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Building on Arm-based silicon solutions for mixed-criticality automotive systems

Sep 26, 2023

Sonatus and Arm in Automotive

Arm has been all over the news, especially given their blockbuster IPO in September 2023.   The reason for their success is how pervasive Arm technology has become in nearly every industry that uses electronics. Automotive is a great example: nearly every silicon vendor is using Arm in their automotive line-ups, and most are shifting to an all-Arm based roadmap. Arm enables silicon providers to deliver critical capabilities like high performance with energy efficiency, support for safety-critical and mixed-criticality systems, and an open standards-based ecosystem including initiatives like SOAFEE

Sonatus software in production today is running on a range of Arm-based silicon from many providers and new production deployments coming soon are also based on Arm. We work with providers like NXP, Marvell, Realtek, Broadcom, Renesas, Micron, ST Micro and more. Sonatus is also a member of SOAFEE that aims to bring modern cloud-native development practices and build open-source architecture for software-defined vehicles.

I am  proud to have worked at  Arm for over 14 years and have great respect for what Arm has accomplished. In this blog I’ll describe some of the many desirable benefits of Arm in automotive that provide a perfect complement to Sonatus.

Low power matters in vehicles

When one thinks of vehicles, you might see them as a physically large device with lots of power storage and power generation capability where energy is abundant. Arm, which is known for its energy efficiency, might initially seem unnecessary for automotive. But, the reality is that energy efficiency actually matters a great deal in vehicles and there are two reasons why: 

First, with electric vehicles, energy efficiency directly translates into range as there is no ongoing energy generation by-product of burning gasoline. Second, automotive systems are typically compact systems, delivered in sealed units to provide weatherproofing. For both reasons, energy efficiency enables a simpler thermal cooling solution, reducing weight and physical size of those units.

Automotive performance needs are growing

Paradoxically, despite the need for low power consumption, the increasing software in vehicles is demanding higher and higher compute performance. This is where the magic of Arm really shines, because Arm is not delivering low power through low performance, but rather is delivering high performance that are also energy-efficient.

For example, in data centers, Arm-based solutions deliver >40% more energy efficiency than comparable Intel-based solutions. In automotive, Arm solutions bring incredible top-end performance that enables high performance domain controllers and central compute capabilities. Whether for private vehicles with increased driver assistance requirements, or for leading edge robotaxis, filling the trunk with a rack of high power servers will not get the job done. iThat’s why Arm is being adopted for next generation high performance in-vehicle applications.

Diverse solutions from high performance to deeply embedded

One of the most powerful aspects of Arm’s architecture is hidden right in the name: A-R-M.  The Cortex family of  processors contains three main subsets that share a common processor architecture and compatible instruction sets, but serve different compute needs.

The “A” cores from the Cortex-A family for application processing get the most attention, as these cores run the application workloads on phones, data centers, or the high performance compute in vehicles.  Perhaps less well known, but critical for automotive and other real-time applications like hard disk and safety-critical systems, are the “R” cores from the Cortex-R family that focus on real-time processing. Finally, there are myriad microcontroller applications both inside complex chips and also in standalone low power sensors that are well served by the “M” cores from the “Cortex-M” family of microcontroller processors.  Having such a diverse lineup that shares compatibility is critical to improve developer expertise and throughput, while also enabling a range of processors suited to solve problems with different needs.

Rich ecosystem and standards

Arm’s longevity also comes from its longstanding commitment to a diverse ecosystem. Myriad complementary companies from EDA providers, software development tools, debugging, and other solutions make developing on Arm a smooth process. Additionally, Arm develops and complies with key interface standards that promote system interoperability on-chip of wide-ranging peripherals whether for deeply embedded applications or high bandwidth interfaces for leading-edge compute.

Arm also leads when it comes to industry collaboration, including initiatives like SOAFEE. SOAFEE aims to bring modern cloud-native development practices to automotive, including working to extend standards like containers and other middleware to be compatible with the mixed-criticality present in automotive applications. Sonatus Foundation is compatible with SOAFEE and builds on the same kinds of industry standards advocated by that group. 

If you’d like to hear more about Arm in automotive, I recently spoke with my good friend from Arm, Robert Day, who is Director of Automotive Go-to-Market for North America, in an episode of The Garage Podcast by Sonatus.  You can find The Garage on YouTube or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Subscribe here to Sonatus’ YouTube Channel to be notified of future episodes.

Dr. John Heinlein
Chief Marketing Officer

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