ARM announces its first high-performance camera processor for auto market

25 April 2017

25 April 2017

UK-based smartphone tech pioneer ARM has unveiled its first car image signal processor (ISP), which processes signals from cameras on cars, as it advances further into the automotive market. 

Car cameras are increasingly being used for applications including rear-facing parking, automatic braking, pedestrian detection, replacing rearview mirrors and as part of autonomous car systems. 

Designed especially for the automotive market, the Mali-C71 processes pixel data from on-board cameras so it can be displayed to the driver, or used for further processing by computer vision algorithms (such as for autonomous driving). 

Richard York, ARM’s senior director of its embedded segment, said: ′The reason people add cameras to cars is to make the car safer″¦ either to make it capable of autonomously driving, to make the car aware of its surroundings, or to simply better enable visibility for the driver. 

The image and computer vision auto market is set for massive expansion in the coming years. In 2016, more than 50 million camera modules were shipped in the auto market, according to Strategy Analytics. By 2023 – in seven years – this number is expected to surge past 200 million. 

ISPs are processors already used in devices like smartphones and videoconferencing systems to perform tasks such as real-time noise reduction, although cars require much higher performance ISPs, hence why ARM has designed the Mali-C71 especially. It also contains additional features such as safety-enhancing real-time glare reduction to make images much clearer for drivers.  It has a wide range in its images between the darkest and brightest parts (high dynamic range), which means it produces clearer images than even the best DSLR professional cameras, and in some cases can capture more detail than the human eye. 

Previously, one ISP would be required for each camera. However, with the Mali-C71, ARM enables images from all the car’s cameras to be processed on one chip (SoC). This is highly desirable as the number of cameras in cars increases, with OEMs moving towards a more centralised imaging system. The ISP also includes similar safety features to ARM’s smartphone CPUs, with hardware to detect faults in the ISP itself, and also in links to the sensors. This is especially crucial to ensure a robust system for driverless driving. 

York added: ′In simple terms, we make it as easy as possible for our silicon partners to build the ISP into a system that cares about safety to the highest levels possible.’ 

By 2023, the average mid-range car is expected to include three cameras, with luxury sedans each approaching 10 cameras. 

ARM also revealed its DinamiIQ processor chip in March, which can perform crucial failure-reaction functions in driverless car systems; however, the Mali-C71 shows that ARM expects the auto market to be a core segment of its business going forward, having designed the processor specifically for the sector.