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Sensor fusion rising: Mobileye/ST out autonomous car platform

19 May 2016  | Junko Yoshida

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Right after NXP unveiled Bluebox, an autonomous car engine, Mobileye and STMicroelectronics were quick to reveal a new generation of their vision SoC, EyeQ5. They are touting it as a "sensor fusion central computer for autonomous vehicles."

Unlike Bluebox, EyeQ5 is an SoC that will be ready in two years, according to ST/Mobileye. It will be manufactured by using a 10nm or below FinFET technology node.

Two diverging approaches

NXP and ST/Mobileye, two competing teams, are taking different approaches to seal deals with OEMs in the autonomous vehicles platform battle.

On one hand, NXP is promoting not only the Bluebox engine (consisting of a number cruncher and a safety/vision controller), but also a comprehensive autonomous vehicles platform with sensor fusion capabilities and decision-making functions.

NXP is leveraging its strong position in the ADAS processor market. Matt Johnson, NXP's VP and GM for automotive MCUs and processors, said his company has shipped more than 30 million ADAS processors worldwide, with eight of the world's top 10 largest carmakers using its processors.

On the other hand, the ST/Mobileye team is angling to enter the sensor fusion market, for the first time. Mobileye, for a long time, appeared convinced that vision is enough to enable autonomous driving.

Egil Juliussen, director of research, infotainment & ADAS at IHS Automotive, said, "I see that they are changing their tune a little [in the EyeQ5 announcement]. I suspect, under pressure from car OEMs, Mobileye is now adding other sensory data to do sensor fusion on the chip."

Clearly, the ST/Mobileye team hopes to take advantage of an EyeQ chips' dominant share for the automotive vision SoC market.

Earlier this year, Mobileye co-founder and CTO Amnon Shashua said one-third of the global car industry is already using EyeQ chips. He told the audience at a Mobileye press conference that Toyota and Daimler are the only two automakers not using Mobileye's vision chips.

Pre-emptive strike or Hail Mary?

The ST/Mobileye's EyeQ5 announcement is seen by many in the automotive industry as a pre-emptive strike against NXP's Bluebox.

IHS Juliussen said, "It looks like they're telegraphing to automotive OEMs and tier ones that they should wait until EyeQ5 comes out." Jim McGregor, principal analyst at TIRIAS Research, went a step further. "I'd call the ST/Mobileye move more like Hail Mary."

Asked to compare various autonomous vehicles platforms pitched on the market today, McGregor said, "I see that Nvidia's Drive PX2 is the high-end super computer capable of local deep learning. The BlueBox is a practical control and sensor fusion platform that is automotive compliant and fits the needs of current platforms, which NXP will evolve over time." Meanwhile, "The EyeQ5 is somewhere in between."

McGregor added, "Note that the cost probably falls within those lines as well. Each solution has its strengths. Nvidia has the high-end performance and deep learning expertise; MobileEye has the database for an all-in-one solution; and NXP has a full sensor fusion platform that is integrated with all the vehicle systems. All of these platforms will evolve over the next few years, and there is room for all three vendors."

In short, the autonomous vehicles platform battle has only begun. "It will be interesting to see who wins and where," said McGregor.

By all accounts, though, EyeQ5 comes with an impressive list of technical features and performance.

Setting aside claims about the chip being two years down the road, Juliussen noted, "This is a very powerful, impressive chip." He also added, "Mobileye has good credibility. I'm sure the company will deliver."

So what's inside the chip?

EyeQ5 block diagram

Figure 1: While NXP is promoting the Bluebox engine, ST and Mobileye are aiming to enter the sensor fusion market, where, Mobileye is convinced that vision is enough to enable autonomous driving. (Source: Mobileye/STMicroelectronics)

The EyeQ5 will contain eight multithreaded CPU cores coupled with eighteen cores of Mobileye's next-generation, well-proven vision processors, explained Marco Monti, ST's EVP, Automotive and Discrete Group. In contrast, EyeQ4, a previous generation vision SoC, had 4 CPU cores and six Vector Microcode processors.

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