Amazing Race Toward Autonomous Car Design

Chip companies are finding 2014 a critical year to drive their technology into semi-autonomous car platforms, which are currently in development by a number of different carmakers. Such platforms, says a Freescale Semiconductor executive, will ultimately become the basis for each car OEM's own, branded, self-driving cars.

Major car OEMs including General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota are all racing to develop their own unique, semi-autonomous architectures. While describing it as a “friendly race,” Davide Santo, Freescale's ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) microcontroller product line manager, said the competition intensified when Nissan announced this summer that its first cars using the autonomous car platform will arrive in 2020. Germany's Daimler AG similarly announced plans to start selling a self-driving car by 2020.

Self-driving cars are no longer just about Google cars. Carmakers aren't pontificating or debating the pros and cons of self-driving cars, either.

Daimler is already using self-driving as a way to differentiate from other luxury cars, as it competes with its German rival BMW.

Just as much as car OEMs are under pressure to come up with their own autonomous car platforms, automotive chip suppliers such as Freescale, Infineon Technologies, and NXP Semiconductors are similarly feeling the heat.

The second half of 2014 is a sort of consensus deadline for leading car OEMs to make final decisions on architecture and technologies for semi-autonomous car platforms. By then, Freescale says, it will be working closely with OEMs, contributing its ideas and making proposals, hopeful for design wins for key technologies on the platform.

Carmakers are all “working toward” autonomous cars, agrees Drue Freeman, senior vice president for global automotive sales and marketing at NXP. “They are preparing roadmaps for self-driving cars.”

But for now, the most visible competition among OEMs is the rollout of a different sensor, camera, and radar technologies to enable ADAS.

While different technologies help create a variety of ADAS features, ADAS, in essence, consists of two principles, explained Freescale's Santo. First, you create a grid around a car and keep the car running within a lane. Second, you communicate where the car is, relative to other cars and the road infrastructure.

Although it's easier to think of self-driving cars as essentially built on a combination of different ADAS features, such a view may be an oversimplification.

Hans Adlkofer, head of the system group at the automotive division at Infineon, explained that a variety of ADAS technologies, integrated in a vehicle, need to be able to run seamlessly on a single unit of underlying software adopted by each car company's platform.

In other words, ADAS features can't exist totally independent of the semi-autonomous car platform where they will be deployed.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in EBN's sister publication EETimes .

7 comments on “Amazing Race Toward Autonomous Car Design

  1. _hm
    December 24, 2013

    Amazon suggested employing drones for delivery service. However, air delivery at this time is unsafe, higher in cost and may be with some other unknownhidden problems.

    I suggest Amazon instead to work on autonomous car for delivery services. This is proven technology, lower in cost and should be safe. They may need to add only one robotic manipulator or like to finaly keep parcel on door steps of home.


  2. Taimoor Zubar
    December 25, 2013

    @_hm: You're not the only one who feels this way. A lot of people feel the idea of delivery through drones highly impractical. Primarily they feel them to be unsafe as the drones can be shot down easily and the packets looted. I don't think Amazon will commercially launch these. They might withdraw after a pilot project.

  3. Taimoor Zubar
    December 25, 2013

    I think the problem with autonomous cars is that they cannot exist commercially in isolation. An autonomous car needs an environment to be driven in which the car manufacturer cannot create alone. The government has to modify the existing streets to cater to autonomous cars. If that issue is not resolved, autonomous cars cannot become commercially viable.

  4. SunitaT
    December 26, 2013

    Here's the problem: if car manufacturers are turning to different chip providers and making their own ADAS systems, then what happens when cars of different model and make with different versions of ADAS come on the road? Every car needs to communicate with other cars and also the grid. Here's where the solution provided by Internet of Things (IOT) come in place: cars will communicate through IOT devices which are provided with a common framework, irrespective of hardware and software. The components that make up an IOT are provided by chip companies and other software and hardware companies, however they will be integrated together to form a mesh of inter-communicated devices.

  5. SunitaT
    December 26, 2013

    @_hm: And yet they must wait 6 years to get the delivery system retuned. Amazon won't invest in a proven technology; it would invest in a technology that has an assembly line.

  6. Himanshugupta
    December 28, 2013

    @Taimoorz, i feel the same that the infrastructures need to be development by the goverment for autonomous cars. If the sensors available in the cars do not have reference with the infrastructure then it will be difficult to guide the car.

  7. Himanshugupta
    December 28, 2013

    @Rich, there are more serious matters such as social, moral and ethical issues that needs to be resolved. There are still no guidelines on how in case of accidents or mishaps the legal issues be solved.

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