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The Garage Podcast: S1 EP8

NXP Semiconductors in Automotive, Part 1

In Part 1 of a two-part series, we talk with Brian Carlson, Head of Global Marketing for Automotive Processing at NXP Semiconductors, about the importance of software defined vehicles and the NXP S32 Automotive Platform.

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JOHN: Today in The Garage, we present part one of a two-part series with NXP Semiconductors about the importance of silicon enabling software-defined vehicles. In today’s part one episode, we’ll meet our guest and talk about the foundational products that NXP provides for automotive and SDV. Let’s go!

Meet Brian Carlson

JOHN: Today in The Garage, we look at automotive from a different perspective; the silicon perspective, and our guest today is from NXP Semiconductors. This is Brian Carlson, Head of Global Marketing for Automotive Processing. Brian, welcome to The Garage.

BRIAN: Thanks. I’ve been looking forward to this. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m honored to participate. Thank you.

JOHN: We appreciate it. And you know, Brian, we’ve been working together for quite some time now. I’d love it if you’d start by introducing yourself and your role at NXP, and what you’re responsible for.

BRIAN: Yeah, sure. So I am the Global Marketing Director in Automotive Processing. So the beauty of that is that I get to see all the different aspects of what’s going on in automotive- electrification, autonomy, connectivity, and now, most of my time today, literally, most of my time is around software-defined vehicles, because it’s all encompassing, and I look forward to talking to you about that. But just a quick thing on my background, I’ve been in the electronics industry for 30-plus years, and I’ve been through avionics and telecom and mobile/smartphones and saw that big revolution come and you know, compute and now really bringing that expertise and kind of seeing how the whole market can grow very quickly and transform. So that’s why I’m really excited where I’m at at NXP to be in automotive and actually be a part of this SDV revolution that’s coming now.

JOHN: That’s right. I mean, the automotive market right now is such a key growth area. So many companies across the industry are looking at it. It’s exciting to be involved in such a growth area.

Fun facts about our guest

JOHN: We always like to get to know our guests a little bit, and I always ask our guests to tell us something interesting about you.

BRIAN: Yeah, I have a lot of diverse interests…very eclectic. One thing I was thinking about, you know, coming into this is, you know, COVID actually changed my life a lot. You know, in the past, this industry is so fast-moving and my job through my whole career has always been looking out five years, eight years where are things going and really looking into the future. But you know, I was just thinking about, that’s something interesting about how COVID actually changed how I look at life and how I do things. But you know, during that time, right, everyone had time to explore and do new things. You couldn’t go out and do as much, right? So one thing I actually picked up and started looking at is a lot of work from my uncle who put probably three decades into our family genealogy and going back to 1100. So I look to the past to understand my history and understand that and even found out, you know, I have relatives going way back to Finland back to 1100. My grandfather was actually in the automotive industry. So I was actually pretty excited about that. So I actually have some automotive roots, he was building cars for General Motors. At the same time, I learned a lot about myself to there and got a smartwatch and you know, monitoring what’s going on now with the body and fitness and all that, and discovered a lot of trails being in Austin, I’m fairly new in Austin and really discovered Austin and hiking and got to go out with my daughter with hiking. So you know, it’s interesting, because like I said, I’ve always been looking to the future. But now it gave me a chance to look to the past and also to look at the present and actually be there more with family and actually, you know, work more on myself and make myself better at the same time. So it’s interesting. And that’s one way to look at it. I guess it’s good.

JOHN: I think COVID forced a lot of people to really think differently about what they do every day. And so that’s exciting to hear. I always try to share back an anecdote on my side. Well, my wife and I are both doing a lot of work on genealogy. She’s back something like 15 generations, I think I’m back about five or so. And so we’re both spending time in that, both different parts of different places around the world that we’ve come from. So very exciting.

