NXP Semiconductors aims to use the kind of radar beam-forming used in military aircraft in the automotive market.
It is working on a second flavor of long-range, high-precision 77GHz radar for automative market, following its announcement of postage-stamp-sized silicon in January.
The new system, described by NXP's CTO Automotive Lars Reger as "high brightness radar", will comprise a single RFCMOS unit with four or more front-end sensors and a single, powerful MCU aimed at creating a 360-degree sensor "cocoon" around a vehicle.
The postage-stamp concept allows OEMs to attach and overpaint multiple radar sensors all over a car, achieving much the same effect. It has been undergoing trials at Google since the beginning of the year.
Using either system, the idea is that the radar cocoon should stretch 250m ahead of a vehicle and 150m both behind and from the two sides.
Reger showed a photograph of a single system-in-package, multi-chip prototype during a keynote speech to the 2016 Design Automation Conference. Ultimately, NXP wants to deliver single-chip radar.
NXP estimates that as cars move from the 'Level 1' stage of ADAS automation to the fully self-driving 'Level 4', the number of such sensors in a vehicle will rise from 6 to 20, even allowing it to detect obstacles that are around a blind corner. Radar technology will, Reger said, be critical to other safety applications and fully automated driving at higher speeds on freeways and similar multi-lane carriageways.
Following last year's merger with Freescale Semiconductor, NXP is the world's largest supplier of automotive silicon - the sector accounts for roughly 40% of its sales. A key element within the deal has allowed the company to bring together NXP's sensor technology and powerful but power efficient Freescale MCUs in a number of proposed new products, including both 77GHz radar solutions.
Reger also said that NXP is looking to translate some of its automotive sensor technologies into other markets.
He cited the specific example of drone aircraft, where lightweight silicon collision sensors could soon replace the much heaver boxes used today. This would be another important step toward drone package delivery, currently in the R&D phase at companies such as Amazon.