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Inside Arm’s vision for the “software-defined vehicle” of the future

The digitization of cars has made comparisons to “data centers on wheels” so common that they have become clichéd. It has also created a thriving market for technology companies, few of which have capitalized as well as Arm.

Arm, owned by SoftBank, is often described as the UK’s largest IT company and designs energy-efficient computer chips. The company’s architectures can be found in endless applications from smart cities to laptops, but they are best known for powering mobile devices. About 95% of the world’s smartphones use Arm’s technology.

In recent years, however, the automotive unit has been the company’s fastest-growing division. Arm reportedly has revenues from the sector more than doubled since 2020.

Dennis Laudick, Arm’s vice president of automotive go-to-market, attributes the growth to a convergence of three trends: electrification, automation, and in-vehicle user experience (UX).

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“All of these add more computing power to the vehicle,” he says — and more computing power means more business for Arm.

As the company prepares for a long-awaited IPO, Laudick gave TNW a look at its automotive strategy.

Electric lanes

Gradually, EVs are flooding the car market. Last year, fully electric vehicles accounted for more than 10% of car sales in Europe for the first time. Worldwide, their total sales reached about 7.8 million units – as many as 68% more than in 2022. To serve this growing market, automakers must integrate a complex new collection of electronics.

“When you do that, it becomes a much more complicated system,” says Laudick. “You have to look at even more electronics to manage it, and that makes people rethink their architecture.”

The result is a stronger foundation for more digital functions. Take the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which runs Arm’s Cortex-R4 processor alongside an electric powertrain.

To control the power converter, a microcomputer core must accurately repeat a series of processes – such as sense, computation and control output – for events that occur in 1/10,000 second cycles. In this small calculation window, the system must provide efficient, responsive and precise control.

By placing the battery and other heavy objects close to the center of gravity, the moment of inertia is reduced compared to front-engined cars for improved stability and smoother cornering.