BRIAN: Yeah. And one thing was interesting to all of that, we happened to go to Park City and went into Salt Lake City and to the LDS library and the family tree stuff that they do there. And I found direct connection 12 generations back to Sir Isaac Newton. Well, there’s exciting things about when you start to look to your past. It’s really interesting to see how you learn things even my parents didn’t even know about their parents. You know, back in the day, there’s things…. Yeah, so it’s a really interesting story. It’s almost looking at a whole movie about yourself in a way right. So it’s an interesting area.

JOHN: It is interesting…and I admit we like to binge-watch all those kinds of genealogy shows, so I agree with that, but I’m not gonna call you Sir Brian, though. Okay, I have to earn that one.

Why is SDV important?

JOHN: But, so now moving into automotive for a minute. I think one of the other things we always try to start with is I like to get the guest’s perspective on why do you think SDV is important to the industry and what’s the potential? Why is it such a key focus?

BRIAN: Yeah, I think it’s a key turning point. I mean, look at every industry how digital has transformed those industries and for the good and for the bad for some, right, there’s gonna be winners and losers in this big transition, but it’s something the industry has to go through, there’s gonna be some pain, right? Because this is very new to a lot of people within the automotive industry, which has historically been very evolutionary, very incremental steps. This is… I like to say it’s like doing brain surgery and heart surgery at the same time, it’s even more than that, right? It’s massive. And it disrupts everything from the development of the vehicle, the deployment, the business models, the organizations of OEMs. I mean, it’s very broad, but it’s required, it’s required. Because if you look at where we’re going, what’s the expectation of a modern vehicle? And what’s the world like today, right? Our world is very digital, right? It’s upgradable. And devices really are a part of our life, and vehicles have bits and pieces of that, but they’re not really something that can go into the future, and provide what is possible. So it’s bringing the possible to our vehicles, and it takes us into the 21st century, we’re a little bit behind the rest of the things that we interact with in our life. And this will just take us into the future if you don’t do it, right, the way we’re doing today, it’s very incremental with new boxes, and, you know, some of these high-end vehicles, 175 boxes, and that’s not sustainable. Right. Right. And so it’s just not, it’s not a path to the future. Yeah, so it’s gonna give benefits to everyone. And that’s why I’m excited about it. And there’s gonna be pain, right? No pain, no gain, what, you know, this type of thing. But once we get through that initial, you know, where we’re going over the next few years, it sets us up… the industry very well for the future and gives tremendous opportunity, not only for the OEMs, I believe, but all of us.

The Opportunity for SDV to make cars better over time

JOHN: It’s interesting, and you know, you looked at that kind of a glass is half full, and glass is half empty there. And I think that’s exactly right. Because there’s no doubt there’s some technical challenges. There’s some key evolution, there’s organizational changes that are happening in OEMs. But on the other hand, there’s a huge opportunity as well, there’s an opportunity for the consumers who are going to have these higher expectations of vehicles being better. But there’s also opportunities for better business models, better engagement with consumers and so on. We were on a panel. I was on a panel last week at AutoTech: Detroit. And we were talking about…one of the other panelists mentioned something which I thought was a really interesting perspective: which is if you think about a car, today’s car, you know, the pre-software defined vehicles car. It’s the best it’s ever going to be the moment it’s sold.

BRIAN: Exactly.

JOHN: And then it depreciates.

BRIAN: Yeah.

JOHN: In the future, the software-defined vehicle will be sort of the worst it’s ever going to be because it’s only going to get better over time. That’s a compelling way to think about it.

BRIAN: I’ve been talking about that exact example. Right? That’s one thing that really has resonated, I’ve actually been talking about there for probably two years since the beginning, we really got heavily into this. And it’s true, right? The foundation of this enables these vehicles to improve not only incrementally, like maybe I’ll get an update every once in a while, but literally the OEMs can actually monitor based on the vehicle data, right data is going to be the lifeblood of SDVs. And that’s gonna enable so many opportunities, and it’s continual, it’s with the cloud. I know, you had a great session with Stefano [Marzani from AWS] on the cloud. But, you know, we’re, we’re working with all these different aspects that has to bring all those different technologies and worlds together. It’s driven by data, and it’s continually improving the car. It’s not just giving the latest app, right? That’s kind of how people think. And it’s, you know, it’s not truly a smartphone on wheels, I mean there’s aspects of that. But I don’t like to hear that reference a lot of times, because it’s much more than that. Because of that continual updates driven by real vehicle data and new opportunities that, to tell you truth, I think there’s interesting things that are gonna be coming that we can’t even imagine, right? We’re basically putting in the foundation to build a house basically, or build the future. And that’ll bring a lot of these new opportunities and vehicle data is going to drive a lot of those.

