Ad block

Startling Views from CES

By David Benjamin

LAS VEGAS — Negotiating the CES show floor, bumping along among throngs of convention-goers, and weaving between display booths large and small is no walk in the park. But it rewards the visitor with sights, sounds, and the occasional human encounter that can be mystifying, gratifying, amusing. For a photographer more interested in startling images than in the minutiae of technology, this hectic stroll can be fun. Here’s a collection of shots derived from an hour or so among several exhibition halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Quantum computing comes to CES

IBM chose CES to unveil IBM Q System One. IBM calls its Q System One “the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system.”

But here’s the thing: How do you explain quantum computing to the CES crowd? After all, the system is designed for scientific and commercial use.

The Big Blue did its best to describe quantum computing in the context of future applications. The potential use cases listed by IBM include: “finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments, or finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and optimizing fleet operations for deliveries.”

Next page: Le Mans comes to CES

Toto Touts Total Toilet

By David Benjamin

LAS VEGAS — If you don’t think there’s serious science in the development of the total toilet, you haven’t talked to Bill Strang, president of operations and e-commerce at Toto USA. Toto’s newest superjohn, the Neorest NX1 dual-flush “smart washlet” partakes of hydrophilic science, lubricity studies, and tribology to counteract the modern porcelain indoor flush toilet’s worst enemy — hydraulic adhesion.

In sum, a lot of thought has gone into Toto’s latest pride and joy, partly because — as Strang notes with a knowing smile — the Japanese, some of whom started Toto, are “fanatical” about bathroom hygiene.

“Everything we’ve learned through all the years of developing washlets has brought us to the ultimate washlet,” said Strang. Toto’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was large but tastefully uncluttered. In perhaps a gesture of Zen minimalism, rather than display Toto’s vast product line of bathroom fixtures, the company focused on the new Neorest NX1.

“It’s functional, with a great aesthetic, sort of like a river rock,” said Strang, summoning up his own Zen sensibilities, “with a nice organic feel.”

Toto is one of a host of household fixture, plumbing, and appliance companies displaying products that feature advanced material science and vastly improved performance, many of them integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) elements.

In an animated demonstration, Toto shows how the Neorest washlet employs the power of what it calls a “cyclone flush,” which actually makes a U-turn before swirling around the bowl furiously and sending all those colored cubes off to the treatment plant.

Strang rattled off the many virtues of the Neorest washlet, including a keenly engineered ceramic surface to which nothing can stick (all that lubricity), and a post-flush “wand” that thrusts itself into the bowl to do a second cleanup. The new washlet is, of course, heated and intuitive. The seat will lift when it senses anyone approaching. Its “bidet function” is a complicated mix of firm and gentle spray that oscillates, sometimes soothingly and sometimes more aggressively, Strang noted. A remote control manages all the washlet’s functions.

Included in the hardware is a second nozzle, “for girls, in the front,” said Strang. “It’s softer and more comfortable.”

He summed up Toto’s development of a toilet that goes way beyond “minimal” as the result of a “scientific approach for cleaning yourself efficiently, for a more comfortable and delightful experience” in the bathroom.

Strang added to the discussion by describing Toto’s collaboration with good2go, a San Francisco company that is installing safe toilets, accessible only with a QR code provided through a subscription-based smartphone app, in locations like Whole Foods and Peet’s Coffee. Trials of these toilets have been successful, with favorable responses from users and a drastic reduction in “toilet incidents” like drug abuse and assault.

Toto is also partnering with Georgia Pacific, a supplier of toilet tissue and paper towels, to monitor use of restrooms in large venues like stadiums and airports. An AI-based system being tested at Hartsfield/Jackson Airport in Atlanta has yielded new efficiencies in restroom maintenance, better morale among custodial staff, and “actual empirical data for building better public bathrooms.”

In short, Toto’s commitment to good toilets is total.

Toto has devised a shower, composed of a single stream, that doesn’t splash and, according to spokesman Bill Strang, massages the user gently while wreathing his or her body in a gentle flow of water.

Silicon Labs’s CEO on AI and UWB

By Junko Yoshida

LAS VEGAS — “We are still in the early days of market adoption of IoT,” Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs, told EE Times at the company’s booth during CES.

But wait, hasn’t the electronics industry been talking about the internet of things (IoT) for more than two decades? Trace back to the time when RFID tags began to be touted as a must-have in supply chains. (Kevin Ashton, the then-director of the Auto-ID Center, is widely known for having coined the phrase “IoT” back then.)

Besides, the industry supposedly has all the necessary building blocks for IoT: a low-energy microcontroller, wireless connectivity, sensors, and maybe antennas in an IoT module. At this point, isn’t IoT essentially a “bing-bang-boom”?

Not necessarily. Tuttle maintains that IoT is a market that takes decades to unfold. Consider the IoT attach rate for commercial lighting systems, he said. “We are probably at 10% to 15% … It’s still low.”

