"It's red for me, and there's not a single person coming in any other direction," he says. "I have to calm myself before I get into my car, because I know it's going to happen."
We've all been there, but for the leader of the industrial radar group at our company, it's an especially aggravating experience. Robert knows that with a simple radar chip, that light would know to change colors for him. He can't wait for the day when our TI millimeter-wave (mmWave) sensors enable traffic signals everywhere to make informed, on-the-spot decisions.
The day isn't far off. Millimeter-wave technology is now available in production in mass quantities to bring advanced radar sensors to our industrial and automotive customers. We're the first to offer the world's most precise single-chip CMOS radar sensor. With a microcontroller, a radio-frequency (RF) front end, a hardware accelerator and a programmable digital signal processor (DSP), TI mmWave sensors calculate an object's range, velocity and angle at up to three times higher resolution than any other radar sensor on the market. Then it decides what action to take.
A simpler, single-chip design
Previous generations of radar sensors were bigger, far more complex designs. They featured several discrete components on a single printed circuit board connected by high-speed interfaces to a processor on a second board. Instead, TI mmWave sensors integrate analog and digital circuits onto one chip.
And unlike analog-only radar sensors, these sensors don't send data to a processor, server or the cloud to wait for instructions.
"All the intelligence is in the sensor," Robert said. "This is intelligent autonomy at the edge."
Precise and highly programmable, TI mmWave sensors have the potential to do far more good than to shorten Robert's commute. From making homes more comfortable to improving workplace efficiency to enhancing smart cities, they have far-reaching implications.
Automotive and industrial customers are already specifying and designing our mmWave sensors into their products. So are engineers in agriculture, drone development, healthcare, human-robot collaboration, security and more.
"The fact that our highly programmable sensor is integrated with analog and digital functions makes it easy to use for our customers," said Kishore Ramaiah, a leader in our automotive radar group.
See how TI mmWave sensors make life smarter
Ubiquity, not singularity
To be clear, "intelligent autonomy at the edge" is not code for artificial superintelligence. Whether a decision is made on the spot or in the network, "this is still a processing engine that's using hardware, software and logic to communicate decisions to a larger network," Robert said. "Our goal on the industrial side is to improve certain applications by adding sensing. In some cases, we want to augment other sensing technologies – optical solutions or LIDAR – where we believe we bring a value proposition to improve things."
To enable autonomous vehicles, Kishore said, TI mmWave sensors must work in concert with multiple sensing modalities, including cameras, LIDAR and ultrasonic sensors. "One sensing technology might have a drawback that the other sensing technology can help mitigate," he said.
Either way – alone or to augment other sensors – the benefits of real-time decision-making, a low power and a tiny footprint are likely to make TI mmWave sensor use widespread, if not ubiquitous.
We announced mass production of our ultra-wideband automotive and industrial TI mmWave sensors in May and will continue to enhance our product portfolio.
How mmWave sensors change everything
Why would a TI mmWave sensor improve Robert's morning commute better than, say, a camera or a simple motion sensor? First, radar is more robust. Cameras and other technologies can be hindered by environmental conditions. But even in total darkness, rain and extreme temperatures, radar can sense how far away cars are. And integrated digital processing lets the mmWave sensor make decisions.
"Radar can say, 'I detect cars 50 meters away this way and 75 meters away in that direction, so I need to turn that light green and stop all the others,'" Robert said. "Without that processing capability, it would have to send its observations to a control center that would relay back the instruction to change the light."
With that decision-making capability, a TI mmWave sensor makes the decision locally and then relays its choice to the network for tracking.
Consider several other potentially transformative motion-detection applications for mmWave sensors:
- Eradicating false alarms from video doorbells. "All of us who have these systems also have about 30 seconds of wasted video on our cell phones from instances when the camera detected a tree swaying or sunlight moving," Robert said. But TI mmWave sensors can enable a doorbell to differentiate between a human, an animal and any other moving object before deciding whether to record.
- Aiding first responders. In office or apartment building incidents, TI mmWave sensors can enable the detection of fine movement through walls, which could help emergency workers rescue people faster. Even unconscious people would be noticed by radar that can sense micrometer movements such as a person's chest expanding and contracting while breathing.
- Optimizing indoor environments. mmWave sensors can enable smart building systems to autonomously adjust cooling, heating and lighting based on the numbers and flow of people in a room. Sure, cameras can see how many people are in a room, but TI mmWave sensors can assess populations and movements without invading privacy, regardless of darkness and despite doors and walls.
- Monitoring patients and newborns without contact. Mounted on a ceiling, under a mattress or behind a wall, TI mmWave sensors can enable the monitoring of a patient's heart rate, breathing and other vital signs without touching them. When integrated into medical systems, highly sensitive groups such as infants and burn victims could be monitored while sparing them the additional pain of physical interaction or the impracticality of attaching probes and electrodes.
Inside and outside automobiles, the applications for TI mmWave sensors are also many and varied. While radar for cars has existed for some time, Kishore said one difference now is that TI mmWave sensors enable cascaded radar.
"We can connect multiple radar transceivers in a cascaded format that make it possible for automobiles to detect objects up to 350 or more meters away," he said. "We will also be able to achieve a level of accuracy of less than 1 degree, which provides LIDAR-like performance."
Kishore predicts that by 2025, millimeter-wave will be a key technology for front radar systems in autonomous vehicles. It can also be placed in multiple locations in and on a car. Among the benefits:
- Children and pets can be detected in the back seat of a car and remind drivers of the presence of other passengers.
- Drivers who doze off could be nudged awake by a vibrating seat or steering wheel. mmWave sensors could pick up sleepiness signals even when a driver is wearing sunglasses or when the sun is shining too brightly for a camera to work effectively.
- Sensors that respond to breathing and heart-rate variability could help rescue suddenly ill drivers by helping the car navigate and alert the system to call emergency services.
- Car door operating systems could prevent injuries to fingers, collisions with bypassing bicyclists and damage to other parked cars.
- Because varying temperature pressures or same-frequency noises may cause ultrasonic parking assist sensors to fail, TI mmWave sensors can step in to aid automated parking. "The additional functionality of radar sensors will change the way parking applications are realized. This robustness to challenging environmental conditions is precisely the reason radars are needed for ADAS applications," Kishore said.
Our radar-assisted future
Drones, forklifts and robotic vacuums are just a few of hundreds of other types of equipment set to benefit immediately from intelligence at the edge, with TI mmWave sensors' ability to detect steep drop-offs, power lines and other obstacles. And Kishore says there are still a lot of applications to be explored for integrated mmWave sensors. In automobiles, he imagines mmWave sensor-enabled inter-vehicle communications and road hazard warnings.
As for future industrial uses, Robert envisions more automated warehouses, and, after that, radar-sensor-driven product delivery. He's particularly excited about the potential for intermingling a mmWave sensor’s unique capabilities to enable human-robot collaboration.
"Remember, radar gives you three pieces of data about an object that no other technology provides: range, speed and angle," he said. "So it can detect motion and recognize gestures at the same time."
In an automated factory setting, where alarms sound when humans come within a few meters of hazardous machines, mmWave sensors could sound them sooner if someone is approaching at higher speed. "It gives us the ability to create safety guards to reduce incidents," Robert said. Even automatic doors would be smarter, knowing to open when a person's body angle indicates that they want to exit and to stay closed for a passersby.