JOHN: Absolutely. And I hope we’ll talk about all those things. Data is something very important to us at Sonatus.

BRIAN: Oh, that’s right.

More than a smartphone on wheels

JOHN: Yeah. But you know what, on that point, you mentioned about capabilities, one of the things that we also see is, we have to–we as an industry–we have to design a vehicle to be able to put in capabilities that we don’t even know yet, and the example may be a silly example, but I was mentioned the other day, an example is streaming. So today, you have to try very hard to find a vehicle that doesn’t have the ability to connect, you know, streaming services to your vehicle. My car has it, a lot of other cars have it. But three years, five years ago, that wasn’t a thing. No vehicles had that. So imagine you design a car, and then you know, year or two years later that comes out, all of a sudden your car is not competitive in the market, because everyone expects streaming to be built in. So that’s just a silly example. And there’s gonna be much more than that. But the ability to put in services and you know, we’re going to talk later about networking and those kinds of infrastructure, some of those capabilities, for example, using vehicle cameras or using vehicle services, or something where we may need to reconfigure the vehicle in ways that we didn’t consider when it was shipped. And as a result, you would be prohibited from delivering these value-added services because the vehicle was statically configured. So we have to anticipate those kinds of things. I’m sure we’re going to talk about that today.

Building in future capabilities based on data

BRIAN: Yeah. And that’s, that’s really, really important. This is something I really harp on that it’s not the old days where I have a camera or a sensor or something that’s a very dedicated, right, it’s tied to one place. And that’s it goes nowhere else. We always talk about unlocking the value of data. Well, that’s sensor data, that’s ECU data, all the boxes, there’s so much in there. But if you think about how do I bring all of that together? And how do I actually get access to it? If I have access to everything that’s going on in the car, you can start to create new scenarios like security cameras is a simple one, right? I have security cameras, I’m leveraging these cameras and sensors. There’s some really interesting things you can do with sensors. I mean, we’re doing things like child presence detect, we can tell you, you know, your respiration rate and think about what you can do with that with first responders. It’s amazing. So these new architectures, that is really fundamental. It’s unlocking or breaking the chains of where that data goes today and current vehicles and opens it totally up to new opportunities, new applications, new services, which the OEMs love, because they want to monetize more and more. And, you know, unlocking my doors remotely is not going to cut it, right? It’s going to be how do I do these really interesting-

JOHN: Next-generation…

BRIAN: That provide value, right? That should actually provide value and benefits to my life that they’re willing to pay for. And at the end of the day, that’s a whole big issue. Is this whole…how do you make money on the investment? But maybe we’ll talk about that today?

SDV is not a tax on OEMs

JOHN: Exactly. I think there’s a perception that this is just a tax on the OEM. But I think that really misses the point that if we really have this configurable vehicle, we can offer services, as you said, that the consumer’s eager to pay for. We were having a conversation last week about this, where the issue is not that you don’t want to pay for things, the issue is that you don’t want to pay for things that aren’t interesting to you.

BRIAN: You want value!

JOHN: You want value. And what’s interesting to you and interesting to me might be different. You want to give people choices. So I hope we touch on all of those things today.