Selling into the future
In Tuttle’s mind, transitions this big are never done and never enough. Furthermore, the technologies applied to IoT are constantly advancing.

As IoT continues to look for design wins in the industrial market, Tuttle said that the chip supplier’s job is never done at the time of sales. He said, “We are selling our chips into the future.”

In other words, “Our products must be able to support new software, protocol updates, and applications — all that — over the next 10 to 15 years.” That’s a long-haul business.

IoT users in the industrial market are also looking for IoT devices that are contextually aware. Location is one important element.

Silicon Labs’s new Bluetooth SoC, EFR32BG22

Silicon Labs just announced this week the company’s new Bluetooth SoCs, capable of asset tracking. The new low-energy device takes advantage of Bluetooth Angle of Arrival and Angle of Departure capabilities, thus offering sub-1-m location accuracy, according to the company.

Location, however, is just one element that can make IoT aware of its context. Others, such as light, sound, voice, and vision, can make IoT devices “a lot more aware of the environment they are operating in,” Tuttle explained.

The next logical step is to add AI to the IoT module. Tuttle promised that Silicon Labs will deliver in 2020 an IoT solution integrated with AI acceleration. By making IoT devices “trainable, actionable, and capable of extracting information and learning from the environment,” they become a lot more contextually aware, he explained.

Of course, Silicon Labs isn’t alone as it looks to add machine learning on end nodes. But rather than forcing inference jobs to run on current devices, Silicon Labs plans to add an AI acceleration feature to the company’s Wireless Gecko Series 2 platform.

Unlike competing AI edge devices plugged into the wall, Tuttle said, “Our goal is to get this [IoT devices with multiple sensors and AI features] hooked up with wireless network or connected smartphones. The name of the game is to enable machine learning on a very low-power, always-on device with a limited memory budget.”

Armed with its Gecko MCUs known for its low-energy sensor interface and interconnect features such as Peripheral Reflex System, Silicon Labs believes it has an edge in the race to add machine-learning features to IoT solutions.

The low-energy sensor interface, for example, can connect to duty-cycling inductive, capacitive, and resistive sensors while autonomously operating in Deep Sleep mode. With Gecko MCUs, the peripherals also connect directly to one another, allowing them to communicate without waking up a CPU or seeking its intervention.

“These are all great features unique to our Gecko MCUs, and some people even say that this is enough,” said Tuttle. But the company is taking more steps to optimize AI functions on IoT devices.

Tuttle wouldn’t disclose details and timelines for the new AI products. However, he implied that they will be ready when Silicon Labs holds its own “Works With Smart Home Conference” in September. “We will bring Google, Amazon, and others onto the stage,” said Tuttle.

How about UWB?
With the introduction of the Bluetooth 5.1 spec, Bluetooth can now do fine-grained positioning. Accuracy of positioning is accomplished by an Angle of Arrival mechanism. Undoubtedly, this will become essential to context-/location-based IoT applications.

But if positioning is so critical, how about using ultra-wideband (UWB)?

Tuttle said, “Absolutely. We are interested. Things are getting more interesting as UWB becomes a part of iPhones and Samsung’s phones.” But he added, “Just to be clear, that is not to say that Silicon Labs is going to do UWB.”

In the past, when UWB was gunning for wireless streaming, positioning itself to compete with Wi-Fi, Tuttle said, “We — at Silicon Labs — never chased that market then.”

While UWB has its limitations, especially at distance, it offers more accurate location than other technologies. UWB will be great for a set of applications, said Tuttle, such as payments at point of sale. “But we will wait and see.”

For its IoT business, Silicon Labs sees itself focusing on local rather than wide-area networks such as LTE and LoRa. The same could apply to UWB. “In our business, what we decide not to do is just as important,” said Tuttle.

Chao Vows ‘Mystery Drone’ Solution

By David Benjamin

LAS VEGAS — It was just a tad ironic.

Only five days after her boss, President Trump, had ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao promised a standing-room-only audience Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that she will be cracking down on the unregulated use of drones in U.S. airspace.

In a keynote address at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Secretary Chao made specific reference to the “mystery drones” that have been spotted recently cruising the night skies over Nebraska and Colorado. She said that these flights, which have disturbed residents of those areas, demonstrate the Wild West character of the currently unregulated drone phenomenon.

She noted that today, there are more than 1.5 million drones in private or corporate ownership, flown by 160,000 registered remote pilots, “a job category that didn’t even exist five years ago.” But there are many more drones and pilots that are neither counted nor certified. The Department of Transportation (DOT) currently has little power over who flies drones and where they fly.

She said her department is making plans to initiate drone testing for safety and airworthiness, manage drone air space, set up rules for identifying drones remotely, and registering drones and their pilots.

On the latter point, she said that, according to rules now being written, any drone heavier than eight ounces will be either registered with the government or it will be illegal. This registration would enable all federal, state, and local agencies to identify drones operating in their air space and help them manage the exploding population of these suddenly popular devices.