Ultimately, the ways TI mmWave sensors can make our world smarter are only as limited as developers' imaginations.
"We make the components that our customers use, and they come up with larger-than-life ideas that we'll see out in the real world," Robert said. "We're at the tip of the iceberg to see the proliferation of this type of technology, and we look forward to seeing what our customers do next."
Check out our white paper: mmWave: Enabling greater intelligent autonomy at the edge.
Cutting the cord doesn't just mean getting rid of your cable provider anymore. Robots and industrial machines once tethered to power outlets are starting to get a real taste of freedom thanks to advances in wireless high-power transfer.
Signs of an untethered future are starting to make it to a broader market, and they point to the same truth: Power cords once needed in industrial applications and to recharge electric vehicles are heading to the dustbin of history. They're being replaced with wireless power transfer, a technology that is rapidly advancing thanks to heavy research-and-development investment and a world of electric-powered machines ready for disruption.
Consumer products have already started incorporating wireless power transfer to great fanfare —smartphones, toothbrushes and the like with this capability are preferred over their predecessors. But the advance of industrial wireless power transfer has been stymied so far because transferring more power in the kilowatt range, compared to a few meager watts for small consumer electronics, demands better management components, consistent open-standard design architecture and more robust materials.
The push for high-power wireless power transfer has accelerated over the last few years in parallel with the growth of industrial automation and autonomous systems. Wireless power will also have its place in the Industrial Internet of Things, which is the rapidly expanding collection of connected machines, computers and sensors that is making everything from healthcare to airplanes and energy production smarter and more efficient.
Wireless power transfer will allow these devices to be more mobile and, with no need for plugs and connectors, to be built fully sealed so they can operate reliably in a range of challenging, variable environments. Just think — manufacturing robots will be able to move autonomously from station to station where they’re needed and recharge where and when it’s convenient.
"Wireless power transfer is the future," said Manish Bhardwaj, an engineer at our company who works on foundational components that wireless power transfer systems need. "In autonomous applications in factories, robotics, aerospace and automotive, when we cut the cord, all kinds of opportunities become possible."
Antique dreams become reality
But those cords come with all kinds of problems. They limit a device's mobility. They create weakness in even the best engineering plans by allowing water, dirt and air into connectors while also increasing wear and tear for devices that are continually being plugged in and detached. And on factory floors and elsewhere, cords also present a major hazard for people and machines navigating around them.
Since those first electric innovations arrived, the idea of wireless power has been a dream that is always just out of reach. The eccentric and brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla envisioned a wireless power grid that covered the globe, where machines would draw current just by tapping into it. But his experiments failed. Others made halting advances to transmit electricity throughout the 20th century, but the possibilities of wireless power have only started to be realized in recent years.
Coupling sends electricity through air
Wireless power transfer works via a principle called inductive charging. In simple terms, a coil in a transmitter couples with one in a remote receiver that can be inches or feet away, depending on the system. Together, these two coils create a virtual transformer. The transmitter releases electromagnetic energy that induces a current in the receiver. This current can be used to charge an on-board battery attached to the receiving coil.
Of course, actual wireless power transfer systems are much more complex, and handling more power for applications at the center of manufacturing and automotive components comes with its own set of challenges. The current gets converted a few times, an antenna amplifies the electromagnetic wave and specialty diodes control the electricity so that it can be safely transmitted and used.
Read our white paper: Exploring the evolution and optimization of wireless power transfer
The brains of the operation
The key to making this complex system work involves putting a digital brain at the center of it to control things like the electromagnetic wave's frequency, amplitude and phase. That becomes even more important in kilowatt-powered industrial processes and electric vehicle charging.
Our C2000™ real-time microcontroller (MCU) is a key component that many companies rely on. It’s a small microcontroller – located on both the transmitter and receiver and communicating over Bluetooth® or Wi-Fi® – used to manage power flow. The C2000 MCU can automatically tune the system by sensing input voltages to the transmitter, battery demand and other factors to adapt to constantly changing power needs and supply.
Taiwan's KNOWMAX Technology Ltd. is one of the wireless power transfer industry leaders harnessing the intelligent controls built into the C2000 MCU. The company holds a number of patents to incorporate cutting-edge wireless charging technology into electrical systems.
"TI's C2000 MCUs give us the flexibility we need to adapt our systems to different markets," KNOWMAX project manager Tank Huang said. "This component really enables precise control of our power stages so that we can transfer power as efficiently as possible."
With a goal of being market leaders in the essential equipment that makes high-power wireless power transfer possible, our researchers are pushing our components to intelligently handle increasing power transfer rates and distance between transmitter and receiver. With all of this dedicated work to improve wireless power transfer engineering, we expect to see it deployed in robotics, industrial utility and warehouse vehicles, electric cars, and larger fleet and construction vehicles.
"No pun intended, but the air is electrified for those of us in the wireless power transfer space right now," said Chris Clearman, a C2000 MCU product marketing engineer. "Engineers soon won't need to scour their plans to find optimal placements for high-voltage receptacles. Consumers are going to be driving in electric vehicles that won't need to be plugged in. Factory employees will work alongside wirelessly charging robots. When you think about it, we're developing a technology that will eventually reach every person and industry on Earth."
The key to a happy life is having an occupation you enjoy and a hobby you love. So says Steven Zhou, a member of our company’s sales team in Shanghai who has made it his mission to spark a passion for science and technology among as many Chinese young people as he can.
Steven still remembers the day more than 20 years ago when his own interest in technology was piqued at his Shanghai school. He was 12.
"At that time, I thought high technology was a radio," he said. "They showed us a laptop computer. That laptop could do so much – it could calculate things and play video games. There was also a satellite phone. They told us, 'You can use this phone to talk to people who live in the United States.' The U.S. was a very far-away concept to me. I was impressed."
A die-hard DIYer
Steven credits the encounter with setting him on the path to both his career and his hobby.
In middle school, he began building remote-controlled model cars and won races by modifying their control circuits to run on lithium power instead of AA batteries. In high school, he learned physics concepts to build and balance model airplanes and tweaked electronic technologies to better control them. And he gained entry to one of China's top electrical engineering degree programs by winning first place in a national competition to design and build a functional device using a few basic components.
Even today, Steven maintains a laboratory in his apartment – equipped with a 3D printer and an oscilloscope – where he tinkers with model yachts, rockets, robots and drones. His wife has embraced his hobby, and he's exposing his young son to scientific principles in his workshop.
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Bringing the magic to many more
To help schoolchildren across China discover their passion for science and technology the way he did, Steven created the TI Magic Electronic Course. It's a fun, interactive one-day program that teaches primary and secondary students the basics of integrated circuits and exposes them to science, engineering and technology.
A team of volunteer instructors has already brought the Magic Course to 10,000 students in 30 Chinese schools. Since 2014, Steven has personally delivered it to more than 1,000 students and has overseen the program's expansion beyond China's rural network of Project Hope Schools into urban school districts. Many volunteers from our company also teach the course.
Now, he has developed a multiday course and is working with colleagues to train teachers and university volunteers to lead it.
"That way we can influence more people," he says. "I want the TI Magic Electronic Course to be a famous brand in China, and I hope to reach at least 10 times the number of students who have already been taught this course. That means 100,000."
But why a "magic" course?