BRIAN: I mean, there’s so many angles to this right there. I always like to start about the benefits. How’s this going to change the world? How’s this gonna provide benefits to all the different vested parties, right? And then dive kind of down in because it’s amazing this is… I was talking to the media, we had a press conference this week, we talked to 20 media, this is a really exciting area that everyone’s interested in this. And there’s so many angles. And I basically said, this is a goldmine of areas of information, like what we’re doing here, right? There’s so many angles to talk about. Because it is disruptive, it is new, it’s bringing new opportunities in so many levels. Right. So that’s why I’m excited about it.

NXP S32G Vehicle Processor

JOHN: That’s fantastic. Now you oversee at NXP a really important product line in the S32 product line. And I was hoping you could give us a little bit of an overview of that product line and the application areas it serves because it’s such a key player in the market.

BRIAN: Yeah, definitely. So you know, S32 is something we introduced actually, in 17… 2017, a concept that we were going to bring this to market… ends up timing was ideal, because we’ve now built out this whole line of compute platforms and with compatibility a common chassis underneath all of these devices. And that is required, because you know, software-defined vehicle is not just about one chip that’s ruling the whole car. It’s very interesting. It requires diverse compute and very diverse requirements depending on what you’re doing within a software defined vehicle. Because what we’re seeing is these architectures are moving to some aspect of central compute…high performance, real-time compute, which is different than applications and things like this. It’s actually controlling the car and making the car do what it needs to do… what defines a vehicle, right has to drive, it has to steer, it has to stop, it has to have control, right? There’s a lot of aspects there and all the data that has to be managed within a software-defined vehicle. So you have that kind of central compute aspect of it. So you need a certain type of processing that does that. And we do that today. With our S32G family. We just introduced the latest S32G3, it just went into the first cars in the world, actually in China, they’re moving very fast and China. Already in production vehicles and China doing that central vehicle compute function, which is the foundation really of these SDVs.

NXP S32Z, NXP S32E and NXP S32K Vehicle Processors

BRIAN: Now in between that is the zones, right, zones are part of the vehicle that are managing what’s going on in that part of the vehicle. Right, today these vehicle architectures are so scattered, like we talked about dozens…100 boxes everywhere across the vehicle.

JOHN: Dedicated single function boxes…

BRIAN: Yeah, and it’s not sustainable. Because you know, I would call that hardware-defined vehicles, right? Because every function is defined by a box.

JOHN: Yeah, this box does this job. And that’s hardware. Because people often ask, well, what is software-defined? That’s almost a very simple way to say it. This box’s only job for its whole life is to manage the air conditioning or manage the windshield wipers or whatever like that… it’s hardware-defined.

BRIAN: And a lot of times they’re locked in because they are not upgradeable. And they’re not built for security, by the way. A lot of those boxes did not incorporate things like public key infrastructure of how you would so software updates. So its very limited but so what happens is all these boxes are being converged what today is a physical ECU or box are now becoming virtual ECUs. So think of that concept…virtual. So that’s where we come into play with our S32Z, or S32E for zonal and electrification types of consolidation. So I have a chip, the S32E that we have a customer loves that because they call it the EV on a chip. So think about that consolidation. So what was six different boxes, doing Battery Management, onboard charging, power conversion, energy management, motor control, all of those can now be converged into a single box, but you need special hardware to do that isolation, freedom of interference, it’s a totally different world. So this is a purpose-built device for SDV to consolidate in these zones. So now you have at the different zones of the vehicle, you’re doing multiple things, and it can be cross-domain. So you can do body, propulsion, across the vehicle. So we have that. And there’s also end nodes which are and still lots of legacy and still needs for discrete microcontrollers. So we have our S32K line to do that. So S32K is really popular. And as those grow over time, they do more zonal types of applications, too. And in fact, the first thing we’re seeing are body zones, where you start to just say the body functions can be put into zones, because think about today, you have boxes that just do window lift, or a box that does lighting over here and a box that does your sunroof and all boxes everywhere, right? And so if you converge those first with body, right, where it’s one thing, one cable going to it, not 100 cables going all over the place, it simplifies, it’s lower cost and weight and weight’s critical. So a lot of interesting, things… so the key message, I guess, from my perspective, from us, we’re looking holistically at the vehicle, which is why I’m excited. It’s not just one thing, we’re looking at all the really unique requirements from that central compute to the zone to the end node, how they work together, how you address very specific requirements at each part of the vehicle, and offer a diverse compute platform, the S32 platform to be able to address all of those needs, and making them all work together is exciting too.

