Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

TI Aims to Replace Big Radar Box in Cars With Tiny Chip

  • Texas Instruments makes rare foray into touting technology
  • Company is one of biggest suppliers to automotive industry

Texas Instruments Inc., one of the largest suppliers of semiconductors to the automotive industry, said a new range of radar chips is going to shake up the way that cars and industrial equipment see the world around them.

The current radar systems in vehicles -- systems that stop cars from running into those ahead of them -- are an integral part of attempts to build self-driving systems. Typically, they are boxes measuring inches across that house multiple components and require watts of power. A new range of chips from Texas Instruments, nine years in development, reduces that to a postage-stamp sized part, according to the Dallas-based company.

Texas Instruments, the largest maker of analog chips, rarely publicly touts the capabilities of its products, trying instead to focus investors’ attention on the company’s variety of offerings and how that broad range lessens its dependence on any one customer or market. Automotive customers contribute about 18 percent of its sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The new radar chips to be sold beginning Tuesday combine the functions of many components and are configurable, said Greg Delagi, a senior vice president. That means, for example, that a sensor could focus on near-by items during a low-speed parking maneuver then switch to looking out hundreds of yards when the car reached highway speed. Such a system would currently require multiple components, he said.

The parts, which will sell for the “low tens of dollars each,” will provide tough competition for rival technologies such as pressure sensors and Lidar, Delagi said. The company has a 6.9 percent stake of the market for automotive chips, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“I see this as a new product category that is going to have a revolutionary impact,” he said.

In addition to self-driving uses, the chips could be deployed inside a car to detect whether it’s occupied, something that could then be used to automatically prevent small children or pets being locked in by mistake or even as door sensors to stop impacts with nearby walls or other vehicles in a parking lot, he said.

The company is also offering versions for industrial uses. In the future radar might be used to determine whether a gas tank is full, empty or somewhere in between. The chips might become embedded in walls in a conference room to detect whether the room is occupied, something that could help with security and environmental controls, he said.

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