The chip that changed the world

TIer Jack Kilby’s invention of the integrated circuit, plus decades of subsequent innovation, demonstrate our passion to create a better world by making electronics more affordable through semiconductors.

15 Sep 2020

“What we didn’t realize (when we developed the integrated circuit) was that it would reduce the cost of electronic functions by a factor of a million to one.” – Jack Kilby

When Jack Kilby invented the first integrated circuit (IC) at Texas Instruments in 1958, he couldn’t have known that it would someday enable safer cars, smart water meters, ultrasound machines that fit in your pocket and so many more essential applications we rely on today. 

That’s because he couldn’t have predicted the incremental innovations in semiconductor technology that happened over the next several decades to drive down the cost of electronics while shrinking the size and improving reliability and efficiency – ultimately helping create a better world.

At TI, our passion is to create a better world by making electronics more affordable through semiconductors. We think of it as Engineering Progress, and Jack’s invention of the IC – plus the decades of subsequent innovation – are some of the ways our company has helped make progress possible over the decades.

As we celebrate the 62nd anniversary of Jack and his chip that changed the world, we would like to focus on three of our recent innovations that have improved medical diagnostics, automobile safety and water leak detection.

Portable ultrasound machine makes health care more accessible

When our TI India R&D team innovates to shrink the size and reduce the number of ICs needed in an ultrasound system, our customers are able to make affordable ultrasound machines that are portable and connected, and the world gets broader access to quality healthcare.

Image of ultrasound

For nearly 20 years, a team at our company’s Bangalore, India, Research and Development (R&D) center has been improving the quality and lowering the cost of ultrasound imaging by creating incrementally smaller devices. 

Ultrasound scanners have traditionally been cart-mounted in hospitals and clinics. Now, thanks to component advances that reduce power and size while improving signal quality, ultrasound devices are shrinking down to hand-held, battery-powered smart probes. What once took 128 separate components to create a 32-channel transmit/receive front end is now integrated into two integrated circuits so small they fit directly into the probe, eliminating the wires typically needed to supply power and do calculations. 

Affordable and portable enough to be taken into remote areas and carried by first responders in the field or in ambulances, smart probes can produce sharp, real-time images of internal organs and can be viewed on a smartphone, often revealing details critical to immediate treatment. 

millimeter Wave sensing makes more cars safer

When TI created breakthrough mmWave radar technology for sensing, our automotive customers were able to integrate it into less expensive car models for the first time, and the world experienced safer cars that are more widely available.

Image of white car driving

Radar systems have been around for nearly a century, but traditionally have been very expensive to build and have primarily been used in military applications. Our company recently created radar technology that brought a robust radar system into a single fully-integrated microchip and is proliferated across many industrial and automotive applications. 

TI’s millimeter wave (mmWave) technology was among the first breakthrough innovations developed in our Kilby Labs R&D center. It is the world’s most precise mmWave single-chip, complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor, which delivers three times more accurate sensing and the smallest footprint at a fraction of the power of competing sensor technologies.

The introduction of our mmWave radar sensors in late 2018 marked the beginning of a rapid evolution of radar systems in cars, allowing systems to become smaller and better performing, and opening up possibilities for new use cases of radar in automotive beyond advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The technology greatly improved the accuracy of long-, short- and medium-range radar sensing.

Expanding outside of ADAS, automotive engineers are using the automotive-qualified TI mmWave sensors to detect free space around the vehicle, obstacles near doors and trunks, smarter automated parking, intruder alert and occupancy detection inside the cabin to raise an alarm if a child may be inadvertently left in the car unattended. These capabilities ultimately make vehicles safer in many ways, and because this technology is increasingly affordable, we will continue to see these features proliferate into auto models at lower price ranges.

Ultrasonic sensing detects water leaks for improved conservation

When TI creates affordable sensing technologies that are able to detect even the tiniest water or gas leaks, our customers are able to install high-tech water or gas meters, allowing repairs to be made soon after detection and before the problem becomes worse, resulting in less waste of these natural resources.

Image of water pipes under ground

Worldwide, 8.8 trillion gallons of water are lost per year due to leaks and breaks in water lines, according to World Bank. And oftentimes those leaks and breaks aren’t discovered until days after they occur, because traditional water meters and their electromechanical systems with a turning spindle or gear are designed to simply measure water flow. But – as is the case with thermostats, motors and lots of other everyday devices and industrial products – electromechanical systems in flow meters are rapidly transitioning to electronic systems.

Innovations in ultrasonic technology are transforming many industries, including robotics, home automation and water conservation around the globe. Our advanced ultrasonic sensing microcontroller (MCU) deploys a smart analog front end featuring a high-performance analog-to-digital converter to improve signal-to-noise quality, overcome calibration inaccuracies in the meter, measure a wide range of flow from a fire hose to a small leak and detect turbulence, bubbles and other flow anomalies.

Ultrasonic technology gives water meters installed in smart buildings and smart cities the ability to detect and localize leaks as small as one drop every few seconds. In these systems, a pair of immersive ultrasonic transducers measure the velocity of acoustic waves in the fluid. The velocity of acoustic wave propagation is a function of the viscosity, flow rate and direction of the fluid flowing through the pipe. Ultrasonic waves travel at different speeds depending on the stiffness of the media or material they’re traveling through.

The accuracy of the measurement depends on the quality of the transducer, precision analog circuitry and signal processing algorithms. Acoustic or ultrasonic transducers are piezo materials that convert electric signals to mechanical vibrations at a relatively high frequency of hundreds of kilohertz. Typically, a pair of ultrasonic transducers in the range of 1-2 MHz must be well-matched and calibrated in order to measure flow accurately. They make up a significant part of the flow meter’s cost. The sensor system must operate at very low power to ensure a 15-20 year battery life.

Our company’s advanced family of ultrasonic sensing MCUs includes a unique analog front end and algorithm, which significantly improves accuracy while reducing overall cost and power consumption. Our flow metering architecture leverages a high-performance analog design, advanced algorithms and embedded processing to mitigate the need for an expensive pair of ultrasonic transducers.

Living our passion to create a better world

Ultrasonic water meters, pocket-sized ultrasound machines and TI’s mmWave radar sensors for increased vehicle safety are just three examples among many of how our company is living its passion to create a better world by making electronics more affordable through semiconductors. This passion is alive today as we continue to pioneer advances in integrated circuits. Each generation of innovation builds upon the last to make technology smaller, more efficient, more reliable and more affordable – opening new markets and making it possible for semiconductors to go into electronics everywhere. We think of this as Engineering Progress. It’s what we do and have been doing for decades.

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