USDOT Smart City Challenge: Columbus Drives Future of Automotive Semiconductor Development

Columbus, Ohio will be ground zero for testing and validating the latest ADAS and V2V/V2I technologies from Mobileye, NXP and Continental in real-world use.


The Smart City Challenge will be an accelerant of automotive semiconductor innovation. The U.S. Department of Transportation has chosen Columbus as the winner of the Smart City Challenge, entitling Ohio’s capital city to $40 million U.S. government funding, along with $10M from Paul Allen’s Vulcan investment firm, and $90M that Columbus raised from private partners, to create a fully integrated transportation network.

Figure 1. Automotive semiconductors being developed today for use in the 2018-2020 model years are key enablers to autonomous driving, and to the semiconductor industry’s growth. Source: Arteris, Inc.

This is a bigger deal for those of us in the automotive semiconductor industry than we may think. One of the key issues with expanding the use and consumer desirability of autonomous vehicles is understanding the ramifications of their interactions with “real world” actors like cars driven by oblivious human drivers, randomly reckless bicyclists, and poorly marked and highly congested roads. OEMs, Tier-1s and even automobile semiconductor companies use facilities like the isolated Concord Naval Weapons Station in California or the University of Michigan’s new 32-acre Mobility Transformation Center to test their systems in a controlled environment. This provides a “petri dish” setting to perform experiments and collect data, but how do we generate proof (i.e. data) regarding how these technologies work in a real-world environment? That’s where implementations beyond “field trials”, with a mix of technologies and a means to collect real-time real-world data, become important.

Figure 2. The top 3 priorities of USDOT’s Smart City Challenge are all enabled by new automotive semiconductor technologies. Source: USDOT

That’s a major goal of the Smart City Challenge: Leading edge technologies from private industry will be integrated and used together in a real city, where data on their performance will be collected which will help drive further innovation. What’s most interesting for us in the semiconductor industry is that the top three priority elements of the program are all directly enabled by semiconductor innovation (see Figure 2).

Figure 3. Mobileye’s Shield + is a 4-camera system that detects pedestrians and cyclists in a driver’s blind spots. Source: Mobileye

For this reason, three of the seven technology partners in the Smart City Challenge are automotive semiconductor technology innovators:

  •  Mobileye is outfitting all 300+ Columbus buses with the Mobileye Shield + system. This system protects pedestrians and cyclists who may be in the bus driver’s blind spots from collisions. (See Figure 3)
  • NXP Semiconductors is providing its RoadLINK technology for use in vehicles and city infrastructure. This system uses the IEEE802.11p Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments (WAVE) standard, Wi-Fi and software defined radio (SDR) technology to create a communications network that links vehicles and infrastructure. Example use cases include changing street lights to allow emergency vehicle to get to their destinations more quickly or routing traffic around accidents. This wireless network will also enable near real-time data analysis by Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs.
  • Continental Automotive is a major automotive Tier-1 supplier. In addition to providing $1M in cash to Columbus, Continental’s Intelligent Transportation Systems unit based in Silicon Valley will provide V2V and V2I technology for similar uses as stated above. (See Figure 4)

Figure 4. Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technologies, like those supplied by NXP and Continental, allow the creation of a networked transportation infrastructure that can “see” problems before the vehicle experiences them. Source: USDOT

As data from the Smart City Challenge are collected, our industry will be required to adapt our technologies to the real-world needs of users. This may require changes not only to how we architect our systems, but also in the standards we make to ensure the safety of these systems, such as ISO 26262. The exciting thing for us in the semiconductor market is that learning from the Smart City Challenge will accelerate our knowledge of requirements and force us to innovate even faster.

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