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19 June, 2020 - 11:02 By Tony Quested

Arm ramps capability for in-car infotainment

Cambridge superchip architect Arm has unveiled next generation technology to further advance in-vehicle displays.

Audi and Samsung are among global automotive market influencers partnering with Arm to implement the company’s Mali GPU virtualisation in 2022 model year vehicles.

Chet Babla, vice-president of automotive for Arm, says the Mali IP upgrade responds to clear market demand. He says: “Based on my conversations with automakers and tier-one automotive suppliers, it’s clear there are increasing demands from consumers for a smartphone-like experience in their vehicles. 

“Despite the current economic climate, the demand to deliver new innovations and to power more displays inside the vehicle, from mirror replacement to head-up displays, remains unchanged.  

“These requirements for a more immersive in-vehicle, smartphone-like experience put Arm in a unique position. As the leader in both digital cockpit solutions and smartphones (85 per cent of in-vehicle infotainment solutions and 99 per cent of the world’s smartphones are Arm-based), Arm applies its combined expertise in both applications into its Mali graphics processor units. And as the industry’s number one shipping graphics IP, Mali GPUs are also the world’s most ubiquitous graphics processor.”

Babla says that with demand for more in-vehicle displays increasing, naturally the opportunity for more advanced applications to run on those displays increases. 

To ensure Arm’s extensive ecosystem can address these demands, the world-leading Cambridge UK business is releasing a new version of its Arm Mali Driver Development Kit (DDK) to support the key requirements of digital cockpit use-cases alongside Mali GPUs. 

Arm’s success in enabling seamless graphics across a variety of screens means Mali GPUs and Mali DDK solutions are built to power key in-vehicle capabilities of next-generation vehicles.

Babla says: “What’s particularly rewarding about my role as a leader in Arm’s automotive business is seeing carmakers bring Arm-based in-vehicle experiences to life. 

“A recent example is Audi which is using a single Arm-based Samsung Exynos v9 SoC, powered not only by eight powerful Cortex-A76 CPUs, but crucially also by several Mali-G76 GPUs shared between multiple workloads to enable a number of graphically-rich applications across the dashboard.”

Arm is enabling the existing Mali DDK with new virtualisation support capabilities. This allows sharing of GPU resources between multiple graphically-rich applications running separate virtual machines. 

Additionally, Arm believes in the importance of security built in from the ground up in its IP as well as its developer tools. This is evident in the Mali DDK virtualisation capabilities where one virtual machine cannot access another virtual machine’s information. 

The Mali DDK virtualisation is designed to be completely invisible to applications as well, so developers will not need to modify their applications to support this – it’s all happening inside the driver and in system software.

Software controlled GPU virtualization

The GPU arbiter acts as a gatekeeper, ensuring each Virtual Machine gets direct and isolated access to GPU resources.

The crux of this new approach is to enable in-vehicle graphics on cockpit domain controllers. A domain controller allows multiple electronic control units to be consolidated into a single ECU, often with a single SoC. 

Previously a single ECU may perform one function, such as a digital instrument cluster showing driver speed and warning lights, while now a cockpit domain controller is able to perform multiple functions by flexibly allocating resources to multiple workloads from a single SoC. 

For example, a single SoC using the Mali DDK can allocate compute resources to the instrument cluster, IVI, and navigation system rather than requiring one SoC or ECU per application.

The Mali DDK supports Linux and Android, and the virtualisation features can be used across multiple operating systems and hypervisors ensuring a smooth user experience such as fast touch-screen response-times in virtualised systems. 

Additionally, Arm support for Mali GPUs and Mali DDK in automotive applications will be tailored to the market needs to aid in the software maintenance for the lifespan of the vehicle.

Babla concludes: “The automotive industry is in the midst of delivering a faster speed of innovation than it ever has in order to keep pace with consumer expectations, and this is why the Arm automotive ecosystem has never been more vital. 

“The Arm ecosystem has become the world’s leading compute ecosystem by enabling the demanding expectations consumers have of applications, including this exciting opportunity in immersive in-car experiences.”

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