For a tech industry analyst like me, the automotive market is interesting given the electrification, safety and self-driving intelligence added to today’s models as well as commitments by automakers to aggressive roadmaps. Cars of the future will be datacenters on wheels, software-defined, connected by 5G, and with gobs of compute, storage and networking silicon. Given this trend and thanks to the Tesla disruptive “jolt” carmakers and their Tier 1s are finally starting to look at silicon as a strategic enabler. It’s safe to say automakers and Tier 1s re-learned this lesson during Covid-19 as companies were scrambling for supply.
This week, there was one particular automotive tech story that caught my eye—semiconductor leader GlobalFoundries (GF), in partnership with Bosch, announced a joint effort to codevelop a mmWave automotive radar SoC (system on a chip) for ADAS applications (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). ADAS is a key component of automotive, as these systems provide varying levels of intelligence designed to keep drivers safe. If your car features lane assistance, collision warning, automated emergency braking, parking assistance or any other smart features, you’ve benefitted from your vehicle’s ADAS. As we move towards increasingly smart and autonomous vehicles, and humans relinquish more driving controls, these safety systems will only become more crucial. While we’re providing definitions, mmWave refers to the high band of 5G spectrum—24Ghz to 80Ghz—capable of exceedingly high speeds but only at very short range.
Let’s take a look at the announcement.
According to Oliver Wolst, Bosch’s senior vice president in charge of its Integrated Circuit business, Bosch tapped GlobalFoundries for its proven industry leadership in RF and mmWave technology. On the other side of the partnership, Mike Hogan, GF’s senior vice president and GM of its Automotive, Industrial and Multi-market division, cited Bosch’s reputation for top-quality automotive solutions as motivation for the partnership.
The main component of the agreement is Bosch’s plans to integrate GF’s 22FDX RF solution inside its next generation mmWave automotive radar SoCs, targeted for availability in the second half of this year. The way 22FDX in a Radar application works, in essence, is as a wireless system that pings off of surroundings—receiving a reflection of the signal that was transmitted. FD-SOI technology is a crucial part of this, according to Hogan, giving it power efficiency and impressive noise immunity. GF has had much success with 22FDX, pulling in a reported $4.5 billion in design wins, amounting to 350 million semiconductors shipped worldwide. This partnership with Bosch represents another big win for GF.
Along with 22FDX, Bosch will also gain access to GF’s turnkey offerings for automotive mmWave testing and packaging. It plans to leverage these solutions in the developmental phase to improve design efficiency and hasten time-to-market. According to the joint press release, post-fab and turnkey services will happen at GF’s Fab 1 in Dresden – where GF manufactures 22FDX – and at GF’s world-class mmWave testing lab at Fab 9 near Burlington, Vermont.
Interview with GF leadership
I actually got the chance to virtually sit down with Mike Hogan, quoted above, and Kamal Khouri, General Manager of GF’s Automotive Business Line, to discuss the joint venture. Hogan led off with some background on GF’s automotive semiconductor background. According to Hogan, GF actually became involved in this deal quite some time ago, predating the automotive supply crisis. GF initially began to invest in mmWave for its potential in applications such as 5G handsets, pivoting to other businesses once it realized the potential in other areas, such as automotive radar.
One factor exacerbating the automotive supply crisis, according to Hogan, is the automotive supply chain’s complexity and the separation between OEMs and the technology sent its way from the supply chain, such as semiconductors, at the bottom of the stack. This creates difficulty in the best of times, but even more so in the context of a supply crisis. With this realization, GF set forth to tighten up its the supply chain—a move that paid off double by allowing OEMs and the vendors such as GF to also align more closely on technological development. According to Hogan, this is an attractive approach to OEMs because it allows them to essentially have custom technology that none of their competitors have. This is an important realization for the auto industry, as a whole, to come to—historically, the sector has been fairly disinterested in the tech side of things, which is a big part of the supply pickle it has found itself in. Now automakers are realizing that silicon can be a very competitive aspect of differentiation.