Chao noted that a 60-day period for public comment about the proposed drone regulations will end on March 20.

Touching on a topic dear to the hearts of CES convention-goers, Chao announced also that her department has just promulgated a document called AV 4.0, formulating updated policies on the development of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles (AVs). While offering familiar bromides on the promise of greater road safety and reduced traffic fatalities with automated vehicles, Chao hinted that the government, at this stage, remains reluctant to intervene in the development of a heavily invested technology that has recently faltered. Carmakers and technology companies are struggling with the challenge of establishing uniform AV safety standards.

Fatal accidents involving autonomous vehicles made by Uber and Tesla have exacerbated public misgivings about AVs and sent AV designers and safety experts back to the drawing board.

Suggesting a hands-off approach by the DOT’s safety agencies, Chao defined her department’s role as “promoting efficient markets.” She said, “It’s not the role of federal government to pick winners and losers.” She said that the DOT will “remain technologically neutral … and encourage innovation by protecting intellectual property.”

“Innovation,” in an expansion of its dictionary meaning, has become a sort of mantra for technology corporations to justify their opposition to regulatory scrutiny by government agencies. It pops up often in speeches delivered at CES.

Chao vowed to “modernize all these regulations” related to automotive safety in light of the emergence of self-driving technology. Regulations are important, she said, but those that are “obsolete, irrelevant, and outdated need to be changed.” She offered no specifics but promised a “consistent government approach” to the facilitation of autonomous vehicle technology as fast as possible.

Michael Kratsios, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer, followed Chao’s keynote by emphasizing the president’s commitment to artificial intelligence (AI) development — a key element in self-driving vehicles — as expressed in an executive order, issued last year on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.”

Kratsios said that “the United States is leading the world” in AI research and development, a claim difficult to verify, and that the president’s involvement ensures this continued leadership. He said the administration is committed to “policies that generate trust in government and with building the applicability of artificial intelligence.”

Shapiro Quizzes Activist FTC Chief

By David Benjamin

LAS VEGAS — Consumer Technology Association chief Gary Shapiro, an avid opponent of government regulation, didn’t quite know what to expect Tuesday in a cordial onstage interview with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairman Joseph Simons, who is one of the Trump administration’s least-noticed administrators.

What Shapiro got was a mixed bag of free-market support and pro-consumer activism, with a tendency toward consumer protection.

Perhaps the most emphatic sign of Simons’s preference for using government power to help ordinary people came toward the end of the interview, when Shapiro asked about one law that Simons would like to see passed while he serves in the FTC. Simons said he would encourage Congress to clarify Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, a 1973 measure that empowers the FTC to punish companies for deceptive practices that harm consumers.

Simons noted that in a federal Seventh Circuit appeals court decision, the FTC was stripped of its power to impose financial penalties on violators of the FTC Act. He said that this decision, which reversed a previous Seventh Circuit judgment, “does huge damage to our fraud program,” denying vital redress to consumers who’ve been tricked, often with significant financial loss, by credit companies, drug firms, and others. Without being able to levy financial pain on these offenders, said Simons, the FTC cannot do the sort of vigorous enforcement that is his agency’s mission.

Simons urged Congress to address this issue, restoring his agency’s power to fine violators.

Earlier in the interview with Shapiro, Simons offered an example of the power of taking money from offenders, citing FTC settlements last year — for privacy violations by Facebook and Google’s YouTube division — of, respectively, $5 billion and $170 million.

The YouTube violation was especially sensitive because it involved the collection of personal information from children without obtaining consent from their parents.

Noting that the FTC settlements against these two internet juggernauts were greater than the law requires, Simons warned, “Facebook and Google know that we’re paying attention. If they continue to do what they’ve done in the past and continue to violate privacy laws, they can expect the repercussions to be more severe.”

FTC chairman Joseph Simons was both charming and combative in his CES “fireside chat” with CTA president Gary Shapiro, arguing forcefully for consumer protections that do not punish powerful internet companies like Google “just because they’re big.”

Simons made it clear, however, that his FTC feels no urgency to preemptively impose anti-trust sanctions on dominant platforms like Google and Facebook, as has been done in Europe through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed by the European Commission to regulate data transfer among EU nations.

“Data is the bloodstream for AI [artificial intelligence],” said Simons. “We want to do it right. we don’t want to mess it up.”

Urged by Shapiro to denounce the “chilling” effect of the GDPR, Simons spoke carefully about domestic regulation policy: “We don’t go after big companies just because they’re big and successful … We shouldn’t turn on them and penalize them for success. You have to commit an anti-competitive act. You have to harm consumers. We can’t just break up companies just because they’re big.”

Shapiro tried to lead Simons into a direct critique of Europe’s regulatory regime, suggesting that passage of the GDPR is “not a good innovation strategy.” Simons responded with a finely tuned note of diplomacy.

“People characterize it that way,” he said with a smile.

