The internal combustion engine has been the heart of the automobile, since the past 100 years.But for the last 40 years, tiny slices of
silicon have been the brains that tell the muscles including the cardiac muscle that is the engine what to do and when. As we becoming the part of automated and electrified vehicles, microprocessors and the software that runs on them is becoming ever more
NXP the Dutch chipmaker is launching a new range processor with better performance, lower
power consumption and reduced software development effort, that it hopes will keep the company
relevant in the new mobility landscape.
If considering the names of any silicon manufacturers at all, Intel and Nvidia are most likely to
come to mind. In the last couple of years Nvidia and Intel have gotten a lot of attention of
automotive arena. If you drive anything built in the last thirty to forty years, it’s got chips from
NXP or one of its predecessor companies.
In 1953, NXP began journey as semiconductor arm of Dutch electronics company Philips and was
splits-off as a separate company in 2006. In 2015, NXP acquired Free scale which was formerly
chip making arm of Motorola. Earlier this year, Qualcomm announced a $39 bn bid to acquire NXP,
but the deal is bogged down right in a European antitrust investigation.
Regardless of what happens with the Qualcomm deal, NXP isn’t sitting on its hands in the
automotive market. It’s a highly competitive space with Texas Instruments, Renesas, ST
Microelectronics, Qualcomm, Intel and Nvidia, all vying for a slice of the increasingly valuable pie.
In the second half of 2018, NXP will kick off production of the S32 line of processors with scalable
variants available for what the company hopes will be every application.
The entire line up is based on the same ARM architecture found in most of the mobile devices in
the world along with countless other embedded applications. For NXP there will be three primary
variants based on the extremely low-power ARM Cortex-M series, the real-time optimized
Cortex-R and the highest performance Cortex-A design.
Companies like NXP that license ARM’s processor designs and instruction sets add on various
peripherals like memory controllers, graphics processors and input/output devices that are tailored
to the specific applications. That's exactly what Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Mediatek and
numerous other companies do when creating the chips that power smartphones and tablets.
For the automotive market, the specifics of the designs are also tweaked to make them automotive
grade so they can withstand the temperature and vibration extremes that cars are exposed to. The
nature of the automotive operating environment and use cases means that the electronics also need
to be more resistant to electromagnetic interference than the devices you carry in your pocket. That
type of optimization is something that companies like NXP, Renesas and TI all have expertise in.