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Arm has unveiled new tools to help chipmakers and carmakers develop the “software-defined” automobiles of the future. Software-defined cars are those that can be reprogrammed for different functions using software, even after the vehicles ship to owners.

Cambridge, England-based Arm is working with major automobile suppliers and tech firms, including AWS, Continental, Cariad, and more. The car features range from driver-assisted safety measures to self-driving cars. But they’re all loaded with electronics.

The tech includes Scalable Open Architecture for Embedded Edge (SOAFEE), a software architecture and open source reference implementation that brings the real-time and safety needs of automotive together with the advantages of a cloud-native approach.

“Modern vehicle features are already driving massive software complexity, and a software-defined architecture provides a mechanism to manage this complexity at scale,” Arm VP Chet Babla said in an email to VentureBeat. “Further, software-defined vehicles will be able to deploy valuable applications, services, and capabilities, as well as post-sale upgrades more easily. This delivers operational business value to [manufacturers], tier 1s, cloud, and software vendors while also unlocking new service-based monetization opportunities. And as consumers, we’ve become accustomed to immersive, personalized, and upgradeable digital user experiences and now expect the same from our vehicles — this is what a software-defined approach can enable.”


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The automotive industry is at an inflection point as supply chains are evolving and manufacturers and tier 1 system integrators are deeply engaged with all automotive stakeholders in redefining the entire technology stack, he added.

“The functionality of a car is no longer just determined by mechanical components. It is increasingly being defined by the capabilities of the electronics software,” Babla said. “To perform multiple functions, such as digital cockpit, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), powertrain electrification management, and even autonomy, the vehicle’s electronics architecture is evolving to require increased processing performance that’s consolidated into fewer computing platforms.”

Arm also unveiled two new reference hardware platforms that will enable automotive design experimentation and testing on high-performance Arm-based processors ahead of commercialization.

As vehicle architectures and capabilities evolve, automotive developers today face the increasing code complexity needed to deliver advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), in-vehicle infotainment systems (IVI), electrified powertrains, and self-driving cars.

To meet these evolving consumer demands, computing must become more centralized, and software is increasingly critical. The resulting changes to how software is being developed, deployed, and managed mean cloud-native development, best known for driving reductions in cost, time, and complexity across the cloud infrastructure industry, is more applicable to automotive development than ever before, Arm said.

“This growing hardware complexity requires a huge increase in software that must be developed, deployed, and managed throughout the vehicle’s lifecycle, driving the need for a software-defined vehicle,” Babla said. “By adopting a software-defined approach, automakers and integrators will benefit from development efficiencies and feature scalability across their model line-up while also being able to drive new service-based revenue streams direct to the consumer post-sale. The automotive industry is committed to a software-defined future, and the SOAFEE initiative will accelerate this vision.”

But to address the software-defined needs of cars quickly, it is imperative to deliver a standardized framework that enhances proven cloud-native technologies that work at scale with the real-time and safety features required in automotive applications. This same framework can also benefit other real-time and safety-critical use cases, such as robotics and industrial automation.

A roadmap

Above: Software-defined cars have to manage data from a lot of sensors.

Image Credit: Arm

SOAFEE is the result of automakers, system integrators, and leaders in semiconductor, software, and cloud technology getting together to define a new open standards-based architecture for the software-defined vehicle.

In addition, the SOAFEE reference implementation, an implementation of the architecture defined by a Special Interest Group (SIG) of these leaders, will be free open source software aimed at allowing broad prototyping, workload exploration, and early development. Arm is working with leading commercial solution providers to maximize compatibility and provide a faster route to functionally safe designs.

SOAFEE now builds on earlier initiatives to enable cloud concepts like container orchestration with automotive functional safety and in real time.

Shorter development times

Above: Software-defined cars can be managed via the cloud, as well as edge computing.

Image Credit: Arm

The development timeline for new automotive applications needs to be as fast and seamless as possible. In the past, it took as many as five years to get new car technology into the latest automobiles.

The immediate availability of SOAFEE will empower cloud-based developers to apply their expertise and contribute to the future of mobility, built on Arm technology.

In partnership with ADLink, Arm is delivering a new SystemReady-compatible development platform to help accelerate time to market. The platform, powered by Arm Neoverse-based Ampere Altra cores, will allow workload exploration and development on Arm-based silicon using the SOAFEE reference software stack for cockpit, ADAS, powertrain, and autonomous driving applications, among others.

The development platform includes a developer workstation plus a rugged in-vehicle product, and both are available for preorder, with general availability expected in Q4 2021.

The AVA Developer Platform is a high-performance, 32-core scalable compute system built for lab-based development and is capable of running autonomous workloads. It allows developers to use accelerator hardware to complement high-performance central processing units (CPUs).

For in-vehicle prototyping and testing, the high-performance AVA-AP1 has 80 cores for increased CPU performance and extra input-output (IO) capabilities. It includes a safety processor to enable in-vehicle execution using real sensors.

Software-defined functionality is a growing trend in many sectors, and the combined solution of SOAFEE and the new development platform will benefit other applications. In robotics, these include areas like medicine, manufacturing, and logistics.

For automotive use cases, software-defined functionality will deliver safe, new in-vehicle experiences and features that meet consumers’ demands and expectations. It will also unlock new revenue streams and customer engagement opportunities for automakers, tier 1s, software vendors, and cloud service providers.

In addition to support from AWS, ADLink, Ampere, and CARIAD, the initiatives have received broad support from leaders across the supply chain, including Apex.AI, Continental, Green Hills Software, Linaro, Marvell, MIH Consortium, Red Hat, SUSE, Woven Planet, and Zing Robotics.

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