FCC’s Pai Favors Sharing Spectrum Pie

By David Benjamin

LAS VEGAS — With a bitter controversy over his successful efforts to undercut the Obama administration’s net-neutrality policy well in the past, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman made his first appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as a kinder, gentler Ajit Pai.

Pai joked with CTA president Gary Shapiro about the Doomsday scenarios forecast by net-neutrality advocates — “I get messages that I destroyed the internet over the internet” — and focused on less prickly issues, including the implementation of 5G mobile networks and the still-unrealized FCC mission of “broadband for all.”

Indeed, with 5G on the horizon and many rural communities suffering from slow broadband, or none at all, Pai touched upon the various elements, including the availability of spectrum to giant wireless providers like Verizon and smaller fixed wireless broadband providers, the latter of whom are starving for spectrum.

“Our goal is to remove spectrum as a constraint on innovation,” said Pai. He added that there now exists “a wide variety of use cases to share spectrum assets in ways that benefit consumers … to make sure that this resource is deployed to the benefit of the American people.”

Indeed, there are proposals in the works, favored by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of Spectrum Management, in collaboration with the private Institute for Telecommunications Sciences, that would allow sharing, among smaller network providers, of mid-range C-Band (3.5 GHz) and Citizens Band Radio Service (3.7–4.2 GHz).

While interviewing FCC chairman Ajit Pai, CTA chief Gary Shapiro made an inadvertent political prediction, saying about Pai’s boss, “It could be President Trump again.”

Pai was emphatic about the need to deliver more spectrum to rural communities who are still missing out on the earlier generations of connectivity — LTE and 4G. “We’ve got to think about more sharing models,” he said. Citing something called “massive MIMO” (multiple input/multiple output), Pai added that the days of “zero-sum spectrum, if you’re using it, I can’t use it” must end.

However, the historical precedent is that the big networks are first to the trough. The question unasked by Shapiro was whether a libertarian FCC leadership under Pai that has been loath to interfere in the “free market” is well-suited to helping out some 200,000 “small cell” providers.

Asked by Shapiro about the deployment of 5G, Pai admitted that a host of obstacles stand in the way of getting it installed everywhere equally in fast order. The first problem, he said, is a trained workforce large enough to string fiber on a vast forest of utility poles across the continent. “It’s hard work, outdoors, in all kinds of weather.”

He cited other practicalities such as the availability of materials like utility poles and copper. He noted the need to be more aggressive about rural broadband and to “get electric companies far more involved.”

Additionally, noted Shapiro, there are some communities, states, and cities that object to the intrusion of 5G “aesthetically.” In this case, Pai came firmly against “too many layers of government getting in the way.” In this case, he suggested, the feds should rule.

“The more disparate these regulations are, the fewer companies will be able to get into the market,” he warned.

Chairman Pai, who sported a pair of colorful “sushi socks” with his loafers, brought a certain measure of suspense to his appearance at CES. Until his chairmanship, a chat between Shapiro and the FCC chairman was an annual ritual. But after threats were issued against Pai during the net-neutrality battle, he begged off the trip to Las Vegas. He agreed to attend the session after only a two-year hiatus. Even this year, the hundreds of convention-goers who arrived at the Las Vegas Convention Center meeting room were subject to stop-and-frisk bag searches and pat-downs before being allowed into the hall.

Shapiro began the session by saying, “He said he was coming a couple of times and he didn’t show up.” But then, smiling, Pai broke the tension and strode onto the stage.

New TI Processors Target ‘Practical’ ADAS

By Junko Yoshida

LAS VEGAS — Texas Instruments is introducing at the Consumer Electronics Show this week ADAS and gateway processors — TDA4VM and DRA829V — built on TI’s latest Jacinto platform and designed to enable mass-market ADAS vehicles.

 

This move underscores the decision by several leading car OEMs to scale back from an original commitment to pioneer fully autonomous vehicles.

 

In a recent interview with EE Times, Curt Moore, general manager and product line manager for Jacinto processors, acknowledged that TI, too, faced the dilemma of “where we want to invest our time” for its next-generation automotive processors. TI’s emphatic answer was to design auto-grade processors that can address “edge, safety, and security” but zero in on “semiconductor affordability and accessibility.”

 

“We wanted to develop automotive processors that are scalable and applicable to a wider set of vehicles, including low-cost and affordable cars for younger drivers and those with low income,” explained Moore.

 

ADAS and gateway processors

TDA4VM processors are for ADAS, while DRA829V processors are developed for gateway systems “meeting with all the plumbing requirements,” noted Moore. They include specialized on-chip accelerators, according to TI, to expedite data-intensive tasks.

 

Both TDA4VM and DRA829V processors also incorporate a functional safety microcontroller so that OEMs and Tier One suppliers can “support both ASIL-D safety-critical tasks and convenience features with one chip,” said TI.

 

Perhaps most importantly, both the ADAS and gateway processors share one software platform. Moore said, “Developers can use the same software base from high-end to low-end vehicles.”

