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This Mobile Giant Is Pushing Into Robots and Self-Driving Cars

Tesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving TechnologyTesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving Technology
An employee demonstrates Tesla's self-driving technology. Photograph by Bloomberg — Getty Images

ARM, the British chip designer that was recently snapped up by Japan’s Softbank (SFTBY) for $32 billion, has announced a foray into the world of autonomous vehicles and industrial robotics systems.

The company is best known for having its chip designs in the vast majority of phones on the market, but Softbank was clear that it was keen on its new acquisition’s potential in embedded systems.

That’s the route ARM is taking with its new Cortex-R52 processor design, unveiled Tuesday. Manufacturer STMicroelectronics (STMEF) has already signed up to produce chips based on the design.

The Cortex-R52 is intended for systems that need to be highly responsive while maintaining very high safety standards. It does this by physically separating safety-critical code from other software running on the chip—a technique that also allows for speedier certification of the code in question.

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James McNiven, ARM’s general manager for its CPU and media processing groups, said the Cortex-R52 was “designed from the ground up to address functional safety.”

“We are helping partners to meet particular market opportunities, especially in fully autonomous vehicles and robotics systems where specific functionality is required for safety-critical tasks,” McNiven said in a statement.

Softbank is not only in the robotics business itself, with robots such as the high-profile Pepper, but it recently announced a joint venture with the technology and services firm Aeris that will target the automotive industry, along with other markets.

Most major car manufacturers, as well as players such as Google (GOOGL) and Uber, are in the process of developing autonomous vehicles. Cars already include vast amounts of computer code, but the shift towards self-driving cars will only accelerate this trend.

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That makes it more important than ever to make sure that the most safety-critical elements of the vehicle don’t crash if other parts of the software go down.

According to STMicroelectronics’s automotive chief, Fabio Marchiò, the chip-maker will use ARM’s new design to make processors for functions involving the car’s powertrain, chassis and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

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