MediaTek further articulates its auto plan
LAS VEGAS — MediaTek, Taiwan’s smartphone chip giant, is dead set on entering the growing automotive electronics market, fueled by the belief that its expertise in high-performance, low-power app processors will help carmakers and tier ones develop effective digital cockpits.
A common background in smartphone app processors has driven both Meditek and Qualcomm to the automotive market. Qualcomm announced its plan with a bang, through an imminent acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. However, MediaTek, which is opting for a much more organic approach, is facing an uphill battle. The company's appetite for automotive is understandable. But it remains to be seen if the Taiwan's fabless company — new to the automotive market — can really catch up.
In an exclusive interview with EE Times during the Consumer Electronics Show, JC Hsu, MediaTek’s corporate vice president, detailed the company's previously announced automotive strategy. He emphasized that telematics and multimedia aren’t MediaTek’s only tools in its automotive strategy.
Other technologies and products MediaTek has up its sleeve include 77-79GHz millimeter wave radars, ADAS cameras, and “very low-power” vision SoCs, he said.
JC Hsu, MediaTek's corporate vice president responsible for its automotive business
Of course, unlike Qualcomm, who will have the luxury of NXP opening doors for it once the acquisition is closed later this year, MediaTek will need a crowbar and a lock pick to crack the well-established automotive market.
Hsu, however, is not fazed. He said “We already have a lead customer in each domain” – radar, camera and vision SoC included.
Single-chip CMOS radar
Radar is one of the hottest sensor technologies for carmakers as they augment their ADAS systems.
IHS Markit Automotive expects the market of radar sensors to grow to more than 50 million in 2021.
Hsu said that MediaTek’s experience in 802.11ad – multi-gigabit per second speed wireless communication technologies operating over the unlicensed 60GHz frequency band – and related IPs that it developed with IBM will come in handy for designing radar chips.
One problem with 60GHz signals was that they couldn’t penetrate solid objects, thus confining them to individual rooms. So, IBM and MediaTek downsized military phased-array radar technologies to a single chip, allowing 60 GHz transmitters to steer their beams around obstacles between them and the in-room receivers to which signals are routed.
“We are now using similar IPs to develop our own radar chips for the automotive market,” Hsu explained.
In designing its own radar chip, MediaTek won’t use SiGe, which Hsu said is “too expensive.” Instead, it is developing a “CMOS-based single-chip SoC, scheduled to sample in the first half of this year.” Single-chip integration can help decrease BOM cost and power consumption of radar.
Power consumption in its short-range single-chip SoC will be less than 2 watts, Hsu said, while a medium range version (80 meters) SoC operates at 2 to 3 watts. “We are currently working very closely with a tier one company,” he added.
Next page: Vision SoC — HOG & CNN
Of course, MediaTek will still have a lot of catching up to do, especially in the face of incumbents like Infineon Technologies and NXP.
Infineon, for example, told us that it sold 10 million radar chips in 2016 alone. Meanwhile, Infineon's cumulative sales of radar chips in total over the years by the end of 2015 was 10 million units. The stark contrast shows how quickly radar has become a red hot segment of the automotive electronics market in just the last 12 months.
Infineon offers radar chips based on SiGe [and the CMOS version is currently in development]. In contrast, NXP just announced this week at the CES that the company is now adding to its automotive radar portfolio “the world's smallest single-chip 77GHz radar transceiver (7.5x7.5 mm) with very high resolution performance.”
Development board based on NXP's single-chip 77GHz radar transceiver placed between two antennas
Hella, a German tier one company with more than 15 years of experience in automotive radar technology, was present at NXP’s booth and told us that it plans to launch “CompactRadar” based on NXP’s RFCMOS in 2018, along with the company’s first customer.
Noting that the CompactRadar is designed for short and mid-range applications, Kristian Doescher, head of global marketing original equipment at Hella, said, “We have completed field trials, first results have proven very promising. RFCMOS is the enabling technology that allows us to deliver the required compact form factors.”
Hella's CompactRadar prototype
Vision SoC – HOG & CNN
In the world of Vision SoC, nobody disputes that EyeQ chips developed by Mobileye is the gold standard. The Israeli company today dominates the market for computer vision-based SoCs in cars.
Going up against Mobileye is no piece of cake.
Hsu, however, sees an opening for MediaTek. A growing number of car OEMs are now looking for a more flexible architecture for a vision SoC. “Some OEMs want much rawer information from image sensors so that they can add their own algorithms when they do sensor fusion.”
Next page: Android for in-vehicle infotainment
Speaking of MediaTek’s vision SoC, currently in development, he explained, “Our chip will have two image processing running in parallel — one engine dedicated to traditional computer vision algorithms like HOG, and another for deep learning based on CNN.” MediaTek also plans to add special local memory inside the SoC to accommodate neural networks.
Asked why the company is doing both traditional computer vision and deep learning on the same chip, Hsu said, “Not everything will be solved by deep learning.”
The vision SoC will be sampling in early 2018. “We are working with a tier one customer so that we can meet their detailed system requirements,” Hsu said.
Android for in-vehicle infotainment
A growing number of carmakers in the emerging countries are now interested in using Android for in-vehicle infotainment, according to Hsu. “They want to leverage the ecosystem already well established for smartphones and tablets.”
Asked if he’s not worried about the potential adverse impact of fragmented Android applications for automotive, Hsu acknowledged, “I have some concerns.”
MediaTek has begun working on technology development for the automotive market since 2014. “We have now over 100 people — mostly engineers and some corporate sales — working for this automotive group.”
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times