NXP and Alibaba Join Forces for Next-Generation Smart Cockpits

By 2020, the two companies look to install an infotainment solution in millions of vehicles throughout China.

 

By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

China’s Alibaba Group will partner with NXP with the intention of pairing Alibaba’s AliOS IoT operating system with NXP’s i.MX application processors for next-gen smart cockpits. Such cockpits would be enhanced by multi-screen displays, artificial-intelligence-driven interaction, and secure over-the-air (OTA) updates.The collaboration is aimed at providing automotive infotainment solutions for “millions of vehicles” in China by 2020.

 “Over the past three years, AliOS has been a pioneer in driving the digital transformation of cars and helping auto brands to enhance the overall user experience,” said Simon Hu, senior vice president of Alibaba Group and president of AliOS during the announcement, made at the Cloud Computing Conference held in Shenzhen.

(Source: Alibaba)

“Moving forward, we will strive to make cars more intelligent to better connect with the digitized road infrastructure in cities,” he continued. “By partnering with NXP, a global leader in the auto semiconductor sector, we hope to create a robust platform to spur the creation of more innovative technologies, reducing the costs associated with the mass production of smart vehicles. We look forward to redefining the future of the automobile sector in collaboration with our ecosystem partners such as NXP.”

Kurt Sievers, executive vice president and general manager of NXP automotive, noted, “Alibaba and NXP share the new vision that in-vehicle experiences and consumer services will be an essential differentiator for carmakers moving forward. Our i.MX applications processors have the processing power needed for new applications such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and e-commerce. We believe the partnership will bring rich opportunities to the auto industry.”

Alibaba began to develop its AliOS core operating system in 2010, and in 2014 launched a vehicle operating version. In July 2016, Alibaba and Chinese automaker SAIC unveiled their first mass-produced connected car.

During the past year, SAIC has rolled out a number of models equipped with the Alibaba OS, including the Roewe RX5, Roewe eRX5, Roewe ERX5, MG ZS, and SAIC Maxus D90. The internet-connected RX5 plug-in hybrid SUV can sync up with other Alibaba services, such as payments and music recommendations. Sales of RX5’s last year reached 230,000 units.

 NXP’s i.MX 8X family of processors is based on ARM Cortex-A35 and Cortex-M4F cores, along with hardware accelerated graphics and video engines. The series enables graphics, video, image processing, audio, voice, and safety-critical functions for automotive applications.

One of the target applications of the series is a fully digitized, electronic cockpit (eCockpit) for the car, containing an instrument cluster, head unit, head-up display (HUD) and rear seat entertainment. Over 92 million i.MX processors have been installed in vehicles since 2007.

 

Shown is a block diagram of NXP’s i.MX 8X series. (Source: NXP)

 Capable of driving up to three displays simultaneously, the i.MX 8X series can push its Cortex-A35 core to 1.26 GHz, and still be optimized for power and cost as key variables. The i.MX8X range is an evolution of the i.MX6, bringing more performance at roughly the same cost, according to the company, and allowing for software reuse.

i.MX in Action

In January at CES 2018, NXP demonstrated using the processor to drive voice, video, and audio all at the same time, while also displaying 4K HDR, dual screen and immersive audio capabilities as well as an Alexa solution with integrated talk-to-call.

Earlier this year, too, OpenSynergy announced its next release of COQOS Hypervisor SDK will support the NXP i.MX 8 and 8X applications processor The company characterized the combined system as well-suited to an eCockpit development strategy, in part because OpenSynergy’s virtualization technology can be used in an instrument cluster based on Linux, including safety features.

Running on the i.MX 8 applications processor, the COQOS Hypervisor SDK takes advantage of the hardware-based virtualization, system MMU, and two GPUs. With such functionality, device customers can develop and upgrade their automotive product for faster time-to-market and lower cost.

Partnering on Connected Cars

For its part, Alibaba has been busy recently forming partnerships for connected-car services. For example, German automaker BMW and Alibaba have teamed up to develop a range of “digitalized experiences for the car and home” for all new BMW models sold in China starting mid-year.

Through this cooperative effort, BMW car owners in China will be able to use smart speakers to remotely access information about their cars, such as how far they can still drive with what’s left in the gas tank and whether doors and windows have been left open or closed. BMW is working with the Internet of Things (IoT) business unit of Alibaba Cloud to deploy the company’s BMW connected in-car infotainment system to Chinese consumers.

 The connected-car services tie-up is the German manufacturer’s first official collaboration with Alibaba outside of e-commerce.

Similarly, the Chinese technology giant earlier this year announced a partnership with Ford in which the two companies said they would leverage artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and e-commerce to “redefine the consumer journey and user experience for automobiles.”

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