety Ready Program, a collection of safety-verified products from across the Arm portfolio. The program’s extensive documentation and certification can save customers time on safety checks, allowing them to focus on Arm IP integration.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen