Every vehicle on the road today requires dozens of internal computers to run smoothly and safely. Every year, Renesas Electronics ships about a billion processors to make sure those systems are effective.

Proper testing is crucial for every type of chip it manufactures, but it's more important than ever when it comes to the game-changing technology behind autonomous vehicles.

"There's never been a computer in a car like the autonomous driving computers," says John Buszek, Renesas' senior manager of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and autonomous driving systems. They need to work with the same reliability as every other car, but they also require immense power to compute every kind of driving scenario, the same way a human could.

It was with that in mind that Renesas knew it needed to invest in its very own test track, where it could make sure autonomous vehicles made with its chips can mimic the nuances of human behaviour.

It landed on the perfect spot in Stratford, Ontario, where it opened its first-ever test track for autonomous vehicles in late 2017 – just the step it needed to become a leader in this innovative space.

Putting AI – and safety – to the test

Previously, Renesas could test autonomous vehicles on public roads by getting special permits and having its engineers behind the wheel. However, it needed a track where it could test other scenarios with more control.

At its Stratford track, Renesas can test how its chips manage low-speed maneuvers, parking and reactions to obstacles, like pedestrians or other cars. The Ontario location is also ideal for testing how autonomous vehicles perform in all kind of weather scenarios, like snowy days when lines on the road aren't visible.

When it comes to developing the computer chips for vehicles, safety is obviously top-of-mind. The stakes for a laptop or smartphone not running properly are much lower than for chips operating in vehicles. "They're designed for safety, to save lives, so we need them to work," Buszek says.

Having the power to test its chips at its own track has given Renesas a competitive advantage. Now, along with selling chips, it can sell more confidence to autonomous vehicle manufacturers who want evidence of just how these processors will perform on the open road.

How Stratford became a driving force for Renesas' growth

Stratford is just a short distance from Renesas' operations Michigan, making it ideal for collaborating with its own teams and its Ontario-based partners. Partnerships are core to Renesas' testing, since it needs other companies and professionals to help it put its chips into practice. Among its first major partners was Waterloo-based software maker BlackBerry QNX, which in turn introduced Renesas to the University of Waterloo and its WatCAR (Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research) program, and the City of Stratford.

"A lot of our partners happen to be in Canada," Buszek says. "There's just a huge commitment from that region to developing technology for artificial intelligence, for autonomous driving."

Stratford is best known for arts festivals and Shakespearean plays, so it might not immediately come to mind as the go-to place for next wave of automotive tech. But for Renesas, it was quickly clear that Stratford's passion and outside-the-box thinking would drive its business forward. "Artificial intelligence is really on fire right now and there's so much talent and energy in the engineering force [in Ontario]," says Buszek.

In particular, Buszek points to the mayor as a force for moving the project ahead and helping to secure the test track's location and all the necessary logistics.

"It was immediately obvious to me that he would do everything in his power to enable us to be successful with that track," he says. "All the people he works with are the same – they have the same energy level, the same motivation."

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May 1, 2018

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