 

Asked about TI’s two new processors, Phil Magney, founder and principal at VSI Labs, told EE Times, “I see them as great companions, as both are necessary to support the latest trends in software-defined architectures. Together, these processors can take care of the heavy processing requirements of automated driving.”

 

Magney explained, “The environmental modeling gets very processor-intensive when you consider all the inputs necessary to support the task in real time. Furthermore, you need the data capacities, timing, and synchronization of all the sensor data. On top of this, you need safety and security, which are built into these chips.”

 

The right level of autonomy?

With the new processors, TI hopes to enable the right level of autonomy in new vehicles.

 

Calling Level 4 and Level 5 cars “still in the development stage,” Moore pointed out “corner cases” that fully autonomous vehicles have yet to solve and “well-defined use cases” [and operational design domains] that must be spelled out for higher-level autonomous vehicles. Given these challenges to full autonomy, Moore said, “This will be a slow journey” from the current Level 2 and Level 2+ vehicles.

 

TI, however, isn’t swearing off of higher-level ADAS functions. Indeed, TI’s TDA4VM is designed to achieve much better visibility at speeds necessary for on-chip analytics.

 

Specifically, the TDA4VM supports high-resolution 8-megapixel (MP) cameras that see farther, possibly even in fog and rain. TDA4VM processors can also simultaneously operate four to six 3-MP cameras.

 

Sameer Wasson, vice president and general manager of TI’s processor business unit, told EE Times that the new ADAS processors are also capable of fusing other sensors — including radar, LiDAR, and ultrasonic. “Our goal is to enable carmakers and Tier Ones to develop scalable but practical cars.”

TI’s new ADAS processor TDA4VM is not only highly integrated but also capable of fusing a variety of sensory data. (Source: TI)

 

Magney believes that the TDA4VM is scalable in the sense that it can “handle full 360° situational awareness for high-end ADAS or automated driving applications.” 

 

Beyond the ADAS processor’s ability to efficiently manage multilevel processing in real time, the key is that it can do the job within the system’s power budget. “Our new processors execute high-performance ADAS operations using just 5 to 20 W of power, eliminating the need for active cooling,” TI claimed.

 

Deep learning

TI also claimed that the latest Jacinto platform brings enhanced deep-learning capabilities. Noting that the platform offers full programmability, Moore said, if OEMs or Tier Ones plan to set up their own vision/camera/sensor fusion, the SoC allows their own perception.

 

A few analysts, however, are frustrated with the scant details that TI has provided for its ADAS processors. “Now TI says the TDA4VM can handle deep learning, but they don’t disclose any specs or details, let alone its performance,” said Mike Demler, a senior analyst at The Linley Group. Asked how TDA4VM might fare against Intel/Mobileye’s EyeQ chips, he said, “Now TI mentions AEB [automatic emergency braking] and self-parking, which require at least [Mobileye’s] EyeQ3 capabilities. But again, how much performance? We don’t know.”

 

VSI Labs’s Magney also noted that it won’t be easy to compare TDA4VM with Mobileye’s EyeQ chips. He noted, “Mobileye’s tight integration of processor and algorithms makes them a strong incumbent in the field.” TI’s edge might be that “as the industry moves from ADAS to automated driving, OEMs will desire more freedom to develop their own algorithms.”

 

Software-defined car

TI, too, is keeping in check carmakers’ desire to enable over-the-air (OTA) updates — with a goal to make software-defined cars possible.

 

“OTA isn’t generally possible without giving architecture upgrades inside a car,” observed Moore. Given the criticality of secure connectivity necessary for software updates, “I don’t see car OEMs going for OTA without a gateway processor or with just a legacy dumb MCU,” he added.

 

To that end, Moore described TI’s DRA829V processor as offering carmakers “a huge step function in the beginning of their journey to secure OTA.”

 

TI noted that new gateway processors “manage higher volumes of data and support evolving requirements for autonomy and enhanced connectivity.”

TI claims that it is the first to integrate the PCIe and GbE/TSN into its gateway processor. (Source: TI)

 

TI also touted the DRA829V processor as “the first in the industry to incorporate a PCIe switch on-chip in addition to integrating an eight-port gigabit TSN-enabled Ethernet switch for faster high-performance computing functions and communications throughout the car.”

 

So how big a deal is it for TI to integrate the PCIe and GbE/TSN into its gateway processor DRA829V?

 

Demler said, “Looks like it has an eight-port switch, which is more than what’s offered by NXP’s recently announced S32G’s 2x switch.” But, he added, the DRA829V processors don’t exactly match up with NXP’s S32G, which was designed as a full-fledged network processor.

 

But on a higher level, both NXP and TI are addressing the same trends in automotive architecture, Magney summed up. “You have massive amounts of data to handle and you need the plumbing to support that.”

 

Availability

TI’s Moore noted that both TDA4VM and DRA829V samples have been already in the hands of a large number of customers since May.

