SiFive Seeks to Fuel Next-Gen Designs with Automotive RISC-V Cores

September 15, 2022 by Jake Hertz

With its new portfolio of automotive RISC-V processor cores, SiFive aims to solve challenges in the design of evolving digital cars.

The RISC-V movement has been gaining some serious momentum this summer, finding value in a variety of fields and use cases. As a testament to this, the past week alone has seen the RISC-V movement has been bolstered by news from both Intel and NASA.

Now, that momentum is continuing again this week, this time with RISC-V finding its way into the automotive sector. This week, SiFive led the way along those lines with the announcement of a new portfolio of RISC-V processors designed to meet the demands of the next-generation automotive market.

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of RISC-V for automotive as well as the new releases from SiFive.


Automotive Challenges

Today, the automotive industry is undergoing a revolution unlike any other time in history. The complete electrification and digitization of almost every facet of the automobile are creating smarter, safer, and more sustainable cars, but also come with a number of technical challenges.


Some of the many computing tasks within a modern automobile.

Some of the many computing tasks within a modern automobile. Image used courtesy of Johnson Automotive (Click image to enlarge)

One of the major challenges is the increased dependence on compute-intensive software and services within the car. For example, many of the applications within a vehicle, such as autonomous driving functions, rely on real-time processing for proper execution.

The result is that automotive designers are finding themselves in need of greater onboard computing capabilities in order to perform fast and reliable processing.

At the same time, next-generation automobiles simultaneously rely on a myriad of different computing tasks, ranging from infotainment systems, to wireless communications, to machine learning processing and computer vision. This broad range of applications makes it difficult to design a system that can perform all these tasks at a high level.

Together, these are driving the need for flexible and powerful computing hardware that is capable of supporting a variety of tasks without sacrificing performance or reliability.


RISC-V for Automotive

In the eyes of many, RISC-V presents a solution to many of these challenges. Some of the major benefits of RISC-V in the automotive space are the simplicity and performance that it brings to automotive design.

By using a single instruction set architecture (ISA) with RISC-V, a designer can create an automotive computing platform that enables a high level of code portability as well as decreased time to market. At the same time, many RISC-V offerings have been shown to offer high levels of performance as well as energy efficiency, making these devices ideal tools for automotive applications.

Beyond this, the RISC-V movement also provides designers with flexibility. Since RISC-V has grown globally, now consisting of thousands of members, there has emerged a wide variety of existing IP and resources on the market as well as the tools and information necessary to help designers create their own IP if needed.


SiFive’s Automotive RISC-V Portfolio

SiFive’s new portfolio of automotive-facing RISC-V offerings is part of the first phase of a long-term roadmap, says the company. The announcement describes three automotive solutions: the E6-A, X280-A, and S7-A.

The E6-A series is a 32-bit RISC-V processor that was designed specifically for real-time computing applications including system control and security. Built off of a single issue, in-order 8-stage Harvard Pipeline, and tightly integrated memory and cache subsystems, SiFive is describing the E6-A processors as offering mid-range power-efficient performance. SiFive tells us that the E6-A will be offered in ASIL A, B, and D safety levels and will be available by the end of 2022. The E6-A’s product page does not include a datasheet. It mentions a “Automotive E6-A Development Kit,” but with few details about it so far.


The E6-A RISC-V processor will support ASIL A, B, and D safety levels.

The E6-A RISC-V processor will support ASIL A, B, and D safety levels. Image used courtesy of SiFive


Following the E6-A, SiFive plans to release both the X280-A and S7-A by the second half of 2023. The X280-A will be a vector-capable processor that is optimized for sensor fusion, ADAS, and machine learning applications within the vehicle.

S7-A, on the other hand, will be tailored for applications such as ADAS, gateways, and domain controllers. To do this, the S7-A will be a real-time core that features native 64-bit support. As of now, there are no product pages on SiFive’s site for either the S7-A or the X280-A.

Together, SiFive hopes that its automotive line will provide automotive designers with the computing flexibility and performance needed to support the compute-intensive and varied tasks required by next-generation automobiles.