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Imagination Technologies has announced its XS family of graphics processing units (GPUs) for automotive applications such as driver assistance and displays with 3D graphics.

The London-based company, which designs chips that are manufactured by other companies, is investing heavily in graphics chips customized for cars. This comes as the auto industry is finally catching up with the computer era and getting better displays for dashboard information. The flashy screens are selling points in modern cars, and they’re even more important in self-driving cars and smart cars that offer driver assistance. They can, for instance, send alerts to a driver when an accident is imminent.

Imagination said it has already cornered more than half the market for automotive GPUs. The company said the XS GPUs are designed for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and can process safety-critical graphics workloads while still reacting to interruptions. These might include driver alerts, like a big blinking red light when a collision is about to happen.

Since the safety warning lights have to be available at all times, the GPU can protect the part of the screen where the lights appear and make sure there’s never a problem generating enough performance to display an alert, said product marketing engineer Andrew Girdler in an interview with VentureBeat.

Imagination said the XS represents the most advanced automotive GPU tech created to date and is the first licensable intellectual property to meet the car industry’s ISO 26262 standard, which addresses risk levels in cars.

The car market requires features like hardware virtualization, so a graphics chip can run software in a power-efficient way and do so while running multiple operating systems or multiple screens at the same time, said Girdler. “We’ve had these features in our products for many generations now,” Girdler said.

Imagination Technologies' XS GPUs focus on meeting safety standards.

Above: Imagination Technologies’ XS GPUs focus on meeting safety standards as well as performance targets.

Image Credit: Imagination Technologies

In addition to emergency alerts, the GPUs can accelerate the graphics needed to create media and entertainment on dashboards. The chips can also create supplemental imagery, like offering a surround view when you are parking in a tight space.

The graphics on car dashboards aren’t all that fancy, but these displays have to quickly move between graphics and video feeds, like when you’re backing up a car and need to see what’s behind you in the rearview mirror. The graphics also have to be fast to generate redundant backups, where the processing is done a second time to ensure it’s correct.

Imagination worked with partner Horiba Mira to make sure it conformed to automotive safety standards. Imagination is also working on a safety-critical driver, or software that can update existing GPUs so they also meet safety requirements.

Last fall, the company introduced a variety of other GPUs: the XE, XM, and XT families. The XS represents the high end, with a focus on safety and the ability to compute graphics at 2 times higher performance for critical workloads. To date, more than 200 million cars have shipped with Imagination-based chips in them.

“The thing we are unlocking here is making a GPU part of the safety solution,” said Imagination senior director Jamie Broome in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’ve been in the embedded automotive industry for 15 years, with a focus on power efficiency and graphics and computation. This is our bread and butter.”

The new chips are expected to debut in the second half of the year.


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