 

According to TI, “Developers can get started immediately with Jacinto 7 processors development kits and buy the new TDA4VMXEVM and DRA829VXEVM evaluation modules on TI.com for $1,900 each.”

 

Pre-production TDA4VM and DRA8329V processors are available now, only from TI, at $97 in 1,000-unit quantities. Volume production is expected to be available in the second half of 2020.

CES Unveiled: Gadget Fest with a Moment of Zen

By EE Times Editorial Team

LAS VEGAS – CES Unveiled is a tech fest where startups and established companies pitch and showcase their brightest new ideas and shiniest products, with a strange emphasis on self-improvement.

You name it, Unveiled has everything from ultra-stable drones, “bidirectional” EV chargers to smart road systems that let every car know road conditions and a wrist-band that tells you which foods suit your unique DNA.

The products and prototypes unveiled are an eclectic mix. They often surprise us by offering solutions for problems we didn’t know we had.

In the following pages, we share more than a dozen new technologies/applications spotted at the event on Sunday. To see our full slide show, please click here.

Thin Enough and Fast Enough for the City

4D Gravity Comes to Drones
DNA-Based Shopping
Valerann smart roads system
Zen Health with Gardens and Orbs
Plugging EVs into the Grid
Why Is SiFive at CES?
Vital signs monitoring using face detection
Commuter smart safety helmet now has Alexa built in
How well are you brushing your teeth?
Vanity, Thy (Latest) Name is Opté-Skin
Remotely Charged from Milwaukee
Reachy the Legless Robot
Wearables for dogs: find out your dog’s feelings
Non-invasive sensors to monitor aging parents
Thin Enough and Fast Enough for the City
Pokit goes Pro
Smile, you’re on Unveiled Camera
Cool, huh?

Siemens-Arm Lets Car OEMs Envision 2025 Auto Architecture

By Junko Yoshida

LAS VEGAS — Bolstered by its new partnership with Arm, Siemens is ready to ask car OEMs some tough questions at the Consumer Electronics Show. Namely: 1) Do you already know what the architecture of your 2025 automotive platform looks like? 2) If so, have you verified your whole vehicle?

In an interview with EE Times, David Fritz, global technology manager, Autonomous and ADAS at Siemens, explained that if carmakers are still dithering with issues like which CPU, GPU, or MPU they should use in next-generation cars, “they’ve already missed the boat.”

Fritz described recent automotive history as making “a series of incremental changes to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).” While carmakers might feel compelled to add hot new features that pop up in the market, too many have resorted to “one Band-Aid solution after another” for new models, he said, arguing that they’ve been doing so without really thinking about the architecture of 2025 vehicles. That’s one reason, he said, why car OEMs have failed to chart a single migration path from ADAS to autonomous vehicles (AVs).


Recommended
Car OEMs See No Easy ADAS-to-AV Path


Envision your vehicle platform of 2025
Siemens’s new partnership with Arm seeks to alter the ad hoc — and often siloed — design choices that automakers have been making for vehicle development.

What do carmakers want in their auto architecture of 2025? (Source: Siemens)

The partnership will combine pre-built and pre-verified Arm IPs with Siemens’s PAVE360 — billed as an all-encompassing validation and simulation system designed for autonomous vehicle hardware and software development. The goal is to enable automakers and suppliers to “envision their next-generation automotive platform,” said Fritz.

He explained that Siemens’s PAVE360 extends “digital twin simulation beyond processors to include automotive hardware and software subsystems, full vehicle models, fusion of sensor data, traffic flows, and even the safety of autonomous vehicles.”

If a carmaker chooses a certain processor for specific applications in, say, a 2020 vehicle, what could happen is that the new chip might not fit the enclosure size required in a 2025 car platform. Similarly, it might not meet the heat dissipation threshold demanded in the 2025 architecture. “You make one decision now, which turns out to make a bang-bang-bang domino effect in the rest of the whole 2025 car model,” said Fritz.

Put more bluntly, Fritz said that a carmaker’s bad decision six years ago could end up killing the entire new model for 2025.

It’s important for carmakers and Tier Ones to be able to “simulate and verify subsystem and system-on-chip designs and to understand how they perform within a vehicle design from the silicon level up, long before the vehicle is built,” he explained.

Siemens’s Fritz last year told EE Times, “I have actually seen a block diagram of an AV SoC internally designed by every major car OEM.” He stressed, “Tesla isn’t alone. Every carmaker wants to control its own destiny.” If so, with how many of those major car OEMs is Siemens already working today — to simulate and verify their whole car architecture of 2025?

Fritz said, “We’ve been working with a few,” without naming names. When asked to describe a 2025 vehicle architecture, he said, “While they all come from different directions, surprisingly, they appear to come to a similar platform.”

