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NXP automotive platform emphasizes security, wireless updates

Automotive chip supplier NXP announces its S32 compute architecture for cars, allowing for secure over-the-air updates and connectivity.

NXP S32 automotive processing platform

Over the years, automakers have added a multitude of microprocessors to cars, controlling everything from the engine fuel mixture to the sunroof, resulting in a mish-mash of silicon. Now, automotive supplier NXP proposes a clean-slate approach, a computing architecture for cars that mirrors those of other industries.

NXP built its S32 platform around the idea of domain controllers running application zones in a car, each administering a set of microcontrollers. NXP expects that the platform will let automakers bring new vehicles to market faster, eliminate the need for some recalls, provide robust security and even enable self-driving cars.

Ray Cornyn, NXP's vice president of Vehicle Dynamics and Safety Product Line, says the S32 platform makes use of the company's existing expertise in "financial-grade security," currently applied to bank cards and smart passports. 

NXP's automotive processing platform represents a serious organizational update to how computing power has been built into cars previously.


Cars are increasingly becoming connected, not only giving drivers localized traffic information but also reporting engine maintenance issues and other data points. Likewise, increasingly complex systems, especially in the realm of crash prevention, are adding sensors and processors. Different systems, often from different vendors, force automakers to deal with a wide range of software, and increase the potential for conflicts and failure.

The S32 platform organizes its zones around connectivity, driver assistance, drivetrain and chassis, and cabin, this latter also encompassing infotainment. Where the connectivity zone includes processors for such features as in-car Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the driver assistance zone runs a car's sensor suite, which includes radar and cameras. 

NXP says its S32 platform, with its domain controller model, gives a tenfold performance boost over existing automotive platforms, and reduces software development efforts by up to 90 percent. The software development efficiency comes due to shared software modules in advanced safety, vehicle dynamics and connectivity application zones. For example, the same base code can turn on interior lights and unlock the doors.

Once a car leaves the factory, support for over-the-air updates will let automakers issue software fixes and improvements. Cornyn described an approach of "drip-fed updates" over a car's data connection, building up a software image that the car implements when it is safe to do so, such as after it is parked. For a problem that would have previously required a recall, with dealers flashing software, an automaker could deliver the fix wirelessly.

NXP specifies its series of ARM processors for its S32 platform, ranging from its low-power Cortex M microcontrollers to more robust Cortex A processors.

Eight major automakers are currently developing on virtual versions of the S32 platform, according to NXP. The first vehicles using the new computing architecture should come out in the 2020 model year.