ARM launches new chip for medical robots and autonomous cars

Posted on 21 Sep 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

Japanese-owned chip designer ARM has today unveiled a new chip designed with safety as its key feature.

Unlike standard chipsets, the ARM Cortex-R52 is designed to comply with the most stringent safety standards in the automotive and industrial markets.

Such a chipset is necessary for a number of new emergent computing fields, including self-driving cars and medical robots.

In these fields, compromised code on the chip itself could result in very dangerous consequences when in use.

To mitigate this danger, within the Cortex-R52 chip safety-critical code is fully isolated by ‘hardware-enforced separation’ of software tasks.

“The Cortex-R52 is the first processor built on the ARMv8-R architecture and it was designed from the ground up to address functional safety,” said James McNiven, general manager for CPU at ARM.

While the chips were designed by ARM, the company has already signed a deal with STMicroelectronics for them to be the first licensed manufacturer of the Cortex-R52.

STMicroelectronics themselves noted the security provided by the chips as a key selling point.

“The Cortex-R52’s ability to compartmentalize software provides our users with the best solution for safety without loss of determinism,” said Fabio Marchiò, automotive digital division general manager of STMicroelectronics.

The announcement of this chip comes at a time of growth for autonomous vehicles and other critical robotic systems.

With recent hacking demonstrations showing the relative insecurity of the current chips and software used in these systems, the new ARM chip could find a strong market niche.

The release of the Cortex-R52 also follows ARM’s recent acquisition by Japanese electronics company Softbank.

One of the main drivers of this deal was for Softbank to acquire the chip technology which would underpin the explosion of so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

As autonomous cars and industrial/medical robots are key parts of the IoT ecosystem, this acquisition already appears to be bearing fruit for Softbank.

Further demonstrating the interest in this sector, key rival Intel earlier this year acquired Yogitech, another company which specialized in designing safety chips.