Tesla Just Expanded Samsung Partnership to Build 5-Nanometer Chip

Tesla and Samsung could be next in line to develop a 5-nm chip, but for use in autonomous vehicles.
Brad Bergan

Tesla is expanding its partnership with Samsung to develop 5-nanometer (nm) chips capable of powering Tesla's autonomous vehicles, according to an initial report from Asia E.

If Samsung succeeds, the jointly-developed 5-nm chip could join the ranks of state-of-the-art 5-nm computer chips like Apple's M1, a core feature of the latest Mac series.


Tesla expands partnership with Samsung to develop 5-nm FSD chip

As of writing, Tesla is creating next-gen hardware called the HW4 — which might serve the development of the new 4D full self-driving technology (FSD) the company is developing. But the new 5-nm chip is a high-tech computer chip only a handful of companies globally can manufacture.

Samsung is already supplying Tesla with 14-nm chips, but this expanded partnership could see both set a new high bar in processor chips. Tesla's in-vehicle infotainment system (IVI) employs several chips — including conventional processors, neural-network processors (NPUs), memory, display driver IC (DDI), and security integrated circuits, Tesmanian reports.

The IVI serves as a core technology of Tesla vehicles, which enable FSD via the processing of sensor information — in addition to lighting and communication — all displayed on a user-friendly screen. Tesla aims to modernize the IVI beyond its current status, which is presumably why Samsung is doubling-down on its development efforts on a new 5-nm chip.

Samsung skipping 7-nm for new 5-nm chip level

Rumors initially circulated in August 2020 from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) that the forthcoming high-performance computing (HPC) chip — developed as a joint project between chip design leader Broadcom and the rising electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla — would be designed using TSMC's 7-nm process to be integrated with the TSMC.

TSMC said production was expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2020 — producing roughly 2,000 chips for testing. The mass production of the 7-nm chips would during or after Q4 2021.

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However, the latest news suggests Samsung will skip the 7-nm chip research and development — with an immediate dive into the production of the 5-nm chip. If the firm can pull it off, then Samsung will land a major deal with Tesla and become an industry leader in the production of 5-nm chips.

Apple's M1 chip could serve as goalpost for technological acceleration

While an expanded partnership between Tesla and Samsung could be key to the next evolution of autonomy in electric vehicles, the development of a 5-nm chip could not be more timely.

In November of last year, Apple unveiled its industry-leading M1 chip as the core of its new Mac lineup during the company's "One More Thing" event. Upon the M1's debut, industry experts agreed that other computer processor companies — especially Intel — would face an uphill battle to close the technological gap.

However, the industry domains of laptops and smartphones aren't the only ones pushing the limits of CPU processors. Amid the fourth industrial revolution, we're beginning to see industries once impractically distant in application — like automotive advances, computers, and mobile communication — approach a common architecture threshold, where a single technological breakthrough can quickly accelerate economy-wide transformations in a manner of years, or months.

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