Why PAVE360?
The power of PAVE360 lies in its ability to simulate certain functions, SoCs, subsystems, or software in the context of an entire vehicle. Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor of VSI Labs, last year told EE Times that PAVE360 is “pretty unique.” He explained that the foundation of Siemens’s PAVE360 is a concept called the “digital twin.” Noting that a digital twin is a duplicate (simulated) version of the real world, Magney said, “For developers of vehicles or components, this literally means they can fully simulate their targets at any scale, whether it is a chip, software competent, ECU, or complete vehicle.”

In short, as Fritz claimed, the advantage of PAVE360’s methodology is its ability to correlate simulation with the physical platform.

Fritz pointed out a huge difference between simulating an SoC on a PC, for example, and simulating it in the context of a whole vehicle. “The two [approaches and their results] are so far away.”

What’s in it for Arm?
The advantage for Siemens working with Arm is clear. Given the ubiquity of Arm cores in a host of automotive chips, Siemens’s deepened relationship with Arm only adds fuel to PAVE360’s broader appeal.

But what’s in it for Arm?

First, associating Arm core designs with PAVE360 enhances the credibility of Arm as a provider of IP cores for the automotive market.

Mark Fitzgerald, associate director, Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics, added, “Arm gains the ability for easier, faster design of custom chips for ADAS and autonomous applications.” He said that “automakers are moving to custom silicon (i.e., Tesla’s Full Self-Driving chips) rather than relying on off-the-shelf solutions, with some OEMs working on in-house solutions.” He noted, “The teaming up allows chip designers to use Arm architecture and IP along with Siemens’s PAVE360 to create custom ADAS and autonomous driving SoCs in a virtual environment.”

PAVE360 and Arm automotive IP: digital twin from concept to end of life (Source: Siemens)

Asked about how long Siemens has been working with Arm, Siemens’s Fritz told us “almost a year.” But the relationship between the two companies got a lot closer, as they have been engaged in more detailed, weekly engineering calls since last summer, when the legal arrangement between Siemens and Arm got sorted out. Under the agreement, Siemens today has access to all of Arm’s wide-ranging IP cores. Siemens is now in a position to discuss with Arm specific processing core designs such as Arm’s split lock logic or big.LITTLE architecture when placed against certain applications in the real world.

So what sort of changes might the industry expect from Arm in its future cores or processor architecture for the automotive market?

Strategy Analytics’ Fitzgerald told EE Times, “The likely trend would be to produce a single, very powerful chip for an ADAS or autonomous driving domain controller rather than distributed computing that is used today. OEMs will choose the best mix of centralized versus distributed computing based on application.”

What about other processor IP guys?
To be clear, Arm isn’t the only processor core IP supplier. Mobileye, now an Intel company, has been using MIPS cores for years. Ceva and Imagination might be also seeking to get designed into chips for digital cockpits or automotive perception chips, for example.

Asked if Siemens is planning to work with other IP suppliers, Fritz said, “The beauty of our system is that they can plug their cores in the cloud” tied to PAVE360 in order to evaluate their cores in the context of a whole vehicle.

Fitzgerald noted, “The biggest risk in missing out on the collaboration that PAVE360 offers is between OEMs, semi vendors, software providers, and Tier One suppliers.”

He said, “Chip vendors can gain by working with Arm IP and PAVE360 tools to quickly validate and verify chip design more efficiently and cost-effectively.” However, he cautioned, “Chip vendors can also be threatened if an OEM or even a large-tier supplier decides to use Arm IP and the PAVE360 tools to design chip solutions — taking the chip vendors out of the design/validation loop.”

Competitors to Siemens
Other vendors are also offering similar verification tools, according to Fitzgerald.

Cadence, for example, provides design tools across all the PCB, system-in-package (SiP), and SoC fabrics, which makes it possible to do coherent and integrated ECU design and analysis.

ANSYS, on the other hand, enables customers to do “multi-physics simulations to simultaneously solve power, thermal, variability, timing, electromagnetics, and reliability challenges across the spectrum of chip, package, and system to promote first-time silicon and system success.”

Last fall, Synopsys launched native automotive solutions “optimized for efficient design of autonomous driving and ADAS SoCs.”

Vector, meanwhile, claims to offer “comprehensive solutions” for developing ADAS systems in the form of software and hardware tools and embedded components. These include measuring instruments to acquire sensor data, checking and optimizing ECU functions, software components, and algorithm design.

Siemens’s Fritz, however, made it clear that, overall, nobody does the job as comprehensively as PAVE360.

NXP Launching Auto Network Processor

By Junko Yoshida

LAS VEGAS — NXP Semiconductors is coming to the Consumer Electronics Show to launch a new “Automotive Network Processor.”

NXP’s S32G is “a single-chip version” of two processors — an automotive microprocessor and an enterprise network processor — combined, said Ray Cornyn, vice president and general manager, Vehicle Dynamics Products. The S32G functions as a gateway processor for connected vehicles, as it offers enterprise-level networking capabilities. It also enables the latest data-intensive ADAS applications while providing vehicles with secure communication capabilities, he explained.

