Imagination Technologies launches GPUs for smart car displays

Imagination Technologies has announced its XS family of graphics processing units (GPUs) for automotive applications such as driver assistance and displays with 3D graphics.

The London-based company, which designs chips that are manufactured by other companies, is investing heavily in graphics chips that are customized for cars, as the auto industry is finally catching up with the computer era and getting better displays for dashboard information. These flashy screens are selling points in modern cars, and they’re even more important in self-driving cars and smart cars that offer driver assistance. They can, for instance, send alerts to a driver when an accident is imminent.

The company said it already has more than half the market for automotive GPUs. Imagination said the XS GPUs are designed for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and can process safety-critical graphics workloads while still able to react to interruptions such as the driver alerts, like a big blinking red light when a collision is about to happen.

Since the safety warning lights have to be available at all times, the GPU can protect a part of the screen where the lights appear and make sure that there’s never a problem with generating enough performance to make something happen in that part of the screen like a flashing red light, said Andrew Girdler, product marketing engineer, in an interview with VentureBeat.

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Imagination said the XS represents the most advanced automotive GPU tech created to date and is the first licensable intellectual property that means the car industry’s ISO 26262 standard, which addresses risk levels in cars.

The car market requires features like hardware virtualization, so a graphics chip can run software in a power-efficient way and do so while it is running multiple operating systems or multiple screens at the same time, said Girdler

Imagination Technologies' XS GPUs focus on meeting safety standards.

Above: Imagination Technologies’ XS GPUs focus on meeting safety standards as well as performance targets.

Image Credit: Imagination Technologies

“We’ve had these features in our products for many generations now,” Girdler said.

The GPUs can accelerate the graphics needed to create media and entertainment on dashboards as well as emergency alerts. The chips can also create imagery such as surround view, when you’re parking a car and you can get an alternative viewpoint that helps you park it better. The XS can compute graphics at two times higher performance for critical workloads.

The graphics on car dashboards aren’t all that fancy, but these displays have to quickly move between graphics or video feeds, like when you’re backing up a car and need to see what’s behind you in the rear-view mirror. The graphics also have to be fast because they need to have redundant backups, where the processing is done a second time to ensure that it is correct.

Imagination worked with partner Horiba Mira to make sure that it conformed to the safety standards. Imagination is also working on a safety-critical driver, or software that can update existing GPUs so that they can also meet safety requirements.

Last fall, the company introduced a variety of other GPUs: the XC, XM, and XT families. The XS represents the high-end with a focus on safety. To date, more than 200 million cars have shipped with Imagination-based chips in them.

“The thing we are unlocking here is making a GPU part of the safety solution,” said Jamie Broome, senior director for the automotive business at Imagination, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’ve been in the embedded automotive industry for 15 years, with a focus on power efficiency and graphics and computation. This is our bread and butter.”

The new chips are expected to debut in the second half of the year.

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