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Tuesday, 05 May 2020 18:24

COVID-19 Cuts into Self-Driving Chips, on Top of Crushing Car Sales

Written by Matt Hamblen, FierceElectronics

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“Automakers are burning through cash now as vehicle sales have nosedived and as a result one would assume their R&D spending would be conservative in the near future and would focus on technology that can help them with revenue in the short term,” he said.

 

Some companies like Mobileye, a division of Intel, have reported higher revenues in the latest quarter with lower revenues expected over the rest of the year due to lower vehicle sales. But that doesn’t include their estimate for R&D spend, which is the true for other chipmakers reporting recent earnings.

 

“Big leaders will continue their push for R&D and investment in the ADAS and AV space and perhaps look for acquisitions,” Gupta added. Meanwhile, the ecosystem for companies researching AV products is due for consolidation with many small players, he and other analysts said.

 

One of latest innovations in Level 3 automated driving came out recently with Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier AI technology in the Xpeng P7, an all-electric sports sedan introduced this week in China. It relies on continuous over-the-air software updating to fine tune the AI.

 

Nvidia first described Xavier at CES in 2018 to enable Level 3 features that allow steering, acceleration/deceleration and passing of other cars without human input. Level 3 allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals, but humans still need to be ready to take back control when the car requests it. 

 

The Audi A8 was expected to have level 3 capabilities, but the company recently announced it will hold off adding in the Traffic Jam Pilot system.

 

The P7 achieves Level 3 with 12 ultrasonic sensors, five millimeter-wave radars and 14 cameras that offer 360-degree perception. Notably, there’s no LiDAR. The forward-looking radar can detect obstacles at 200 meters, penetrating rain, fog and haze, Nvidia said. The P7’s starting price is about $34,000.

 

At CES 2020 in January, Qualcomm launched its Snapdragon Ride automated platform for assisted and self-driving, offering FierceElectronics a 20-minute test drive along interstates at speeds more than 60 mph. A safety driver was seated behind the wheel, but he didn’t steer or put his feet on the brakes or accelerator for the highway porition of the demo of the Qualcomm tech in a Lincoln MKZ.

 

While automated driving continues to appear in some cars, it isn’t clear how much the technology will be delayed or the research cut back beyond mid-2021. Much depends on whether COVID-19’s spread gets worse or reappears and further crushes the car industry.

 

“AV and ADAS are really more of a long-term play,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates with a more optimistic outlook. “Companies may have to reduce some expenditures if they are badly affected by the market downturn and their revenues tank, but I for the most part I don’t see any significant pulling back for R&D for future deployments of AV and ADAS.”

 

The reality of COVID-19 is hitting all sorts of tech-centric industries, especially semiconductors, where the lead times for researching and developing products can stretch out for years. 

 

“If you don’t invest now, you won’t have product when it is needed in the next couple of years,” Gold said.

 

We thank FierceElectronics for reprint permission. 


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