TI’s Shrewd Robo-Car Strategy

Release time:2017-06-13
source:EE Time

While Nvidia and Intel are busy sparring for glory as innovators of fully autonomous vehicle platforms, Texas Instruments, focused on ADAS, has kept its profile low.

It’s not that TI is indifferent to autonomy. It’s just that TI, one of the leading automotive chip suppliers, sees a different way to get there. Its plan is to use its current ADAS-focused platform to eventually enable Level 4, Level 5 autonomous car.

In a recent interview with EE Times, Brooke Williams, business manager in the automotive ADAS business unit at Texas Instruments, said TI has been actively participating in carmakers’ RFQs on models four to five years out. Some of the RFQs are for Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars. Others address ADAS features to achieve 5-star ratings. “We support all of their requests,” said Williams.

Above all, TI’s priority is responding to “needs for system-level safety across the board” — all cars, all models, according to Williams.

TI’s strengths lie in 30 years of ASIL D-level safety experience and a litany of TI technologies that include power management, analog devices, networking solutions such as LVDS and Ethernet, and sensors including radars, he said. The only automotive electronics devices TI doesn’t offer are CMOS image sensors and memory.

This “system-level safety” argument might seem to be just TI talking points. But the company’s financial results demonstrate how well a modest strategy — focused more on Level 2 autonomous cars — has worked so far. TI reported in April better-than-expected first quarter revenue growth driven primarily by strong sales to the automotive and industrial markets.

Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor for Vision Systems Intelligence (VSI), noted, “TI does not subscribe to massive architectural overhauls.” He pointed out, “For TI, it is all about incremental ADAS features which become the enablers to automation. TI is not concerned with L4 and L5 at the moment. In time their architectures will support advanced levels of automation but for now they are targeting automotive safety and convenience features because that is where the money is.”

‘No wholesale change in platform’
OK. So, today’s TI is all about ADAS.

But really, what are the plans, if any, for TI to shift its current ADAS platform to Level 4/Level 5 autonomy? During the interview, TI’s Williams noted, “We don’t believe a wholesale change in the platform is needed” to add autonomy to cars.

That view, however, has triggered a host of questions from automotive industry analysts.

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Chipmaker Texas Instruments posted its first year-over-year decline in quarterly sales in more than two years amid what company executives characterized as semiconductor cyclicality and weaker demand in China.“We believe that after 10 quarters of year-on-year growth, the weakness we are seeing is primarily due to the semiconductor cycle,” said Rafael Lizardi, TI’s chief financial officer, in a post-earnings conference call with analysts. “In addition, the macroenvironment — including uncertainty caused by trade tensions — could impact the depth and duration of this cycle.”Dave Pahl, vice president and head of investor relations, said that demand in China was weaker than in other regions of the world. “We are seeing signs from our customers and the channel that this weakness is primarily from increased caution due to trade tensions,” Pahl said. “We assume that this weakness is a combination of lower local end demand, as well as reduced exports, but we do not have visibility to distinguish between the two.”Trade tensions between the U.S. and China have been escalating for over a year, with each country imposing tariffs on products exported by the other beginning last March. However, prior to TI’s quarterly report Wednesday, chip companies have generally not reported any major effects of the trade war.TI (Dallas) reported sales of $3.72 billion for the fourth quarter of 2018, down 1% compared to the fourth quarter of 2017. The company reported a net income for the quarter of $1.24 billion, up 260% from the fourth quarter of 2017, when non-cash charges related to tax law changes adversely affected TI’s profit.Fourth-quarter sales came in slightly below consensus analysts’ expectations of $3.75 billion. Earnings per share of $1.27 exceeded consensus analysts’ expectations of $1.24 per share.For the full-year 2018, TI reported sales of $15.8 billion, up 5% compared to 2017. The company reported a net income for the year of $5.6 billion, up 51% compared to 2017.TI said that it expects sales for the first quarter of this year to be between $3.34 billion and $3.62 billion, in line with analysts’ expectations.
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