S32 based on Arm Cortex processors

JOHN: That’s a great overview. And thanks for sharing that. I think one of the reasons that I think that platform is so compelling, as you talked about, it’s the full range from the MCU line up to the zonal and all the way up into the high performance, the G line. So I’d love to talk about, you know, kind of under the covers…peel the covers back a little bit and say… these are all Arm-based processors, am I right?

BRIAN: That is correct, we made that shift, actually in the past, we were doing PowerPCs and moved everything in that 2017. We said everything going forward with these main processors are going to be very diverse Arm cores that have the right core for the chore, is what I like to say.

JOHN: We had Robert Day from Arm on recently talking about this and I’d love it if you kind of talk us through the different processor families because what’s interesting about Arm, and people know I was at Arm for a long time. So I’m a little passionate about this. The different processor families from Arm kind of serve different needs. And I’d love you to talk about which of those you’re using for which of these applications.

BRIAN: Yeah, the beauty of the Arm A, R, and M, and I was actually involved with a lot of stuff back in the day when the Cortex was being developed, I was an input into that process. So it’s exciting to see how this has actually played out. And it maps directly into what we’re doing with S32, it’s ideal, because, okay, so if we kind of go down from top to bottom, right. So if you look at a central computer, there are application types of things where you need to kind of have strategy and overall control and vehicle services, and things like Kubernetes, as we’re trying to deploy new services to the vehicle, right, those, those are application cores. So Arm maps that, you know, has great offerings for the Arm Cortex-A series. So these are the application cores, right? They support large memory, they support all the capabilities you need for those applications. The other aspect in that central compute, which is becoming even more and more important is real-time control. So think of it as a real-time – I don’t want to say data center – it’s kind of like a centralized place for lots of real-time processing. So we’re seeing real-time more and more coming into that central compute. What’s really good for that are the R cores, right? The Arm Cortex-R cores, so it’s a combination of R and it’s a combination of M also, depending on what you’re doing. So A, R, and M there. When you look into zones, it’s very similar. So there’s some parts of the zone that are very real time, think about things that have to happen at specific times, braking, steering, motor control, battery – actuation, time sensitive actuation – exactly. I always say it’s deterministic. You have to get something done within a certain time window. And if you don’t bad things happen. Right?

JOHN: Right.

BRIAN: So that requires very deterministic types of things. You can’t do that with an A core for example, that’s where you need to have the R core for that. And then there’s others – Cortex-R? Cortex Arm, Yeah, Arm Cortex-R – and there’s others that are real time but they’re not hard real time. Think of it soft, they don’t have to happen exactly. But they have to happen more within human real time, right.

JOHN: Things like user interface…

BRIAN: Exactly… body and comfort type relations. And that’s where M fits as well, so we use the M-core also within the zones. Now when you go to the endpoints where you’re kind of just managing things, we also use the the K series, the S32K , uses M cores for those. We also use this for motor control, we have devices for motor control also. So think of as a hierarchy, top level, right, A cores, M cores, and now R cores are coming into the equation. So all three actually, because the central computer is a combination of things. Those zones, which is also combination of more hard real-time and soft real-time, so R cores and M cores. And then the very low end or end nodes are typically M cores that are just managing some actuators and sensors and such. So it’s really a hierarchy. And it maps to this whole thing back in, I don’t know, 15 years ago, when we started talking with Arm about Cortex and this whole A, R, and M approach. It’s played out well, that’s great.

JOHN: Yeah, I know when I was at Arm and we were working together at that time, you guys really showed how the whole range can work together as it was intended. So we’re really pleased to see that.