"Science is useful and powerful, it's strong and can be used for special effects," Steven said. "Often, the knowledge we teach is very new to the students. They have never heard before how a cell phone works or why an airplane can fly in the air or why a television can show a picture of something far away. It seems like magic to them."
Steven says he's thrilled when he can inspire passion for technology in the next generation of innovators. He's touched by students like the one who thanked him by mailing him a paper model airplane illustrated with an integrated circuit.
"I love technology," he says. "And it makes me happy to bring that to young children, to help them understand and know more about how the modern world works."
You’re an engineer on a tight schedule to design a power supply for a robot that will automate a factory. Or maybe you’re designing the power supply for an automotive braking system. Or a remote-controlled toy airplane. Or a smartphone.
You’ve got decisions to make. You need a switching regulator for DC/DC conversion, but there are over 1,000 to choose from. There are tradeoffs between efficiency, footprint and total cost based on the integrated circuit and surrounding components you choose. Your design has stringent performance and size requirements. Your team may not include a power-supply design expert or layout expert. The pressure is on.
“Time to market is critical for our customers,” said Vinay Jayaram, who leads the team at our company that creates online design tools for our analog portfolio. “We want to make it easy for our customers to select and design the right products for their applications quickly and accurately. We’re building intuitive tools that utilize powerful algorithms to deliver customized designs in seconds. These tools automate a lot of information contained in datasheets and application notes, generating the exact design a customer needs for their application.”
Our company pioneered the use of online design tools about 20 years ago. Today, tens of thousands of design engineers around the world rely on WEBENCH Power Designer each year.
Start a design today
“At any company – big or small, in any industry, at any location in the world – there are going to be design engineers making decisions about what components to use for their next product,” Vinay said. “Designing analog systems accurately is difficult, and a lot of companies don’t have in-house expertise. We make it easy for design engineers to get accurate, high-quality designs and solutions that work the first time so they can get their products to market faster.”
For years, the team that designs online tools has been gathering feedback from customers, our company’s field applications engineers and others to learn what was most important for the people who use the tool every day. What they discovered was simple: Engineers want an intuitive experience and accurate solutions.
So Vinay’s team of analog experts, mathematicians and software programmers got to work building WEBENCH Power Designer with the right frameworks, algorithms and models for our company’s portfolio of power products. The result is a powerful, end-to-end design tool that’s fast, highlights content that design engineers need, and enables them to compare devices and make quick, customized decisions.
“Power management is critical for every application in the world,” Vinay said. “We help customers solve problems that will benefit the world. Using our technology and tools will help customers get to market faster with the best design that meets their system requirements.”
Whether it's Beijing, Frankfurt or Chicago, go to any of the world’s biggest auto shows and it quickly becomes clear that carmakers are going all in to develop vehicles that are smart, intuitive and connected.
"A lot of features available in today’s vehicles were in the realm of science fiction a few years ago,” said Hannes Estl, an engineer and general manager at our company.
The connected cars of today provide a glimpse into the future. Though talking on the phone while driving can be a distraction, for current and future generations of cars, communication in the car isn’t discouraged – it’s advancing. The difference is that the cars are doing the communicating.
Connected cars enable smarter rides
By connecting to the cloud through high-speed cell networks, vehicle communication is opening the door to dramatic improvements in comfort, safety and drivability. Technology is redefining the personal transportation experience as digital connectivity quickly becomes the automotive industry norm. More and more, vehicles will connect to personal electronics, homes and the broad landscape of the Internet of Things.
"The typical car today is more computer than machine," said Hope Bovenzi, a systems engineer for automotive infotainment systems. "There's so much we're putting into these vehicles. So much can now be done to make cars more entertaining and safe."
Learn more about our infotainment solutions
The digital cockpit will continue to evolve as we move to autonomy. More and more streaming entertainment content will be available and consumable as the vehicle interior changes.
"Imagine on long road trips parents can turn around the front seats to have dinner with their kids and dim the windshield glass so the family can watch a movie as they continue down the road," Hannes said.
These features will coincide with 5G mobile network deployment, which will dramatically increase connectivity speed and bandwidth, and car-to-car communications. This will unlock the power of collective coordination for cars, in which a vehicle makes an emergency stop for a fallen tree and relays that information to other vehicles a mile behind it. Or a group of cars relay traffic patterns or deteriorating weather conditions to others in the area so they can reroute. At the same time, we'll also see the slow implementation of smart-city infrastructure, where sensor-embedded light poles monitor and alert drivers when a parking spot opens up or when a bridge is about to open.
"Many of these connected features will make our cars safer, easier to drive, more comfortable and more fuel efficient," Hannes said. "And once you have the technical capability, why would you even want to drive or own your own vehicle? Just push a button in your app and the robo-taxi will be waiting for you."
Smart systems for seamless driving
Big changes are happening, and even bigger ones are coming within a decade. Innovations in connectivity and advanced driver assistance systems will intersect, enabling fully autonomous systems to start penetrating the automobile market. This will unlock new design paradigms that dramatically reconfigure how designers and engineers build cars, and how these machines deliver entertainment and information to their occupants.
Anybody who has been in the market for a new car in last few years will be familiar with the smart systems available today to assist drivers and help cars perceive the world around them. Adaptive cruise control uses the vehicle’s onboard radar, LIDAR or cameras to sense vehicles ahead and automatically adjust its speed to maintain a safe distance. Lane-departure warnings feed information from cameras to processors to alert a driver when the car is drifting out of its lane. Lane-keeping systems make corrective actions to keep the vehicle between the lines. Image processing and computer vision systems already let cars understand traffic signs on the road to automatically adjust speed to legal limits or brake if the driver doesn't see a stop sign. The list goes on.
Though the exact timing is debated, some experts predict that advanced driver-assistance systems will evolve to allow highly and fully autonomous driving – without the need for driver input – within in the next decade. Cars will seamlessly operate within smart cities and drive on highways without the driver's foot on the pedals, hands on the wheel or even eyes on the road.
Common to all of these exciting innovations and a reimagined future for automobiles is the most foundational element – the integrated circuits being developed by our company that make it all possible.
"In biology class, students talk about cells being the building blocks of life," Hope said. "Our integrated circuits are the building blocks of electronics, and more and more of them are being put into cars. So much is changing – it's such a fun time to be in the connected-car world."
Deepa, 18, is determined to change the arc of her life.
Her family, who lives in Bangalore, India, has an annual income of about $265. But she hopes that a training program will give her the knowledge she needs to move up the economic ladder. The program is part of the Abdul Kalam Susandhi Fellowship (AKSF), which supports students who come from below the poverty line and have just completed their schooling. Students such as Deepa – who have a spark for learning but can’t enroll in a professional engineering program due to lack of funds or access to the internet – have been chosen to participate.
“It’s been a really great experience for me to learn technical things with practical knowledge,” she wrote in a thank-you letter to donors. “The program is totally different from ordinary courses. It’s really helping the students who are unable to get proper education because of financial problems.”
Our company helps fund scholarships for Deepa and 19 other students who are part of a one-year residential program that provides employment opportunities in the domains of very-large-scale integration, embedded systems and software engineering. Additionally, volunteers from our company teach students on the weekend.
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Elsewhere in Bangalore, the school that fifth-grader Mustafa attends didn’t have proper toilets or drinking water when he began attending. Today, it has those essentials and more.
“After Texas Instruments adopted it, we were provided with better facilities, along with technology, interesting learning tools, computers and laptops for students, and free educational tours,” he said.
