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Functional Safety takes the Driver's Seat in Autonomous Vehicles

By Neil Stroud, Senior Director of Technology Strategy, Automotive & IoT Line of Business, Arm

Functional Safety takes the Driver's Seat in Autonomous VehiclesNeil Stroud, Senior Director of Technology Strategy, Automotive & IoT Line of Business, Arm

Today’s cars are driven first and foremost by safety—and in more places than you might expect. Look at sports cars today versus just fifteen years ago. Newer models have grown taller hoods, smaller windows and giant, gaping grills. You may have also noticed the increasing size of modern vehicles when compared to say, a 1995 Toyota Camry for example. These changes are not only as a result of designers taking new and daring risks. Instead, automotive design has evolved to maintain the shapes consumers know and love whilst adhering to increasingly stringent safety regulations. An unlucky pedestrian sees a better chance of survival upon striking a tall hood, versus a low one. And those massive grills so popular on modern cars make room for the latest safety technologies like front-cameras for collision avoidance.

What most people haven’t heard of is functional safety—a critical element in the design of any system that contributes to the safety of people or the environment. Functional safety is an “invisible” technology, but you cannot live without it. And similar to protective exterior design considerations, functional safety is always evolving.

Its methodologies make possible the ability to detect, diagnose and mitigate the occurrence of any fault.

To better understand functional safety, think about the industry shift from manual to electronic parking brakes. Like any electronic device, they are subject to failure. Functional safety is what will stop your car from rolling down a hill should the electronic parking brake go up in smoke. Clearly, the costs of not considering functional safety as part of your design from the start can be significant in terms of money, time, and risk, especially when taking into account the lengthy and costly qualification processes for safety-relevant applications.

Consumers are not taking risks with autonomous vehicles. Despite heavy investments in the field, 50 percent of consumers do not believe autonomous vehicles will be safe. Clearly, the success of next-generation autos depends on building the highest levels of safety integrity today.

Whilst functional safety is considered at a system level, at its core is the fertile soil for a software-driven world – hardware. In many cases, a well-architected processor with the broadest functional safety IP does duty for autonomous vehicle systems, Advanced Driver- Assistance Systems (ADAS) or digital cockpit applications. Now, functional safety is battling the fundamental challenge of deploying mass-scale autonomous transportation, which demands a tremendous amount of computing performance.

In an era of emerging safety standards such as “safety of the intended function” (SotIF), automotive leaders must pay close attention to the hardware employed to architect self-driving car frameworks.

Ask yourself the following questions: Are the technologies I’m using future- proof? Am I properly managing higher-performance CPUs, which are often more complex and less deterministic than their counterparts? If not, there are strategies to better your position— and some major chip designers are already leading the way.

The best solutions spawn from companies enabling safety-focused hardware in tandem with energy-efficient ecosystem configurations. From a technical standpoint, there are multiple ways to manage functional safety in the autonomous era. One solution is to run two CPU cores in lock-step—creating up to four pairs of locked CPUs in a cluster which can check against each other for higher safety integrity applications. Further, split-lock functionality enables clusters of processors to be configured at boot time as either split for performance or locked together for higher levels of safety. Most importantly, look to companies already building the hardware-based foundation autonomous vehicles will need to maximize occupant protection. In particular, look for solutions that have been through rigorous levels of verification and compliance, like ISO certifications.

The old adage of “safety first” rings true for the future of the automobile industry. Ensuring passenger and pedestrian protection is the most critical element to successful, mass deployment of self-driving vehicles—and the golden key to acquiring consumer trust. By looking to proven, autonomous-class hardware and ecosystem solutions focused on safety, automakers and hardware designers together are clearing the path to bring autonomous vehicles—and their most skeptical critics—safely onto the roads of the future.

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