What NXP S32G entails (Source: NXP Semiconductors)

A closer look inside the S32G reveals a car OEM wish list for next-generation vehicles in 2021 and beyond.

Among the wishes are: over-the-air software updates — à la Tesla — to make vehicles “software upgradeable,” a shift to new domain-based vehicle architectures (i.e., consolidation of ECUs), beefed-up security features (including intrusion detection/monitoring), the vehicle’s ability to analyze data on the edge without constantly depending on the cloud, and upgraded safety to ASIL D.

In “connected vehicles,” car OEMs are looking for new business opportunities, including subscription models and usage-based insurance.

“It is a worldwide trend among car OEMs to bring all these new business opportunities and capabilities to next-generation vehicles,” said Brian Carlson, director, product line management for vehicle network processors at NXP.

If a software-upgradeable car is the automotive industry’s objective, the S32G seems designed to bring car OEMs a step closer.

Phil Magney, Founder and Principal at VSI Labs, observed that S32G “is designed to serve as the gateway to centralized domain processing, which is the supporting architecture of the software-defined car. Furthermore, new vehicle architectures must support tremendous volumes of data through multiple interfaces.”

He noted, “Up until this point, networking has been a bit of an afterthought. But in reality, it is quite critical since there is so much data moving around the vehicle. The S32G can handle all the plumbing and associated security, timing, and safety requirements.” He added that there are many network controllers designed by major chip suppliers and Tier Ones. But among existing network processors, “I have not seen anything that aggregates everything into one chip like the S32G.”

The new processor is already sampling, and car OEMs are currently testing S32G, said Carlson. To demonstrate the appeal of S32G among key automotive players, NXP, in its press release, shared a quote from Bernhard Augustin, Audi’s director of ECU Development Autonomous Driving: “We found the unique combination of networking, performance, and safety features of the S32G processor to be ideal for use in our next-generation ADAS domain controller.”

S32 family of processors
S32G is part of NXP’s S32 family of processors based on a unified architecture of high-performance MCUs, MPUs, application-specific acceleration, and interfaces.

The S32 family, designed to be scalable, allows developers to create software in a uniform environment across application platforms.

The goal is to let developers reuse their expensive R&D work, shortening time to market as the automotive industry copes with rapid changes in vehicle architectures over the next several years.

NXP noted that the platform maintains “automotive quality, reliability, and ASIL D performance across multiple application spaces throughout vehicles.”

Vehicle network processor
First and foremost, S32G provides an unprecedented level of networking and processing capabilities.

Shown in the block diagram below, the S32G processor incorporates lock-step Arm Cortex M7 microcontroller cores and an industry-first ability to lock-step clusters of Arm Cortex-A53 application cores.

As the amount of data collected and transported inside a vehicle grows exponentially, the processor’s ability to accelerate automotive networks and Ethernet packets becomes increasingly critical, Carlson explained.

It’s one thing to tout a networking processor’s ability to handle large data. But it’s a whole different story if the chip can actually accelerate data processing. Without acceleration, the vehicle network can easily bog down, said Carlson, making it impossible for the new vehicle to offer critical services with the deterministic network performance demanded by car OEMs.

S32G processors are designed to offload transport layers so that its communication engine can achieve low latency, he noted. S32G features “network acceleration blocks” designed for automotive and Ethernet networks.

Included in S32G network features are 20× CAN/CAN FD Interfaces, 4× Gigabit Ethernet Interfaces, and a PCI Express Gen 3 Interface.

As a comparison, Magney noted that Tesla “supports six CAN channels, four Ethernet channels, and eight serial lines for the cameras.” Calling Tesla “a proxy for future vehicle architectures,” Magney said, “Not surprisingly, NXP supplies Ethernet and CAN controllers to Tesla.”

Other key features integrated inside the S32G are security and safety.

The S32G, like all other S32 platform processors, embed high-performance hardware security acceleration, along with public key infrastructure (PKI) support for trusted key management, enabled by its Hardware Security Engine (HSE). The firewalled HSE is the root of trust supporting secure boot, providing system security services, and protecting against side-channel attacks.

As for safety, S32G processors offer full ASIL D capabilities, including lock-step Arm Cortex M7 microcontroller cores and an industry-first ability to lock-step clusters of Arm Cortex-A53 application cores, allowing new levels of safety performance with high-level operating systems and larger memory support.

Versatility of S32G
NXP’s Carlson made the point that the beauty of S32G lies in its versatility. The S32G can be used in many different places inside a vehicle — ranging from a gate processor to a domain controller and ADAS safety processors.

Where in a vehicle S32G can be used (Source: NXP)

VSI Labs’ Magney observed, “The S32G appears complementary to many of the AV or ADAS domain controllers because it consolidates a handful of chips into one.” He added, “Otherwise, the functionality of the S32G would be scattered with multiple transceivers and controllers to handle all the data traffic. The S32G also contains all the critical timing elements, memory, security, and network accelerators necessary to support all the data being passed around inside the vehicle.”

Ad block