ARM Holdings is currently preparing the Cortex-R52 application processor, the follow up for the ARM Cortex-R5 chipset, which is already being used in a number of safety-critical applications. The new generation Cortex-R52 is set to be around 35% more powerful than the outgoing chip design and has recorded 1.36 Automark per MHz on the EEMBC AutoBench according to the Green Hills Compiler 2017, the highest reported benchmark of the class. ARM's Cortex-R52 is designed with many built-in protections against random, design and software errors and is compliant with ISO 26262 ASIL D and IEC 61508 SIL 3 safety standards. As part of this, the chipset identifies an issue and is capable of performing safety-critical tasks, such as bringing a vehicle to a stop, in the event of a problem. The Cortex-R52 has the ability to reach a decision based on circumstances and the information available. This means that ARM's new chip could potentially be used in autonomous vehicles, factory product lines, power plants and medical equipment. The artificially intelligent design will make it easier for an overall products to reach the necessary safety standards and certification.
ARM's worldwide marketing and business development manager, Richard York, explains that the kinds of products the Cortex-R52 is destined for can affect life, but that the built-in decision making technology "...will make it much easier to do increasingly complex software." ARM's new Cortex-R52 design uses the hardware to separate software tasks, which is a means of ensuring safety-critical code is kept isolated. This makes is considerably easier to debug code and makes use of a software "hypervisor" to police the code running on the chip. Ultimately, ARM's new high performance design helps developers build safety-critical applications and the first customer, STMicroelectronics, will be using the Cortex-R52 as part of their "Smart Driving" vision. The Cortex-R52 will be put to service in a number of ways including powertrain, chassis and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems). STMicroelectronics' Automotive & Discrete group vice president and Automotive Digital Division general manager, Fabio Marchiò, explained that the Cortex-R52 is the best chip for task that must combine "safety without loss of determinism." Fabio also explained that the Cortex-R52's support for virtualization technology should lead to a streamlined integration process. This should save manufacturers time and development costs.
There is currently significant interest into the autonomous automobile sector as more and more manufacturers are developing products and services for the industry. Although it is the technology and automobile manufacturers that are getting more of the limelight, it's important to remember that behind these big brand names there are a large number of supporting companies that are building the tools necessary to enable tomorrow's technology. It is not yet clear how quickly we will see autonomous vehicles on the road as in addition to the technology issues, there are significant legislative barriers: today's road laws were not designed with a machine being responsible for the vehicle rather than a driver. With many different companies working on the end product, ARM Holdings is clearly taking the view that, not unlike the California gold rush, it is better to sell the underlying technologies to be used by the final product, rather than the final product.
Here, ARM Holdings appear to be well positioned for this. The company, which was recently bought by SoftBank for around $31 billion, does not manufacturer their own chips but instead license their designs to manufacturers. This very much reduces the risk to the business of a failed automotive product. Both the manufacturer and ARM work with developers to bring the product to market. Following the SoftBank takeover, ARM may now have sufficient financial backing to allow the company to expand its operations and design specialist chipsets for the automotive markets. Although the new ARM Cortex-R52 will not be available in devices until early 2018, this may be the first of a family of new products designed for the automotive market.