An autonomous car needs first to gather data about the environment around. It then analyses that data – to figure out, say, if a vehicle or pedestrian is in front and how far away, or if the traffic light is red. Then it needs to communicate the analysis to the system concerned – to decide whether to press the brake, and if so by how much. Finally, it needs to act – be it pressing the brake, or accelerating, or going around.
All these functions require unique processing chips, and the $9-billion semiconductor manufacturer NXP’s India design and R&D centres across Noida, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are core to the development of chips for all of them.
They do sensing chips – radars, camera-based sensors, light-based sensors or lidars. NXP’s India head Sanjay Gupta says some of the most advanced radar and camera chips are being done in India for use in next generation cars.
Teams here develop the AI algorithms and train the chips. Gupta says they do some really complex stuff, such as ensuring a child in colourful clothes is not mistaken for a pattern on the road. That requires a lot of intelligence built in. A team is using a camera to track average eye-lid movements of the driver to understand whether the driver is tired, sleeping or awake. “To do it successfully, we have to create a neural network (self-learning) algorithm by choosing data from millions of patterns – of the different ways in which an eye moves in different conditions,” Gupta says.
An autonomous car will typically have multiple connections – to its own systems, to the cloud (for GPS, music, video), to other vehicles, to the infrastructure around, traffic lights. Each of those connections could be of a different kind. NXP’s India engineers are involved in a variety of connectivity protocols – bluetooth, WiFi, NFC (near field communication), 5G, ultra-wide band, and DSRC (dedicated short range communications).
They are also involved heavily in security – intrinsic to autonomous cars because they simply cannot run the risk of being hacked. “Our Noida team is credited with world-class differentiating IPs (intellectual properties) to protect automotive solutions against security vulnerabilities using advanced cryptography techniques and patented IP architecture,” says Gupta. The India operation has already filed over 500 US patents across functions.
NXP chips go into some 90% of the cars produced in the world. “The high-end work we are doing today will come out in cars produced a decade from now,” says Gupta.