MADISON, Wis. — Chip companies are finding 2014 a critical year to drive their technology into semi-autonomous car platforms -- 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 this summer announced 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.