MADISON, Wis. — NXP Semiconductors announced Monday (Oct. 16) a new automotive processing platform, called NXP S32, designed for OEMs and tier ones to maximize re-use of codes, software and common capabilities across vehicle domains, applications and SoCs.

One might call the announcement big on concept, but short on detail, since NXP isn’t rolling out any new chips based on the new platform until the middle of 2018. 

However, NXP, as the world’s leading automotive chip supplier, hopes to stake its claim in the ADAS and autonomous vehicle market by addressing the thorniest issue of today’s vehicle development: bloated software and a variety of applications too complex to integrate and too disparate to be portable.

Referring to a host of automotive MCUs used as ECUs located variously within a vehicle, Matt Johnson, senior vice president and general manager of product lines and software, auto MCU and processors at NXP Semiconductors, told EE Times, “Let’s face it. They are not compatible, they are not scalable and they are not reusable.”

With the new S32 platform, NXP hopes to change that. Johnson said, “This new platform [S32] spans the entire vehicle. It allows carmakers to move faster, and develop new models more efficiently. As a result, consumers will have new vehicles on the road sooner.”

According to Johnson, “Eight out of top 15 OEMs today are already adopting” the NXP S32 platform, and “more will adopt it soon.”

Luca De Ambroggi, senior principal analyst for automotive electronics at IHS Markit, told us that it makes sense for other automotive chip suppliers — like Texas Instruments and Renesas — to take a similar common platform approach. “Nonetheless, others have not yet announced something similar, although they might do it in the future,” said De Ambroggi. “I do not think that [NXP’s rivals] are having such a widespread approach yet, in terms of cross scalability from hardware to software.”

Safety, Security, OTA
One of NXP’s big promises for S32 is the “common capability” it hopes to provide to every SoC [on the platform], across vehicle domains and between apps. 

In particular, NXP is focused on safety, security and over-the-air (OTA) update. The plan is to make this capability common on every MCU or SoC – regardless where in a vehicle the chip works.

“We are making ASIL D performance everywhere — across multiple spaces,” noted Johnson. “As a developer of safety cores for decades, this is what we do. We’ve figured out on our own how to make ARM cores ASIL D certified.” NXP is applying ASIL D to ARM cores across the board, including Cortex-A, Cortex-R and Cortex-M cores.

Defined within ISO 26262, ASIL D — or automotive safety integrity level D — represents “likely potential for severely life-threatening or fatal injury in the event of a malfunction.” It requires “the highest level of assurance that the dependent safety goals are sufficient and have been achieved.”

Johnson said NXP isn’t stopping at ASIL D. “We are adding fail operational capability” to every ECU, he said. “When a car recognizes a problem, it not only notifies a driver or a system [in a driverless car] that it isn’t properly working any more, but it also lets its fail operational mode kick in and self-corrects.”

How it self-corrects — whether it stops, keeps driving or reroutes — is up to each car OEM to decide. “They have different ways to program that,” said Johnson. 

But because the silicon is already taking care of the fail-operational capability, car designers face less software programming intensity, added Johnson.

Security is also a “common capability” NXP is adding to chips on its S32 platform. Johnson said, “Several years ago, people were still debating if hardware security is necessary for every MCU or MPU to be used in a vehicle. There is zero debate on that today.”

By leveraging the company’s bank-card security experience, NXP is “pushing the latest security in automotive” across the platform, he noted. “We prevent [MCUs] from side channel attacks. We are capable of updating ciphers with the newest, higher cipher.”

OTA is another area where the auto industry didn’t see an absolute necessity until several years ago. No vehicles, except for Tesla, have been launched with built-in OTA capabilities. But now, every carmaker considers it a must for every connected car — both for future security and safety reasons.

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