Turning ingredients into a solution with the ecosystem

JOHN:So I’d love to then shift over and talk about how do you take these ingredients, these critical silicon components, these critical aspects? How do we then turn that into a solution? Because you know, a chip doesn’t solve the problem, a piece of metal, you need the whole end to end, and ecosystem is so important to you. Well, what are you doing to support the ecosystem?

BRIAN: Definitely. I mean, this is something we’ve really changed how we do things in the last five or six years. I mean, silicon is just sand without software and system solutions around it. Right. So we look holistically at NXP. First of all, it starts with… in the chip, the technology we do actually to enable everything else. It’s like I was talking about how do we enable just the SDV to happen. But to have these digital chips, you need analog to bring them to life. We always say analog brings digital to life. I like that saying that is true. We have to have power management, it has to be safe, you need to have in-vehicle network and think about all the Ethernet, the CAN, all the traffic there, you have to have the power management and all the analog around it for sensing and actuation. So that’s the next layer that NXP looks at holistically as a hardware solution. And we offer reference designs that OEMs and tier ones actually take as a starting point, a lot of times true automotive-grade reference designs, one of them has 35 NXP components on it just to give you the scope of what NXP it’s not just about the S32. It’s about all the parts around it pretty much everything except the memories and maybe some other discretes. So now we’ve got the system solution, but then it comes to software. And there’s different levels of software, there’s the base enablement, there’s the infrastructure or middleware. And we’ve heavily invested in that. And actually, we have more software people working on this with expertise at all these levels than we do hardware chip design now, which is a big shift for NXP, right? Software-Defined world requires software expertise, software system architects, software product managers, all of these things. It’s a whole new world for us in software, but it’s progressing nicely. So we have that whole enablement, we’ve even taken it all the way to a complete stack. So it’s not just saying here’s a board support package, or here’s real-time drivers, or here’s the basic pieces, we put frameworks and middleware on top for safety, for security, we offer much, much more. And then we have what’s called a vehicle integration platform or VIP, we have a GoldVIP and a GreenVIP today, which brings those all together, it combines our software, with third-party software partners, as well as some open source and we bring a whole package together. So our customers out of the box can start to see the value not only of our silicon, they can actually see real-time performance and memory bandwidth and networking and temperature of the chip. They see this with all these use cases right out of the box, within 10 minutes, they understand silicon, but then we take it to the development side. So now we have a whole development whether it’s real-time, right AUTOSAR Classic, or Adaptive AUTOSAR for applications and services, hypervisors, the virtualization all the way to the cloud.

NXP working with Sonatus on vehicle software

BRIAN: So out of the box, we integrate AWS, they’ve been a great partner. We’ve worked with them for over three years now. And then working with Sonatus, and others, you know, bringing great value from partnerships on top of the silicon. So what we wanted to do is basically build the whole infrastructure from the chip to the system, to the reference boards, to the reference software, and be able to offer our customers a way to move very quickly so they can really focus on value, applications and services and deploy those onto the platform because it requires collaboration between all the players.

JOHN: Sure. Yeah, and we’ve seen that firsthand. I mean, we’ve been working closely with you and our team meets with your team, I think every week, I think maybe daily sometimes. Yeah, that’s probably true. And we’re you know, we’re in production today with a S32 platforms, you know, rolling down the road today. And we’ve seen also you know that you mentioned a lot of software engineers, not just hardware engineers. I mean, we’re dealing with that we’re meeting some of your incredible folks on a continuous basis to solve these problems. And we’re pleased to be a part of it. We’re pleased to be developing on top of a range of your platforms and working with you in the future. So it’s a great collaboration.

Conclusion of Part 1

JOHN: Thank you for joining us for part one of our two-part series with NXP Semiconductors. In our second part, we’ll continue the conversation and look especially into the future of future vehicle architectures, and how can we bring them to life. We hope you’ll join us in part two of our episode, which we’ll publish soon. If you like what you’re seeing here on The Garage please like and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss part two of our conversation with Brian Carlson. Thank you for joining us.

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