ON Semiconductor: 3M collaborations, expansion and sensor fusion trends

ON Semiconductor is driving energy efficient innovations, empowering customers to reduce global energy use. The company is a leading supplier of semiconductor-based solutions, offering a comprehensive portfolio of energy efficient, power management, analog, sensors, logic, timing, connectivity, discrete, SoC and custom devices. The company’s products help engineers solve their unique design challenges in automotive, communications, computing, consumer, industrial, medical, aerospace and defense applications.

We took the opportunity to speak with Geoff Ballew, Wade Appelman and Davide Santo at ON Semiconductor to understand where ON Semi is heading in 2019, predictions for the sensor fusion trend and how the acquisition of SensL has benefited the organisation. ON Semiconductor return to AutoSens in 2019 for the third year in a row, they were part of the first ever AutoSens Conference and their involvement continues to be of significant value to the show.

2018 was a great year for ON Semiconductor. What lies ahead in 2019?

Sensing for automotive is a fast-moving and rapidly developing sector, and that will continue to be reflected in our focus and activities in 2019. At the recent CES in Las Vegas, we announced our collaboration with 3M. Focused on intelligent infrastructure ON Semiconductor’s sensor technology and 3M’s next generation digitally-enabled Smart Code sign technology are part of end-to-end solutions to improve safety and enhance human driven and autonomous vehicles.

We have added additional resource and expertise by expanding our radar team in Phoenix. Our Haifa facility is strong on technology, our patent portfolio, and developing SiGe technology for long range high resolution radar. The expansion of the Phoenix team will give additional expertise to bring integrated RF CMOS for single chip Radar to automotive applications.

We also revealed our AP0300 Sensor Processing Unit (SPU) at CES. This solution brings new capabilities for low light applications, machine vision and edge processing for smart sensors.

Another immediate development in 2019 sees our partners continuing data collection with our AR0820 – the industry’s highest resolution, automotive grade 8MP image sensor. This represents a key milestone for partners to prove their algorithms for real-world production systems.

When we spoke last year you mentioned that you will be sampling radar products later this year, how has this gone and are you able to share any news?

ON Semiconductor has diligently executed on its plan to roll-out first internal samples of our new Radar mmIC. A full launch will most likely be completed by end of 2019. Watch this space…

It was also stated that “Accurate and high-resolution depth sensing is the future of imaging” what else do you think is needed from the imaging community to realise more intelligent technology in automotive and beyond?

An example of the type of thing that is needed is our collaboration with 3M where a hidden code is embedded in a road sign and decoded by our sensor technology. This allows for additional information to be available for ADAS systems and human drivers and give connected and automated vehicles that are safer and more efficient.

We are seeing growing momentum for in-cabin applications. These can be seen in driver monitoring for safety in freeway pilot systems for level 2 and level 3 automation and occupant monitoring systems for safety and convenience features. This will be important for future robot taxis for example, where a passenger may have left their cell phone behind or done something malicious whether intentional or not. These new systems will be able to track and alert exactly what is, or has happened, within the vehicle.

How has your roadmap for SiPMs and SPAD arrays changed in the past year?

In May of 2018, ON Semiconductor acquired SensL who are market leaders in SiPM and SPAD sensors. Being able to combine our ‘technological forces’ has opened up a wealth of possibilities that has had a tangible impact on the SiPM and SPAD roadmap.

The focus is still on creating the best performing sensors for automotive LiDAR, but how that is achieved and the level of performance we can achieve has ramped up. For example, by leveraging ON Semiconductor’s expertise in micro lenses and combining it with the SensL R-Series SiPM process, we have been able to create a device with market leading PDE while minimizing the dark count rate and maximizing dynamic range.

ON Semiconductor’s expertise in image sensors will also be a benefit as the development effort on SPAD arrays and SPAD image sensors steps up. Other aspects such as our in-house experience of automotive production is enabling a faster and smoother route to getting products automotive qualified.

Finally, another new part of the SiPM and SPAD roadmap going forward is going to be the availability of evaluation kits and ecosystem modules. These will be focused on LiDAR applications and will enable customers to get to grips with the capabilities of the technology with minimal outlay and also speed and ease the complete design and development process. These kinds of products were simply not possible for a small company like SensL to conceive and offer.

Do you have any predictions for the sensor fusion trend?

The future of ADAS and autonomous driving will be built around the fusion of data from different sensor modalities. The combined information will be used to improve accuracy, sensitivity and overall performance in order to provide significantly improved functional safety.

From a market point of view, a particularly exciting aspect is the fact that ON Semiconductor is now a complete sensor solutions provider for automotive applications; the company is already the world’s number one provider of image sensors for automotive. The acquisition of SensL adds cutting-edge sensors for LiDAR, with radar capabilities now also added to our portfolio.

What we envision is a close co-development of the various technologies within our expanded portfolio from the outset of projects. This will facilitate an overall sensor suite that is geared towards data fusion and works in concert.

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