Employees from our company in India are passionate about improving their communities – and helping students such as Deepa and Mustafa. Because of the volunteer efforts of dozens of TIers, the TI India Community Involvement Team was a recent finalist for the TI Founders Community Impact Award for efforts to improve the communities where we live and work. Nine other teams around the world were also recognized with this internal award.
A smile speaks a thousand words
Sreeja Chakingal, a layout design manager at our company, volunteers almost every Saturday teaching English to fourth- and fifth-graders in India. She loves seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces as they learn how to read something for the first time, but remembers helping two girls who initially weren’t interested in her lessons.
“I started teaching through activities instead of just teaching theory,” she said. “That kindled their interest. Now, at the end of their fifth standard, they both can read a storybook and refer to the dictionary to find the meanings of words. I love being with kids. Teaching them, clearing their doubts and helping them learn is extremely satisfying.”
Learn more about our commitment to the communities where we live and work
Sreeja has participated for more than three years in the School Adopt Program. Our team works with several non-profit organizations (NGOs) to support initiatives in education, healthcare, the environment and disaster relief. Our educational initiatives cover a range of projects – from building infrastructure to providing stable learning environments to mentoring children in need. The School Adopt Program is one of those initiatives.
In India, our company is required by the India Companies Act to file an “Annual Report on Corporate Social Responsibility Activities.” We have been active in Bangalore and its surrounding communities for many years, but this legislation provides an opportunity to refine our philanthropy strategy to align with global corporate objectives and values. Through this process, we identified and vetted nongovernmental organization partners that are helping us make a greater impact.
Building a technical pipeline
Deepa and other students in the Abdul Kalam Susandhi Fellowship program will receive six months of soft-skill training – including courses in communication, teamwork and basic computer skills – and six months of technical training, including basic math, physics, electronics and programming. After the fellowship ends, students have the opportunity to work as paid interns with well-known corporations while taking undergraduate courses. By the time they graduate, students have a job waiting.
“We liked that this program focuses on higher education, and it’s a great way for TIers to apply their own technical backgrounds and share their skills with the community,” said Premkumar Vadapalli, a software manager who oversees the AKSF program at our company.
Seminars led by TIers have covered design, programming, the Internet of Things and microcontrollers.
“Through AKSF, students are able to gain access to the semiconductor industry,” Premkumar said. “In the absence of the program, they might have gone in a completely different direction. Many students have the academic skillset, but couldn’t compete to get into professional engineering and technical programs. Now, they have an opportunity to do that.”
From toilets to field trips
At Mustafa’s school, our company provides funding and volunteer support to the NGO Youth for Seva for the School Adopt Program, which promotes holistic development of children in government schools through long-term initiatives. Our company has adopted six schools in Bangalore and 10 schools in rural areas and plans to adopt more schools.
Thanks in part to this support, the Annasandrapalya Government School has earned state and national recognition, such as the prestigious Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Award, which is given to disciplined and well-managed government schools, and the Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar for excellence in water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
“Texas Instruments has helped us in many ways, including the improvement of student hygiene and health,” said Pooja Obulappa, headmaster of the Annasandrapalya school. “Educational trips and quiz competitions have helped them learn new concepts. I thank all the volunteers and Texas Instruments for making this happen.”
Hope and guidance
TIers want to give back to the communities where they live and work.
“All of us were fortunate to get access to quality education,” said Mohit Chawla, an analog design manager at our company and a School Adopt Program volunteer for five years. “It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations get access to quality education, as well. Our efforts help children understand that education is invaluable. We can give them the hope and guidance required to achieve their dreams.”
“I teach English, math and computer-related topics to these children and the enthusiasm these students show keeps me inspired," said Ramesh Ramani, a senior program manager at our company and a regular volunteer. “It’s an immensely satisfying feeling to see them grow, and I hope this encourages them to pursue higher education and work toward a satisfying career.”
From moon dust to meteor bits, NASA studies space rocks in zero-gravity facility built by TI engineers
From moon dust to meteor bits, geoscientists want to learn more about extraterrestrial dirt for a future human mission to Mars – and applications engineers from our company are making it possible.
Dakotah Karrer, Alexis Crandall and Vince Rodriguez were students at Texas A&M University when they became part of a team charged with helping the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conduct research related to the mission.
“I’ve always had an interest in space,” Dakotah said. “You have to wonder what’s out there that we don’t know and what’s coming down the road. It’s humbling to be a part of those discoveries.”
Working alongside faculty and a local space commercialization company, the student team designed an electronics package for a new experimental facility that will house research on how the particles interact with spacecraft and spacesuit materials in zero-gravity and allow researchers to control and monitor the experiments from afar.
“When we rendezvous with an asteroid or meteorite, we don’t know how that material is going to behave,” said Matt Leonard, president and CEO of Texas Space Technology Applications and Research. He worked with the student team. “This facility will help researchers learn the gravitational effect of particles on one another so we can better understand how to avoid disrupting them and design something that interacts with them appropriately.”
Hermes – packed with technology from our company, including six TM4C microcontrollers, a BeagleBone Black board and plenty of support chips – will launch on the International Space Station (ISS) this fall and reside there for five years. It will transmit insights back down to Earth that will help NASA crews with future missions to explore the solar system, such as how the ground could shift under the spacecraft and how the space soil could impact vital systems. NASA plans to return humans to the moon and lay the foundation for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s.
Browse the latest reference designs and resources for aerospace & defense applications.
“Scientists have a lot of theories about the way space particles interact, but this will provide evidence to support them,” Alexis said. “As engineers, we hone in on how to design and solve problems. But when I sit back and think about the research and a system we operated being on the ISS – I never thought I’d be working on something so impactful.”
Finding ways to conduct weightless experiments is challenging.
“If you’re trying to get microgravity, you have limited options,” said Joe Morgan, a professor of electronic systems engineering technology at Texas A&M who worked with the student team that developed Hermes. “You can drop from a tower and get a couple of seconds or you can ride NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ and get maybe 30 seconds of weightlessness. But the ISS provides long-term exposure to microgravity the scientists needed for their research.”
In the fall of 2015, Dakotah and Vince worked with Joe and Matt on a unique tube-like experiment called Strata-1. The experiment launched on the ISS a few months later to conduct a year-long study on the behavior of asteroid material in a zero-gravity environment. Dakotah created the hardware and infrastructure, while Vince developed the software for lights and cameras that would allow scientists to obtain images of the experiment.
When it returned to Earth a year later, Strata-1 was so successful that NASA’s administration asked the team to build a long-term facility that could support a steady rotation of multiple microgravity research projects – but with connectivity that would stream the real-time data. While information from Strata-1 lived on SD cards that had to be retrieved by astronauts every few months, Hermes will be plugged into the ISS communication system so that researchers can obtain the data much faster.
“Strata-1 was hard-coded to do the one function, whereas Hermes is more of a plug-and-play facility where you can change parameters from Earth as you go,” Alexis said. “It’s giving NASA a capability it hasn’t had before.”
A long heritage in space flight
Our company has long played a role in exploration of the final frontier.
TI transistors flew into space on the U.S.’s first satellite, Explorer 1, in January 1958 – just eight months before Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit. Since then, products from our company have flown on several other space missions, including Apollo 11, which put the first man on the moon. Building on our long heritage in space flight, our company continues to bring new products to the space ecosystem.
