Why self-driving cars no longer a fantasy; NXP honcho Sanjay Gupta explains

Recently, the driver of an electric Tesla car was killed in a road accident after its Autopilot mode failed to recognise an oncoming lorry.

By: | Updated: July 25, 2016 7:41 AM
The automotive sector believes that driverless cars are the future and will hit the roads by 2020, though “making this technology glitch free and smooth will require few more years of testing,” says Sanjay Gupta, senior director, NXP Semiconductors. (Reuters) The automotive sector believes that driverless cars are the future and will hit the roads by 2020, though “making this technology glitch free and smooth will require few more years of testing,” says Sanjay Gupta, senior director, NXP Semiconductors. (Reuters)

Recently, the driver of an electric Tesla car was killed in a road accident after its Autopilot mode failed to recognise an oncoming lorry. However, the automotive sector believes that driverless cars are the future and will hit the roads by 2020, though “making this technology glitch free and smooth will require few more years of testing,” says Sanjay Gupta, senior director, NXP Semiconductors, a semiconductor major headquartered in Eindhoven, Netherlands. “Digital technology inside a car is acting as a growth driver for the overall auto industry,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:

Give us a sense of how technology majors are investing in the driverless vehicle segment.
Gone are those days when a driverless car was a fantasy or work of fiction. Today with technology developing at such rapid speed, we can see science fiction shaping into reality, driverless car being one of it. Major players like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan, Delphi and Nissan have been working on the technology from past half a decade or so. Google’s prototype pilot testing last year was quite interesting making driverless cars the topic of discussion. Overall, the automotive sector believes that driverless cars are the future and will hit the roads by 2020. However, there is a limitation to this technology as the latest prototype has not been tested in heavy rain or snow due to safety concerns. These cars rely primarily on pre-programmed route data, they do not obey temporary traffic lights and, in some situations, revert to a slower “extra cautious” mode in complex unmapped intersections.

What are the present roadblocks to the success of driverless cars?
The vehicle has difficulty identifying when objects, such as trash and light debris, are harmless, causing the vehicle to veer unnecessarily. Additionally, the LIDAR technology cannot spot some potholes or discern when humans, such as a police officer, are signaling the car to stop. The present day infrastructure also acts as a roadblock, technology is developing at a very fast pace compared to the adaptability of it. With the growing concerns of road safety and innovation of technology, there is a boom in the automotive sector and in future of driverless cars. However, making this technology glitch free and smooth will require few more years of testing.

At NXP, we are working extensively on the driverless cars. Transforming the car from a simple mode of transport into a mobile information hub, our robust in-vehicle networking and secure interfaces connect vehicles to each other and the outside world. Our systems capture data, process it and share control with drivers in critical situations. Our recognised strengths are in car access, broadcast reception, automotive microcontrollers and in-vehicle networks. These technologies are complemented by a growing portfolio of vision, radar and sensor fusion processors, telematics, 802.11p and NFC solutions.

Is digital technology inside a car a growth driver for the overall auto industry?
The auto industry is always evolving and it thrives upon new technological developments for growth. Every company in the sector wants to offer something different or new to its customers. Built in features in the car are grabbing eyeballs of potential buyers. In the market of points of parity every automotive company is thriving on points of differentiation. This differentiation is created by the digital technology, to meet the demands of the potential consumers.

Consumers these days are moving towards technological developments which will make their life easy without any hassle. They look forward to new technological development which will increase their efficiency on the daily basis. Technological advancement plays a major role in this decision making.

In the age of digital connectivity, the technology inside car plays an important role. The concepts like smart cities and internet of things are turning into the reality that is why digital technology inside a car is acting as a growth driver for the overall auto industry.

Tell us something about NXP Semiconductors and its current operations.

NXP Semiconductors is a leader in the semiconductor space. We started operations in India in 1998 with a mission of making India a centre of excellence in SoC integration and IP design. Over the years, the operations have gone from strength to strength to emerge as a team of professional engineers working tirelessly to move up the value chain and become a vital part of global network of design teams which form the core of NXP business operations. In 2007, NXP India expanded its Noida operation with the acquisition of 300,000 square feet campus. The India Design Centre is involved in development of hardware and software designs for the embedded market.

We are working extensively to develop technologies and solutions in the in-car infotainment, in-vehicle networking, Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), powertrain, chassis, body and overall secure car. Today 90% of auto innovation is happening via electronics and there is further more opportunity in this segment. We are working with multiple Indian OEMs in India and abroad in this segment.
Today, we are the number 1 suppliers of automotive electronics and a significant part of our revenue is generated from the automotive business.

India is a key market for us and especially with the kind of focus on R&D and other initiatives like Digital India, Smart cities etc. we believe we have huge opportunity here and are looking to significantly contribute to various initiatives of the government. In a nutshell, globally we are $10 bn in revenue, 45,000 employees with more than 11,000 engineers, present in more than 35 countries, more than 9,000 patent families and the fourth largest semiconductor player.

What are the broad focus of activities for NXP Semiconductors in India?

India is definitely a growing market and we have a strong presence here. We have a clear focus of being leaders in security, connectivity and processing. Very recently, we achieved live reception of Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) services for vehicles in India. Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is a service which helps to boost AM audio quality so as to provide individuals with enhanced radio quality. We designed a chipset module that is capable of handling three digital standard signals on a single platform. DRM module so developed will not only help to improve radio quality over AM channels but also provide users with utilities like updates pertaining to real time traffic scenarios, news and natural disaster warnings. In terms of business, India is a significant centre.

What initiatives is NXP putting in place to gain customer traction here?
We have strong cultural alignment for customer focus and have the highest quality products through various initiatives. Not only this, we also have a dedicated team of  application engineers under customer solution criteria whose charter is to satisfy requirements of our customers with utmost dedication in the best time possible.

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