ARM announced the first Image Signal Processor (ISP) for the automotive market with Ultra Wide Dynamic Range (Ultra WDR) capabilities, allowing autonomous driving systems to work in even the most difficult daylight lighting conditions.
ARM To Focus On Computer Vision
Last year, ARM purchased Apical, a company that was licensing imaging and embedded computer vision intellectual property. ARM seems to have realized that computer vision is an important part of the future of embedded chips, considering how many types of products could benefit from it: self-driving cars, drones, robots, surveillance cameras, and any other product that has a camera and needs to analyze data.
"Computer vision is in the early stages of development and the world of devices powered by this exciting technology can only grow from here," said Simon Segars, ARM’s CEO, when the company acquired Apical.
"Apical is at the forefront of embedded computer vision technology, building on its leadership in imaging products that already enable intelligent devices to deliver amazing new user experiences. The ARM partnership is solving the technical challenges of next generation products such as driverless cars and sophisticated security systems. These solutions rely on the creation of dedicated image computing solutions and Apical's technologies will play a crucial role in their delivery," he added.
ARM wants to focus on the self-driving car market in particular. According to Strategy Analytics, a market research firm, it’s expected that mid-range cars, such as the Volkswagen Golf, will have at least three cameras, and and luxury cars should be approaching ten cameras by 2023.
Not all cameras will be external; some will be internal in order to provide certain features, such as monitoring to see if the driver falls asleep while the car is in cruise control. This could benefit cars that haven’t yet reached Level 4 or higher for autonomous driving, and they still require a human to be alert in case something goes wrong.
Cameras on a car could also offer better ways to detect pedestrians or provide night vision for the driver, thus enhancing regular cars that don’t yet have self-driving systems.
Mali-C71 Ultra Wide Dynamic Range ISP
The first product to come from the Apical acquisition is the Mali-C71, a high-performance ISP that’s capable of 24 stops of dynamic range. In photography, a stop is a doubling of light exposure for an image, so the bigger the range of stops, the brighter you can make an image or part of an image. That means that an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), for instance, can more easily distinguish what’s in the shadows in the daylight.
The Mali-C71 can also reduce light exposure to more easily observe something that has too much light on it, as seen in the example below.
ARM’s ISP can support both human displays computer vision simultaneously. This means humans (that's you!) can watch what the cameras see while the computer vision system does its work in the background to analyze every pixel at the same time.
The ISP has a processing performance of 1.2 Gigapixels per second and can support up to four different cameras at the same time, each with up to 4K resolution. Manufacturers that want to put more than four cameras on a car can opt for multiple ISPs.
ARM said that the Mali-C71 ISP has been designed with the highest levels of safety in mind and is in accordance with the Automotive Safety Integrity Level D (ASIL D). ASIL D certification is required for components where the risk of fatal injury is highest, which means the highest level of assurance is also necessary.
According to the company, the ISP has 300 fault detection circuits, a built-in continuous self-test, Cyclic Redundancy Checking (CRC) on data paths, and every pixel is tagged for reliability. The software for the ISP is also being developed with ASIL compliance in mind.
ARM will be entering a market where the competition is already quite strong. Nvidia has made significant progress in the automotive market over the past few years, and Intel recently acquired Mobileye, the company that used to make Tesla’s "Autopilot" systems.
The market is still young, however, and ARM will likely also be an important player by licensing its IP to other chip makers. Then, it could gain market share in the same way it has in smartphones, networking equipment, and other embedded chip markets.