Computing Hardware Underpinning the Next Wave of Sony, Hyundai, and Mercedes EVs
Major automakers Sony, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz have recently announced their EV roadmaps. What computing hardware will appear in these vehicles?
With electric vehicles (EVs) becoming increasingly mainstream, automakers are engaging in the next great development war in hopes of elevating themselves above their competitors. Auto executives expect EVs, on average, to account for 52% of all sales by 2030. Accordingly, investing in new computing technologies and EV platforms is key.
While the battery is the heart of the EV, intelligently engineering the car's “brain” is equally important. The EV’s computer is responsible for controlling a plethora of functions—ranging from regenerative-braking feedback, to infotainment operation, to battery management, to instrument cluster operation. Specifically, embedded chips like the CPU enable these features.
Diagram of some EV subsystems. Image used courtesy of MDPI
Modernized solutions like GM’s Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise claim to effectively handle 95% of driving scenarios. Ultra Cruise alone will leverage a new AI-capable 5nm processor. Drivers are demanding improved safety features like advanced lane centering, emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. In fact, Volkswagen’s ID.4 EV received poor marks from buyers because it lacked such core capabilities.
What other hardware-level developments have manufacturers unveiled?
Sony Enters the EV Fray
At CES 2022, Sony announced its intention to form a new company called Sony Mobility. This offshoot will be dedicated solely to exploring EV development—building on Sony’s 2020 VISION-S research initiative. While Sony unveiled its coup EV prototype two years ago, dubbed VISION-S 01, this year’s VISION-S 02 prototype is an SUV. However, the company hasn’t committed to bringing these cars to mass-market consumers themselves.
It’s said that both Qualcomm and NVIDIA have been involved throughout the development process. However, the two prominent electronics manufacturers haven’t made their involvement with Sony clear (and vice versa). Tesla has adopted NVIDIA hardware to support its machine-learning algorithms; it’s, therefore, possible that Sony has taken similar steps.
Additionally, NVIDIA has long touted its DRIVE Orin SoC, DRIVE Hyperion, and DRIVE AGX Pegasus SoC/GPU. These are specifically built to power autonomous vehicles. The same can be said for its DRIVE Sim program, which enables self-driving simulations based on dynamic data.
The NVIDIA DRIVE Atlan. Image used courtesy of NVIDIA
The Sony VISION-S 02 features a number of internal displays and driver-monitoring features. This is where Qualcomm’s involvement may begin. The chipmaker previously introduced the Snapdragon Digital Chassis, a hardware-software suite that supports the following:
- Advanced driver-assistance feature development
- 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity
- Virtual assistance, voice control, and graphical information
- Car-to-Cloud connectivity
- Navigation and GPS
It’s unclear if any of Sony’s EVs are reliant on either supplier for in-cabin functionality or overall development. However, both companies have a vested interest in the EV-AV market, and at least have held consulting roles with Sony for two years.
Hyundai and IonQ Join Forces
Since Hyundai unveiled its BlueOn electric car in 2010, the company has been hard at work developing improved EVs behind the scenes. These efforts have led to recent releases of the IONIQ EV and Kona Electric. However, the automaker concedes that battery challenges have plagued the ownership experience of EVs following their market launch. Batteries continue to suffer wear and tear from charge and discharge cycling. Capacities have left something to be desired, as have overall durability and safety throughout an EV’s lifespan.
A recent partnership with quantum-computing experts at IonQ aims to solve many of these problems. Additionally, the duo hopes to lower battery costs while improving efficiency along the way. IonQ’s quantum processors are doing the legwork here—alongside the company’s quantum algorithms. The goal is to study lithium-based battery chemistries while leveraging Hyundai’s data and expertise in the area.
One of IonQ’s ion-trap chips announced in August 2021. Image used courtesy of IonQ
By 2025, Hyundai is aiming to introduce more than 12 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to consumers. Batteries remain the most expensive component in all EVs, and there’s a major incentive to reduce their costs and pass savings down to consumers. This will boost EV uptake. While the partnership isn’t supplying Hyundai vehicles with hardware components at scale, the venture could help Hyundai design better chip-dependent battery-management systems in the future.
Mercedes-Benz Delivers Smarter Operation
Stemming from time in the lab, including contributions from Formula 1 and Formula E, Mercedes-Benz has developed its next-generation VISION EQXX vehicle. A major selling point of Mercedes’ newest EV is the cockpit design—which features displays and graphics spanning the vehicle’s entire width. The car is designed to be human-centric and actually mimic the human mind during operation.
How is this possible? The German automaker has incorporated BrainChip’s Akida neural processor and associated software suite. This chipset powers the EQXX’s onboard systems and runs spiking neural networks. This operation saves power by only consuming energy during periods of learning or processing. Such coding dramatically lowers energy consumption.
Diagram of some of Akida's IP. Image used courtesy of Brainchip
Additionally, it makes driver interaction much smoother via voice control. Keyword recognition is now five to ten times more accurate than it is within competing systems, according to Mercedes. The result is described as a better driving experience while markedly reducing AI energy needs across the vehicle’s entirety. The EQXX and EVs after it will think in much more humanistic ways and support continuous learning. By doing so, Mercedes hopes to continually refine the driving experience throughout periods of extended ownership, across hundreds of thousands of miles.
The Future of EV Electronics
While companies have achieved Level 2+ autonomy through driver-assistance packages, upgradeable EV software systems may eventually unlock fully-fledged self-driving. Accordingly, chip-level innovations are surging forward to meet future demand.
It’s clear that EV development has opened numerous doors for electrical engineers and design teams. The inclusion of groundbreaking new components rooted in AI and ML will help drivers connect more effectively with their vehicles. Interestingly, different automakers are taking different approaches on both software and hardware fronts.
Harmonizing these two facets of EV computing will help ensure a better future for battery-powered cars—making them more accessible and affordable to boot.