Jan 24, 2018

I enjoy the g-force every time I punch the accelerator in my electric vehicle, which can go from 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds. My car puts me in the fast lane on the highway, and next-generation technologies will put all of us in the fast lane of the intelligent, big-data highway.

Imagine a few ways that technology will influence how we live and work in the future:

  • Collaborative robots in automobile-manufacturing assembly lines will be reconfigured quickly to build different vehicle models, providing tremendous productivity, cost and competitive advantages. Today, reconfiguring a plant can take years.
  • Machine vision will enable our cars to see clearly through darkness, fog and dust.
  • Power-supply chargers will shrink to the size of a credit card that you can slip into your pocket.
  • Here’s one of the tastiest: A 3-D printer will print a perfect plate of lasagna. You add the ingredients, the printer downloads a recipe from the Internet and a hot meal will be waiting when you get home from work.

As the dynamics of disruptive technologies and new market trends such as these continue to accelerate across the industrial, automotive and other markets, analog and embedded processing semiconductors will provide the foundation for innovation, power efficiency, cost-effectiveness and performance.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the innovations that will transform these possibilities – and countless others – into realities.

Get your EV torque without draining the battery

While the advantages of gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) in high-voltage applications have been widely discussed in power communities, reliability has been the last hurdle to wide adoption. Now that we have cleared that hurdle, watch for exciting new opportunities across the automotive, industrial, medical and even consumer electronics markets.

Applications – including inverters in electric vehicles, motor drives, robotics and renewable energy – will take full advantage of the overall power efficiency and smaller size enabled by these devices. For example:

  • Inverters that connect the electricity generated by renewable energy sources to the power grid will be smaller and more efficient.
  • Improving power-management efficiency will significantly improve the range and provide the torque for fast start-up of electric vehicles without draining their power reserves – at cost parity with gas-fueled vehicles. Battery technology is improving and about $100 per kilowatt-hour is expected to be the inflection point for mass adoption of EVs.

Integrate clocks that drift 1 second every decade

We live in an era of big data. The reality of 5G is close, and the amount of data that will be sent over wired and wireless networks is expected to explode to about 2 zettabytes – or 2 trillion gigabytes – in 2018. Giga-sample data converters, high-speed interfaces and high-performance radios will put us in the technology fast lane.

These systems require very clean, high-performance clock references. Fully integrated clocks that drift only 1 second every decade will deliver the unprecedented performance that big data will require.

Also, as clocking signals travel around boards and systems, the amount of noise – or jitter – needs to be cleaned. While crystal-based clock references have served the industry well for many decades, new innovations in micro-electro-mechanical clock references will offer higher performance, lower jitter and more integrated solutions.

See through fog and dust

Machine vision is one of the fastest-growing technologies in the industrial and automotive markets. The fusion of cameras, radar, laser and ultrasound is critical as smart cars, collaborative robots and industrial metrology proliferate.

Radar is not new, of course. It has been deployed as a time-of-flight technology in automotive cruise controls for years. But integrating the entire radio front end, digital signal processing and antennas on a single chip has been a daunting engineering challenge – until now.

Our CMOS radar technology – TI mmWave sensors – addresses cost, performance and ease of use. It will facilitate many new applications and improve resolution in vision systems:

  • The new radar technology can peer through fog and dust and even identify patches of hazardous ice on the road.
  • A hospital could use radar to monitor a patient’s heartbeat remotely through clothing.
  • The precision offered by radar technology will allow autonomous robots to move material, equipment and boxes on factory floors or in warehouses quickly and efficiently.

Innovative companies will continue to develop exciting applications with this technology, opening new doors for autonomous vehicles, robotics and smart buildings.

Protect sensors and actuators from getting zapped

Industrial plants have accelerated their adoption of intelligent and connected machines to improve efficiency, safety and productivity. In a typical modern factory, there are thousands of sensors and networked devices. Networking large numbers of motors, sensors and actuators requires the safe and reliable exchange of data and power between different modules and subsystems.

Isolation – the technology that protects controllers from transients and interferences – is critical for deployment of Industry 4.0. Isolation enables businesses to deploy additional sensors and actuators in factories, which means more intelligence, more robotics and more productivity.

Transferring gigabits of data and watts of power through a highly integrated reinforced isolation barrier requires innovations in packaging, material and integrated circuit design. The availability of robust digital isolators is accelerating the deployment of technology in industrial and automotive applications.

Technology influences every part of our lives, and the pace of change is only going to accelerate. In addition to its g-force pickup, my electric vehicle today opens the garage door, backs itself into the driveway, heats or cools itself to the right temperature, notifies me when it’s ready to go, and then opens the door when it sees me coming.

These technologies – gallium nitride and silicon carbide, clocks and timing, radar, and isolation – will enable efficiency, power management, collaboration, connectivity and intelligence. Stay tuned for more information in our quarterly columns this year.

Ahmad Bahai is our company’s chief technologist.