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Autonomous Driving Boom Spurs STMicro to Develop New Chips

Release Date:2018-03-01

STMicroelectronics NV is developing chips that can tackle features like night vision, micro-mapping and 360-degree detection, in a bid to meet demand from car manufacturers racing to build driverless autos.

The autonomous driving sector is already a crowded one, from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo to General Motors Co. Still, there are pieces of technology missing before cars reach the most sophisticated form of autonomy, referred to as level 5, and fully drive themselves.

"All the carmakers are so interested in having this, but clearly it requires a lot of safety, a lot of sensors," STMicroelectronics’ head of automotive, Marco Monti, said in an interview in Barcelona on Tuesday at Mobile World Congress.

Read our test drive of Renault’s Symbioz at 80 miles per hour on a public highway

STMicroelectronics is working on improving a car’s ability to see its surroundings at 360 degrees, spot shapes to recognize people and objects outside, and collect data about its environment even at night, or come rain or snow -- all challenges that were apparent in autonomous test drives

The chipmaker unveiled a high-resolution thermal camera last week, in collaboration with Israel-based startup AdaSky. It’s also upgrading its geolocalization chips to zoom in further on a car’s exact position, and Tuesday launched a satellite-navigation receiver that has reached a margin of error within 10 centimeters, Monti said.

With the likes of Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental as customers, STMicroelectronics gets about a third of its sales from putting semiconductors into cars. It’s up against rivals from Germany-based Infineon Technologies AG to NXP Semiconductors NV and Intel Corp. in making a push to cater to carmakers.

The more sophisticated a vehicle, the more money chipmakers make off of it. There’s $1,243 of silicon content in a fully or nearly fully autonomous vehicle, which is about four times the average car today, according to data shown by STMicroelectronics at MWC.

"We’re taking advantage of the increased semiconductor content in the auto industry," Monti told analysts in a presentation earlier in Barcelona. "Autonomous driving is a big opportunity for us."

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