Texas Instruments started mass production of a new radar chip line, looking to move the millimeter wave sensors into a wider range of applications in the automotive and industrial spaces. That could include monitoring people inside cars, tracking the movement of machinery on factory floors, or giving warehouse robots a clearer sense of direction.
Texas Instruments, which introduced the new radar line last year, said that "thousands of customers" were using the chips in development. The Dallas, Texas-based company wants to serve them bigger quantities. The company said that its solutions are the first complementary metal-oxide semiconductor – more commonly known as CMOS – radar sensors squeezed into a single chipset to enter mass production.
The radar market is intensifying as higher volumes shipped into modern cars lower prices for the technology. Falling prices are leading to radar being slapped onto everything from factory robots that collaborate safely with humans to smartwatches that use radar to interpret hand gestures. Texas Instruments is fighting with Robert Bosch, NXP Semiconductors, Infineon and more than a dozen startups for a slice of the automotive market.
Its new sensors over frequencies from 76 to 81 gigahertz, and these millimeter wave bands offer several advantages. Using them, radar can be designed with higher resolution, enabling better target separation while slashing the size of antenna and high-frequency circuits. Texas Instruments said the sensors have 4-centimeter range resolution, range accuracy down to 50μm and up to 300-meter range, which allows cars to sense highway dangers sooner.
Other companies typically provide sensing and processing separately, but Texas Instruments integrated into every chip a microcontroller and DSP, which delivers processed information – and could handle simple artificial intelligence tasks like object classification – instead of raw data. The new chips are also designed to accurately sense through a range of materials, including dry wall, plastic, clothing and glass.
The automotive chip, AWR1642, can be used to detect forced entry into vehicles and monitor obstacles around cars, improving automated parking and other advanced driver assistance systems by corroborating what cameras and lidar perceive about their surroundings. It costs $45 in 1,000-unit quantities and operates in rainy, foggy, snowy conditions fumbled by other sensors, which themselves cover radar’s resolution issues.
Texas Instruments has also released the industrial variation, the IWR1642. The new product, which costs $20 in 1,000-units quantities, can be used to monitor the movement of people inside a building, helping in the planning of lighting and ventilation systems. The company says it could also be used in smart cities to follow traffic, conveying vital information to city officials in charge of installing parking meters and traffic lights.