The student team, along with Texas Space Technology Applications and Research and Texas A&M’s Electronic Systems Engineering Technology program, also has a history of involvement with space projects. In addition to Hermes and Strata-1, Vince and Dakotah previously built a space satellite communications system to conduct low-Earth orbit research and Alexis helped with optimizing the electronics and mechanics of a robot designed to roam across Mars – all containing products from our company. Through our University Program, we support engineering educators, researchers and students worldwide and facilitate the inclusion of TI analog and embedded processing technology in the learning experience.
“It’s surreal to work on things that make a difference,” Vince said. “The scientists were so happy and excited to finally have all these pictures from Strata-1. There are a lot of theories they haven't had an ability to test, so it’s great to be a part of helping them come up with the next big discovery.”
In the following email to worldwide TI employees, Rich Templeton shares his thoughts about Brian Crutcher’s resignation as the company’s CEO.
This afternoon, we announced that Brian Crutcher has resigned as TI’s president, CEO and a member of the TI board. I am reassuming the roles of president and CEO on an ongoing, indefinite basis, in addition to my role as chairman. I want you to know that this is not a temporary appointment, and the board is not searching for a replacement.
Brian resigned due to violations of the company’s code of conduct. The violations are related to personal behavior that is not consistent with our ethics and core values, but not related to company strategy, operations or financial reporting.
I recognize that this news is unexpected. I want to reaffirm that our unwavering commitment to conducting business ethically and behaving in a professional manner remains unchanged. When we uncover situations of concern or policy violations, they will be investigated and addressed quickly. This applies to everyone at TI, including top performers, top executives and most importantly to the CEO.
Ethics and values are very important to me and to our company. I want to take a moment to share some additional thoughts with each of you via video.
I do not plan to make any changes to our org structure, and all executive officers will report directly to me. I will be scheduling an Open Exchange soon, and look forward to connecting with you then and as I travel to our sites around the world.
Ten years ago, before Internet of Things became a buzzword, our company had a simple idea to make it easier for developers to add complex radio technologies such as Wi-Fi® to their embedded applications. The prospect was mind-blowing. Wireless connectivity would open doors for customers, allowing them to collect data and provide an unlimited range of new services.
It was like the early days of the World Wide Web, when the sky was the limit. Wi-Fi was an easy technology choice, available virtually anywhere and without the need for major network management. Today, thousands of companies use Wi-Fi as the foundation for connectivity. Still, as I travel to meet customers and participate in industry events, I hear a common question: Is the IoT trend taking off as it should?
The answer to the question is more complex than a simple yes or no. People expect electronic devices to have wireless capabilities. Announcements of large IoT investments are made daily, with companies opening up development centers with billions of dollars behind them. Companies in traditionally non-electronic spaces are building IoT strategies. Yet, we see only a small number of truly transformational applications or new services. As often happens when transformational changes occur, there is an expectation that they will happen faster than they do. And when the change finally arrives, its impact is often larger than expected. This is what I think will happen with IoT.
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The ability to connect every item virtually and collect data is transformational. This concept has the opportunity to challenge old markets and business models. The true innovation is how to expand the value of the connected products with the data and services they are enabling. Many of the products that will benefit from adding these new levels of connectivity and cloud services have traditionally included few electronics. This includes doorbells, locks, thermostats, vacuum cleaners and appliances. Moving these into the IoT era will require support from multiple engineering disciplines and new learnings for the companies developing these products.
To start, the electrical engineering department needs a boost, ideally to include a few radio-frequency (RF) engineers who can address the challenges associated with Wi-Fi or other RF technology. The challenge for RF lies not only in design, robustness and performance, but in the product’s need to pass both standards and regulatory certifications.
After hardware design comes software. As the complexity of a product increases, the demand for software increases dramatically, spanning from low-level firmware to networking (TCP/IP), applications (including mobile apps) and the user interface.
Further, products need to connect to the cloud in a robust way, which requires learning new protocols such as Message Queuing Telemetry Transport and the entire cloud application, with additional regulations regarding data collection and storage that vary by country.
Last – but maybe most importantly – there’s security. Providing adequate security is paramount for the success of individual products, but also for the industry as a whole. The security challenges mirror what I outlined above. These challenges span all the layers of an IoT product, from RF to the device level and the cloud. You also have to consider security for all the steps of the development process.
For most companies venturing into this space, there are many new technologies to grasp and manage just to make a new, production-worthy “Hello World” IoT-enabled product. Most companies have realized the complexity and scope required for a complete IoT product – they’re at the brink of Hello World.
Many companies that have released their first round of products spent so much effort developing basic functionality and infrastructure that they could not spare enough time to develop innovative features and services, which is ultimately where companies will see the full value. We are now getting into the second and third iterations of products, and more and more fully integrated solutions with real smart features will start to emerge. This will truly transform many of the markets as we know them today.
Our company has been working hard to remove many of the barriers I’ve mentioned so that our customers can focus their energy on innovating. This includes simplifying RF design with a certified module, complete software development kit (SDK) that is pre-loaded with cloud plug-ins and provides comprehensive hardware-based features that enable end-to-end security. I am convinced that we will see tremendous innovation in smart things, where the access to and analysis of data are coming to fruition.
The industry is moving ahead at full speed with IoT investments, but we have not seen anything yet. When we do, it will surely take us to the next level of the industrial revolution.
Mattias Lange is a leader for our company's connectivity solutions business.
Good things – including semiconductors – come in small packages.
And as semiconductor devices get increasingly smaller and more powerful, innovation in packaging becomes increasingly important. A revolution in the way analog semiconductor wafers are diced – and subsequently packaged – is making a difference in our chips in industries ranging from automotive and personal wearable technology to factory automation and building automation.
“Laser dicing our chips allows us to continue shrinking our packages to deliver the tiny chips needed across a wide range of end markets,” said Todd Wyant, a packaging technology manager at our company. “Together, this technique and our advanced packaging technologies are not only enabling smaller chips, but are improving reliability and increasing manufacturing throughput.”
Packaging is the process of protecting and connecting semiconductor devices and the outside world. In the 21st century, the biggest breakthroughs in semiconductors came from faster clock speeds and the ability to pack more transistors into a chip, but the pace of those improvements has slowed. Today, packaging has become a major area of differentiation in our products and throughout the industry because it can offer big advantages in device power, precision and frequency.
“Advancements in packaging are enabling smaller, faster, reliable and more power-efficient chips at a lower cost,” said Devan Iyer, who leads the packaging group at our company. “Packaging is an integral part of the chip design process and is meeting a variety of customer needs for a variety of applications.”
Laser cuts make better chips
Manufacturing a chip starts with a silicon wafer, typically a disk up to 300 millimeters in diameter. On that wafer are the beginnings of thousands to hundreds of thousands of individual chips, laid out side by side. But before they can be packaged and shipped, each chip – or die – must be cut from the wafer and separated from its neighbors.
Imagine a lumber sawmill. When a toothy saw blade cuts into a plank of wood, splinters and sawdust are created and must be cleaned away. In the traditional, mechanical dicing process, a diamond-based cutting wheel slices through the streets – unused space between the die on the wafer – much like a circular saw rips through a board.
No matter how sharp and refined a saw blade is, it's still a physical saw. The impact of mechanical dicing causes some parts of a silicon wafer to crack and flake, spoiling some die immediately and making others weaker and more prone to problems in the field under normal conditions. Mechanical dicing also requires the wafer to be under water, which can cause the metal on the surface of the die to corrode.
