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Google is Testing NXP’s Postage-Sized Radar Chip

January 4, 2016, 4:05 PM UTC
Kirsten Korosec

NXP Semiconductor has developed a postage stamp-sized single integrated radar chip designed to replace the ultrasonic radar traditionally used in emergency braking and other advanced vehicle safety systems found in today’s cars. Shrinking the radar while increasing its power will lower the cost of advanced driver assistance systems. This drops the cost of self-driving cars, which could help accelerate efforts by companies like Google and Ford that are working on fully autonomous vehicles.

The semiconductor company, which announced the new product today in the lead up to the global consumer technology event CES, says it built the fully integrated 77 gigahertz chip to drive the adoption of advanced driver assistance systems and pave the way for self-driving cars. Google engineers are already testing the chip in its self-driving cars, NXP (NXPI) says. The company says other unnamed major automakers are testing the radar chip as well.

The radar chips will go into production in 2018 and show up in cars by 2019, according to Lars Regers, chief technology officer for NXP’s automotive division.

Vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems require radar to capture data about the surrounding environment. NXP’s single radar chip can send and receive data, while using 40 percent less power than conventional radar used in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), according to the company. The chips are small enough that they can be grouped in clusters around the car to provide a 360-degree view without altering the aesthetics of the vehicle’s design. The self-driving car prototype developed by Google (GOOG) has a rounded cap on the top of the car containing lasers, radars, and cameras to give it a complete view. It does the job, but it’s hardly invisible. NXP’s radar chips are small enough that they wouldn’t be seen.

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If automakers adopt NXP’s product it could push out ultrasonic radar systems used in emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and automated-parking. It’s a potentially huge market opportunity for NXP. IHS Research estimates radar-based ADAS will increase 23% year-on-year to reach 50 million radar sensors by 2021.

NXP, thanks to its recent $12 billion merger with Freescale Semiconductor, is already a leading supplier to the automotive market. NXP’s new product is cheaper to produce because it’s made using traditional chip manufacturing and materials rather than something more exotic like some of Freescale’s silicon-germanium radar chips. That doesn’t mean this CMOS chip will replace its other products, Regers told Fortune. “This is just a portfolio extension,” he says.

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NXP’s strategy is to target the entire market: self-driving cars and the higher-volume advanced driver assistance systems category. And Reger believes the company has a good shot at achieving both because radar chip’s size and greater functionality can reduce the total system cost for automakers. NXP did not release pricing information on the radar chip.