China’s Horizon says it’s now producing a Level 4 autonomous-vehicle semiconductor

By Elles Houweling

Chinese AI chip manufacturer Horizon Robotics announced the availability of its latest autonomous vehicle semiconductor, which it says can support Level 4 vehicle autonomy, on social media on Sunday.

“Hello world!” the post reads, announcing that the new Journey 5 chip will become available ahead of schedule. According to Horizon, the Journey 5 series offers maximum computing power of 128 trillion operations per second (TOPS, a rough measure of the power of AI processors) and support for 16-channel camera perception. The company adds that these new semiconductors will “have the industry’s highest FPS (Frames Per Second) performance while maintaining the lowest power consumption”.

With the launch of the Journey 5 series, Beijing-based Horizon claims to have smart chip solutions up to Level 4 in vehicle autonomy. Level 4 indicates a high level of driving autonomy, whereby the vehicle can intervene if things go wrong or if there is a system failure. This means these cars do not require human interaction under normal circumstances. Level 5 describes a car that needs no human driver at all.

As Horizon is the only company in China engaged in mass production of semiconductors for the automotive industry, it was at the centre of attention during the recent Autoshow in Shanghai. At the event, the company announced the launch of the Horizon Matrix, a scalable perception computer designed for autonomous vehicles, and the Horizon Halo, an in-vehicle intelligent interactive cockpit system.

Horizon launched its first-generation vehicle-level chip in August 2019, the Journey 2 series. The second-generation, the Journey 3 series, was launched last year in September. At present, these semiconductors are widely used by Chinese car manufacturers, including China Chang’an Automobile and Chery Automobile.

Based on the existing cooperation between Horizon and various Chinese carmakers, mass production of vehicles using the Journey 5 semiconductor is expected in 2022.

According to Yu’s announcement, Horizon will launch a more powerful automotive semiconductor, the Journey 6 series, in the future, using a car-grade 7nm processor and artificial intelligence computing power of 512 TOPS.

China’s bid for semiconductor autonomy

The global shortage of automotive chips is bringing China’s carmakers and chip manufacturers closer together than ever before. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers sponsored the recent three-day Global Semiconductor Industry Expo held in China’s central city of Chongqing. It was the first time the carmaker’s group sponsored the annual event, the South China Morning Post reports.

As carmakers worldwide are grappling with the chip shortage, China is keen to develop its domestic semiconductor production. The auto chip shortage was “emblematic of insufficient domestic [semiconductor] supply capacity”, association deputy secretary Yao Jie said during the event.

“It is necessary to build a platform for better bridging supply and demand,” Yao said, adding that China could tap into existing inventories and production resources to try and ensure automakers had enough chips to continue production.

According to GlobalData’s thematic research, one of the primary goals of the “Made in China 2025” programme is to ensure the country becomes the dominant force in the global auto industry by 2025. The Chinese see the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) and level 4 and 5 self-driving vehicles as inflexion points where they can outpace other markets.