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Laser dicing eliminates the need for a saw blade and uses high-energy light to slice cleanly through the wafer. A laser beam is much thinner than a physical sawblade, so the streets are formed with higher precision compared to mechanical saw. This allows cleaner separation when the die are pulled apart and prepared for packaging. Because there's no physical impact from a sawblade, there isn't any unwanted cracking or chipping on the wafer, meaning fewer damaged chips.
We are the first company in our industry to shift away from mechanical saws for dicing analog products in favor of powerful, precise lasers. Laser-saw dicing improves the quality, reliability and durability of new components, which in turn enables our company to create smaller, smarter semiconductor packages with lower failure rates and higher durability. And, we’ve shipped over 1 billion units using laser saw, demonstrating that the technique delivers the improved quality and reliability our customers require.
“Laser-saw technology enables a higher-quality cut through silicon, increased die strength and higher product reliability,” said Chris Manack, a packaging technology director at our company. "Providing smaller devices helps our customers shrink their systems and their overall system costs.”
Clean and dry processing
Laser dicing has another major advantage over a mechanical saw: It eliminates silicon sawdust. Mechanical dicing creates a lot of particulate matter that could ruin a semiconductor chip, so deionized water is used to clean the wafer during the conventional process. Wafers can spend up to four-and-a-half hours completely submerged during the process.
Deionized water can corrode and stain electrical connections in silicon die. Long water baths weaken those connections.
Laser dicing dramatically improves yield and reliability by taking both chipping damage and water out of the equation.
"Some semiconductor-manufacturing companies are staying with mechanical dicing but slowing down their process and adding more manual inspection in order to drive down the defect rate," Chris said. "On the contrary, we have improved device quality and reliability significantly by migrating to advanced technologies for dicing."
More than gadgetry
Laser dicing for analog devices isn't just a manufacturing breakthrough. It helps our company pack more chips on a wafer, allowing us to manufacture more and get our products to customers fast. It also helps our company create designs that integrate more microprocessors and analog components on a single, smaller chip than ever before. These hybrid designs contribute to innovation in industries ranging from automotive to industrial. In addition, automotive quality demands are critical, and laser-saw technology is helping improve quality and reliability.
According to research firm Strategy Analytics, a typical automobile today has more than $300 worth of semiconductors on its bill of materials, a figure that grows every year. Spread out among that car's chips are dozens of sensors that process analog data to enhance safety, convenience and driving performance. These analog sensors also monitor proximity, pressure, light and electrical current. The push to add more autonomous features, as well as more in-vehicle entertainment and information options, are expected to increase the number of sensors in an average car by 37 percent over the next five years.
These highly integrated analog components typically require thicker silicon wafers than all-digital semiconductors. Thicker wafers were a challenge for early-generation laser-dicing processes because they needed as many as nine laser passes to cut through completely. That meant wider dicing streets and longer processing times, which impacted the business case for laser and slowed the supply of chips.
Innovation from our company came to the rescue. By cracking the problems of higher laser power and using multiple laser beams, it is now possible to cut thicker silicon in a single laser pass. And the dicing streets stay much thinner than is possible with a mechanical saw. These advances make laser dicing the obvious choice for an ever-widening range of semiconductor devices. Today, a typical wafer can be cut by laser in just one-third the time it would take with mechanical saw.
"Because of these improvements, we're using the laser-dicing process across the board, in signal chain, embedded, and power semiconductors," Todd said. "We are the first and currently only company to use laser dicing on analog wafers."
Chips packaged from laser dicing stand up better to vibration and impact. Laser-diced chips have at least 20 percent higher fracture strength than mechanically diced chips. From industrial factories to automobiles to smarter football pads with integrated safety sensors, technology needs to get smaller, smarter and more durable. Laser dicing helps innovators reach those goals with chips that are more dependable and can pack a more diverse range of processors and sensors in a single package.
“Laser dicing is redefining our future cost, quality and performance roadmaps for analog packaging,” Todd said. “Continued innovation in packaging is driving key product advancements that will help our customers differentiate their products today and in the future.”
In fashion-forward Milan, karate student Ulrike Lanting dons a trendy new clothing style while high-kicking her opponents on the mat. It’s not runway couture, but the rising movement in fashion – wearable health technology – will help her live a healthier lifestyle.
Her shirt, wired with electrode sensors, works together with a wristband and app with a virtual companion to send health information to her smartphone or tablet. “You can understand what is going on with your body,” Ulrike said. “If you have a goal – like burning calories and eating a certain amount – you’re able to see the numbers in front of you and adjust your behavior.”
Ulrike is one of 400 teenagers in Milan, Barcelona, Nottingham and Edinburgh to test the PEGASO Smart Shirt System, which tracks physical activity, sleep duration, transportation habits and diet through a shirt or sports-bra system. Giuseppe Andreoni and Paolo Perego of Politecnico di Milano, a university in Italy, developed the system to help reduce obesity in teenagers. They partnered with the PEGASO Fit 4 Future project consortium, which coordinated a team of 16 partners from six European countries with Politecnico di Milano to develop the product.
“We wanted to develop a new sort of wearable solution to combine with a coaching companion to improve health and help prevent disease by starting earlier in life,” Paolo said. “This is why we targeted teenagers and created a health-measurement tool to encourage them to eat a healthy diet, move more, motivate them and also challenge them with a game through the app.”
Modeled to motivate
To bring the wearable system to life, the Pegaso consortium leveraged the TI MSP430F5438A microcontroller (MCU).
“MSP430™ MCUs are both powerful and offer low energy consumption,” Paolo said. “No one wants to spend time charging their wearable.”
The electrode sensors on the shirt and wristband collect and integrate data such as heart rate, temperature and movements. When the data is transmitted via Bluetooth to smartphones or tablets, users can enter the type and amount of food and water consumed. Users can also play a set of games to learn food nutrition properties.
“As people become more health conscious, the use of wearable health technology is ramping,” said Yiannis Papantonopoulos, a manager at our company. “The MSP430F5438A MCUs provide the small form factor, low-power sensing and performance we needed. Biosensing capabilities are also really important for monitoring real-time vital statistics, coupled with cloud connectivity for data logging and health performance management.”
Layering fashion with technology
The idea and impetus for this innovation comes amid surging interest in wearable tech in fashion around the globe, and more money (8 percent of the total European Union healthcare budget) spent on the issue of teenage obesity, according to the European Commision for Public Health. The fashion world is emerging as a catalyst in advancing technology.
Custom-tailored outfits made from 3D printers are now reality. Fashion shows have become technology events with holographic projections, live broadcasts from bloggers and retailers, and real-time purchasing power for those in attendance. Augmented reality has made it possible to try on virtual outfits with ease.
“Fashion is becoming increasingly important in wearables – it’s got to be comfortable, functional and yet fashionable,” Yiannis said.
Testing the runway
Engineering and designing the solution was one thing. Making it suitable for real-world use was another process that involved a series of focus groups and multiple rounds of prototypes. The team then conducted the pilot study that used the smart shirt and an app to track all facets of the users’ health while participating in regular activity and sports. The sensors in the shirt are adhered with strong glue, and the shirt can undergo as many as 150 washings – just like a normal T-shirt – without issue.
The PEGASO system is more than a shirt or smart clothes. It is a complete system that also helps keep track of which food is eaten. Ulrike’s mother, Maria Renata Guarneri, also noticed many positive attributes of the solution for her daughter. “The system didn’t encourage dieting excessively, but rather understanding what a balanced diet was, compared to energy expenditure,” Maria said. “It wasn’t about encouraging obsession with weight or intense exercise. It was all about balance.”
The system receives all the inputs, considers them and proposes changes. For the first week, it simply analyzed behavior. Ulrike said she liked the food diary feature the most. “It helped me notice that even though I was trying to eat in a balanced way, I would sometimes forget to consume enough water,” she said.
Back in Milan, Giuseppe and Paolo are now developing new applications for the technology. A swimsuit with embedded technology will measure heartbeat and stroke pace. The team used the SimpleLink™ Bluetooth® low energy CC2640R2F wireless MCU LaunchPad™ development kit along with Tiny Wireless Receiver for Low Power Wearable Applications Reference Design.
“We are centering the Swimfit technology on the MSP430 MCU because it worked well in the PEGASO smart-shirt system,” Paolo said. ““The accompanying development board and reference design helped springboard our efforts by reducing time needed to design.”
Yiannis said care must be taken when monitoring activity in teens. “It’s all about making healthy choices and maintaining an active lifestyle, not focusing on looks. We hope advancing this technology and exploring its possibilities will lead to a healthier future for our youth.”
“When you’re faced with a problem, you have certain restrictions and have to be able to work alone and with a group to figure out how to bypass those restrictions,” said Basmah, a student at Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas. “You work with what you have to find a realistic goal for the problem.”
Basmah and other students at the school face a problem. While the Dallas-Fort Worth region ranks among the top three U.S. metro areas for business and employment growth1 and is attracting talent from around the world, a future that includes a middle- or high-skill career can seem beyond reach for some North Texas students. Fifty-nine percent of the students in Berkner’s attendance zone are economically disadvantaged.
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A new program made possible by a $4.6 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation offers a solution.
That investment funds STEM for All – a partnership between Educate Texas and the Richardson Independent School District (RISD) – that will provide more than 10,000 students in pre-kindergarten through high school with opportunities to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects as part of their day-to-day school experience. The program will help prepare participating students in Berkner’s attendance zone for STEM jobs in North Texas and beyond.
“For the students who participate in the program, what we hope to see happen is that they choose a career in STEM, whether that be a mid-level job or an engineering job,” said Henry Hall, Berkner’s principal. “We want to provide them with the training they need to go successfully into a trade or into a college and get their advanced degree and do wonderful things to change society.”
Collaborating to change culture
Educators in the Richardson school district are passionate about finding solutions that help students succeed.
“When our kids get into elementary school, we want to provide them with a welcoming environment, with the eyes of the students as our lens all the way through their senior year of high school,” said Jeannie Stone, the district’s superintendent. “We want our teachers to inspire students to explore what interests them.”
Omar Pastrana, an engineering and robotics teacher at Berkner, wants to provide students with real-life examples. “When it comes to teaching students to solve problems through technology, such as robotics, it’s important to allow them to get their hands dirty and learn through experience,” he said.
Henry wants to ensure consistency from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. “We’ll work directly with the elementary and junior high schools to get them aligned with the same model and design process that we’ll be using at Berkner High School,” he said.
STEM for All will support these goals. The three-year program, scheduled to launch this summer, will use methods that were developed over the past six years in the Lancaster school district south of Dallas, with support from the TI Foundation and program management by Educate Texas. The Lancaster initiative includes professional development for teachers, dedicated STEM coaches, greater student engagement through project-based learning, and a rigorous curriculum that centers on college- and career-readiness with more opportunity for accelerated learning options.
This is where the expertise of Educate Texas comes into play as technical assistance provider. “When we began to work with the TI Foundation and Lancaster ISD in 2012 to create a STEM district, we expected the successes and outcomes of LISD to serve as a rigorous STEM learning and teaching model that could be scaled to other Texas school districts,” said George Tang, managing director of Educate Texas. “We’re thrilled that the original expectation is now being realized with the Richardson ISD.”
The results in Lancaster are promising. Students there, 81 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, now outperform other Texas students in math and science. The goal of the TI Foundation grant to the Richardson district is to introduce and build upon the methods that have succeeded in Lancaster.
“The Richardson school district is committed to changing the culture within the Berkner feeder pattern through STEM-infused curriculum that ensures academic rigor, student engagement and relevancy across the entire pre-K to twelfth-grade curriculum,” Jeannie said. “STEM is not something we do – it’s who we are. That’s why RISD strives to inspire our students from their very first day of school to explore and cultivate their interests and pursue career pathways through a STEM culture.”
For students who live in Berkner’s feeder pattern – which is the group of elementary and junior-high schools that feed into the high school – programs such as this are important for learning skills that will help them participate in the region’s economic growth.
“Having a grant for the STEM program will really help increase the amount of materials we have and improve the learning environment overall,” Basmah said. “Hands-on learning is important in STEM fields, especially when testing prototypes.”
Berkner High School received its Texas-STEM (T-STEM) designation in 2007 when it introduced its STEM Academy. The school currently offers three STEM tracks: engineering robotics, aeronautical engineering and biotechnology. The new grant will create two new tracks – cybersecurity and STEM management – that will be introduced next school year.
“The grant from TI sounds pretty awesome considering that up until two or three years ago, I’d never really been exposed to an engineering class,” said Kirsten Randolph, a Berkner rising senior who, like Basmah, is part of the STEM Academy. “It had always been just math and science. So for a child who wants to major in engineering or do something that has to do with engineering, they could start from a young age and learn more.”
While the grant has a long-term aim of strengthening the STEM workforce in North Texas, the goal over the next three years focuses on helping the Richardson district build and implement STEM for All in the classroom. In addition to introducing STEM teaching methods and professional development, the grant will help Richardson work with post-secondary education partners in business and industry to ensure relevancy and sustainability of the concept.
“The TI Foundation has a long history of investing to improve STEM education in North Texas,” said Andy Smith, executive director of the foundation. “The Lancaster model has transformed the way STEM subjects are taught and learned across an entire district and has improved math and science scores in a district comprised largely of economically disadvantaged students. With the Berkner High School feeder pattern, we now have an opportunity to scale a proven concept to a larger district with a growing mix of under-represented students.”
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dallas-Fort Worth Economic Summary, 2015
Many technology leaders have long dreamed of a highly integrated radar vision that is accurate and uncluttered by ambient noise. We all recall old radar screens when a huge plane was just a point on the screen. On the other hand, TI mmWave sensors – our company’s unique approach to millimeter-wave technology – can see objects with detailed outlines and classify them. Seeing is believing.
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Imagine agile machines that can avoid obstacles even in conditions of dust, darkness, fog and rain. Imagine a security system that can see intruders through walls. Or imagine drones detecting overhead wires that are invisible to the naked eye. Or a tiny radar at the tip of surgery tools detecting biomasses. Imagine a tiny sensor that can monitor artery walls and vocal-cord movements.
This machine vision – in applications such as automotive, factory automation, building automation and medical – depends on multiple complementary modalities of metrology that are typically deployed to form accurate images of objects. Active sensing is all about transmitting a wave or multiple wave streams and intelligently translating the reflections to form images. (Learn more about TI mmWave technology by reading our white paper, mmWave radar: Enabling greater intelligent autonomy at the edge.)
Radio detection and ranging (radar), of course, is not new. A radar system is involved in every flight you take and every adaptive cruise-controlled journey you make. The concept was invented in the heat of World War II and has been widely used ever since. In addition to its pioneering military uses, applications such as air and ground traffic control, ground and underground mapping, weather forecasting, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) for cars, and medical monitoring have been deploying electromagnetic (EM) ranging.
At low frequencies, technologies such as ultrasonic ranging and imaging are affordable and prevalent, but limited to short distances. Radar operates in a wide range of frequencies, from below 300 MHz to about 300 GHz, with 78-81 GHz widely used in automotive applications and 60 GHz in industrial applications. At low frequencies, electromagnetic propagation experiences less attenuation. Low-frequency radar can cover a very long range but requires a large antenna or multiple antennas to make up for limited accuracy and angle resolution. At higher frequency, attenuation rises, but so do resolution and accuracy. Also, at higher frequency the integration of radio, baseband and antenna are more practical. At ultra-high frequency, the resolution of optical sensors is unparalleled but could be blurred by ambient obstructions.
Until recently, however, using radar for many automotive and industrial applications was prohibitive because of the cost, complexity and accuracy of the technology. But a monolithic mmWave sensing solution on a CMOS chip from our company has changed the game.
Ease of use
Deploying radar once demanded extensive radio-frequency (RF) design and expertise. Integrating the right antenna, RF, analog, digital processor and proper interface required a costly and cumbersome design.
But now, our integrated radar chip opens the door to many creative plug-and-play solutions. In addition to standard automotive applications, many industrial and commercial applications can readily benefit from an easy-to-use TI mmWave sensor. The efficiency and convenience of integrating a DSP and microcontroller will serve multiple purposes. It can improve the overall performance by correcting front-end anomalies in real time. Also, it provides an on-chip platform for local applications and analytics.
For example, an embedded mmWave sensor on a drone can detect the quality of soil and crops in agriculture. A sensor inside an industrial chemical storage tank can detect the fluid level and vapor density. A sensor with an integrated analytics engine can detect, count and analyze the movements of people. A tiny sensor can monitor the heartbeat and breathing pattern of a patient. An array of TI mmWave sensors in a patch can monitor core body temperature and artery walls in a heartbeat. In some applications, an integrated device can even replace an ultrasonic sensor while offering more functionality on a car bumper.
Radar has been deployed in many ways. Long-range, narrow-beam radar requires a different antenna configuration and higher power. For example, long- or medium-range ADAS radars detect objects as far away as 250 meters with millimeter accuracy. A short-range TI mmWave sensor with a wider beam is used for proximity-detection applications such as detecting objects near a car or level detection in industrial applications.
A radar system detects objects in three-dimensional space of range (distance), frequency (speed) and angle (angular resolution). The angular resolution of radar depends on the antenna aperture. Using multiple antennas on a module can provide higher angular resolution. The scalability of transmit power, signal waveform, number of antennas and processing power make the TI mmWave sensor beneficial for a wide range of applications.
Moving on, edge signal processing, enabled by an integrated powerful processor, can offer data analytics for pattern recognition and other artificial-intelligence algorithms right at the edge. A robot arm that can process the sensor locally; a radar that, alongside LIDAR technology, can localize image processing; and a TI mmWave spectroscopy sensor that can detect hazardous conditions in an industrial tank are examples of edge processing.
Time, frequency, space
In addition to time of flight, frequency shift, which is caused by the relative speed of the transmitter and reflector, can be picked up by a radar system. Law-enforcement officers use these systems to catch those of us who drive a bit too fast.
Radar continuously transmits signals in a modulated wave. In this manner, known as frequency-modulated continuous wave, advanced signal processing algorithms process received waveforms jointly in three dimensions: time, frequency and space to synthesize images of the objects. Unlike a camera, these images are outlines of the objects, a capability that is preferable when privacy is a concern.
Distributed sensors can monitor a wider field of view and resolve objects that are at the same distance but at different locations. An array of synchronized sensors has been deployed in high-cost inverse synthetic aperture radars (ISAR). With a CMOS TI mmWave solution, a synthetic array, at a fraction of the cost and complexity of ISAR, can provide a wide aperture capable of high-resolution imaging at high speed.
Imagine multiple TI mmWave sensors on a car bumper that can distinguish objects within 1 degree of separation. Modern radar uses micro-Doppler and cascaded radar to see the objects with detailed outlines and classify them. It can determine if an object is a truck, a small vehicle or a human. Array processing and sensor fusion of multiple distributed sensors can provide high-resolution images but involves a massive amount of data and requires significant bandwidth. A local signal processor can eliminate the need for a high-speed interface to a central processor.
This journey will continue with enhanced resolution and a combination of sophisticated algorithms such as simultaneous location and mapping and synthetic aperture radar to make this a mainstream imaging technology. In the future, a combination of radar with LIDAR can offer the best vision solution for many more applications.
Innovations in semiconductor technology that transcend RF, analog and digital signal processing have brought about transformational changes to mmWave sensors. A radar system that used to be limited to niche defense and space applications is now deployed in automotive and industrial applications. These technologies offer tremendous opportunities for innovation to expand our vision.
Smriti Natarajan once dreamed of being accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so she could concoct potions and learn charms to improve the lives of others. She’s now a high school senior and headed to the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) this fall, but the Harry Potter nostalgia remains.
“Instead of harnessing the power of a magic wand, I’m using the magic of knowledge to do the same thing I wanted to do when I was 8 – improve the lives of others who need help the most,” she said.
Smriti, the daughter of TIer Nat Natarajan and his wife, Chellammal, is one of 28 2018 Junkins scholars – recipients of a one-time $5,000 scholarship given to National Merit Scholarship® finalists who are children of employees. The scholarship, named in honor of former Chairman, President and CEO Jerry R. Junkins, is funded by the TI Foundation.
Smriti’s desire to effect change began early in her high school career. She decided to start an American Red Cross club at McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, when she was a freshman. She saw a need to help homeless residents in the McKinney area and decided to collect hygiene kits, including for a homeless student and his family when they needed it the most.
“That sparked the question – ‘How can I help people at a time when they need help the most?’ I wanted to take this idea of providing immediate relief to those in need and to grow it,” she said.
That spark ignited Inspire, Aspire, Desire – a nonprofit organization that Smriti and her father manage. Beneficiaries of its fundraising efforts include a childcare center at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and those affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, who received hygiene supplies and blankets while in Houston-area shelters.
Not one to sit still, Smriti also launched an initiative at her high school to promote STEM subjects. She brought in a computer science professor from UTD, who lectured about the basics of computer science and led students through interactive lessons. Smriti also convinced the biology department at Southern Methodist University to create research internships for McKinney Boyd students.
“I’d be in biology labs after school and my friends thought I was weird,” she said. “I tried to tell them how cool and interesting biology was, but it just didn’t click for them. So I thought that I should start something that really showed them how STEM fields can be fun. I wanted to spread the same passion I have for STEM subjects to others.”
Smriti – who is interested in both the practical and research sides of medicine – plans to major in biology at UTD.
“I’m not sure where I’ll be in 10 years, but I do know for certain that I’ll be doing something in the medical field to help people in need,” she said. “We’ll see what’s next.”