Tag Archives: silicon

Mercedes Targets Silicon Valley Rivals With Robo-Taxis by 2023

by Elisabeth Behrmann
Daimler, Bosch plot autonomous cars for California, Germany
Self-driving vehicles set to grab market share: study
Daimler AG and the world’s biggest auto-parts maker plan to offer robo-taxis in the U.S. and Germany within six years, as competition to become the first provider of autonomous shared cars intensifies.

Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz division and automotive technology giant Robert Bosch GmbH have teamed up to run the vehicles in at least four locations, including Silicon Valley and their hometown of Stuttgart, according to a statement on Tuesday. Competing with newer entrants such as Uber Technologies Inc. and traditional rival BMW AG, the project will allow customers to order automated cars via smartphone.

Source: Mercedes-Benz – Daimler AG
“The idea behind it is that the vehicle should come to the driver rather than the other way round,” Daimler, parent of the world’s biggest luxury-car maker and Bosch said in the statement. The venture will have a workforce of a few hundred people.

Carmakers and new competitors like ride-hailing startup Uber are pouring billions into making vehicles smart enough to navigate streets on their own. While some traditional manufacturers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are tying up with technology providers to save costs, Daimler is developing models for a new era of self-driving vehicles largely on its own.

Building a fleet of robo-taxis will allow the German company, which is also the world’s largest maker of commercial vehicles and the owner of the Smart city-car brand, to monetize the technology once it hits the mainstream and avoid becoming a lower-margin hardware supplier to Silicon Valley newcomers. It also allows Daimler to retain control of the relationship with drivers and the valuable data they generate — even if they no longer own the cars they ride.

Beating Rivals

The partnership between two German automotive heavyweights is part of a broader shift as the industry braces for disruption. Daimler must adjust to “fundamental changes” as autos become increasingly capable of driving themselves and run on electric motors, Chairman Manfred Bischoff said at the annual shareholders meeting last week.

Investing in the future has been costly for Daimler, which has been experimenting with autonomous features for years. The company warned its profit will rise only slightly in 2017, as research and development costs continue to climb after jumping 15 percent last year to 7.6 billion euros.

Daimler has already branched into new services in response to shifts in how people use vehicles. In 2015, BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen AG’s Audi division joined up to buy Nokia Oyj’s HERE real-time maps unit for 2.8 billion euros. The Daimler-Bosch venture will use HERE’s technology. The reliability of self-driving vehicles will be a critical focus of the new project after Uber suspended an automated-car trial because of a crash in Arizona last month.

The Mercedes parent also owns the Car2Go auto-sharing business, with 2.2 million global members, and cab-hailing app Mytaxi, which merged with its U.K. equivalent Hailo last year. The German manufacturer bought U.S. ride-booking service RideScout LLC in 2014 and runs Moovel, which combines taxi, car and bicycle sharing services with public transport.

Even if shifting into services and self-driving vehicles risks sapping demand for private cars, there may be no alternative for manufacturers. Autonomous vehicles will probably make up 25 percent of new car sales by 2035, according to a Boston Consulting Group study.

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This startup wants to replace the silicon in your smartphone with diamonds

Chances are you’ve never heard of Akhan Semiconductor, but the company is well on its way to producing the hardware at the heart of your next smartphone, smartwatch, laptop, or virtual reality headset. The new components won’t only last longer and perform better than today’s tech, but their environmental impact will be much less severe, too. The big secret? Diamonds.
Instead of making processing chips out of silicon, Akhan is using jewelry’s favorite gem stone.
Why make processors out of diamonds?
Diamonds, it turns out, aren’t just the hardest mineral on the Mohs scale. They have a knack for transferring heat, and do a much better job of retaining energy compared to the silicon in most of today’s electronics. The minerals, on average, can run five times hotter and eliminate up to 90 percent of energy typically loss in the course of electron transfer.
“We’re the only company in the world that can create [these diamonds],” Carl Shurbof, Akhan’s chief of operations, told Digital Trends, “and we’re uniquely positioned to to create a new ecosystem.”
“We can create a wearable that … is completely flexible and can easily wrap around your wrist.”
The applications are practically endless. For consumer devices like the smartphone in your pocket, diamond could drastically reduce the amount of heat it produces. A diamond-made smartphone would be cooler against your face when you’re chatting with a buddy, for one, but could also last substantially longer. High temperatures wear aggressively at electronics, meaning that any reduction in heat has the potential to boost their lifespan.
Your phone could be thinner, too, since it wouldn’t need the temperature-regulating heatsinks and fans of silicon models. And as an added bonus, it might be faster — the newfound thermal headroom would allow phone makers to bump up performance.
Perhaps even more incredibly, diamond-based electronics could be cheaper than their silicon counterparts, Shurboff said. That is, again, because manufacturers don’t have to worry about keeping the devices cool.
Related: Samsung’s first foldable phone, the Galaxy X, could launch in 2017
But smartphones aren’t the only devices that stand to benefit. Electric car manufacturers like Tesla are targeting circuitry efficiency improvements of around 18 percent, a goalpost Shurboff said Akhan’s diamonds could easily exceed. The diamonds are tailor-made for heavy manufacturing and aerospace firms, which often require materials strong enough to withstand extreme radiation like x-rays.
“It’s both elegant and extremely high tech,” Shurboff said.
Digging for diamonds
Adam Khan, Akhan’s founder and chief executive, conceived of the idea in 2007 when he began pursuing the commercialization of diamond-based electronics. Khan, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Stanford University’s Fabrication Facility, is an electrical engineer by trade, so he sought to solve the two most imposing barriers to diamond mass production: deposition, the process of growing a layer of diamond on top a wafer-like base, and doping, or fine-tuning diamond’s electrical properties.
diamond processors take on silicon akhan semiconductor
Akhan Semiconductor
diamond processors take on silicon akhan semiconductor
Argonne National Laboratory

Khan got a leg up from colleagues, most notably scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. Akhan inked intellectual property licensing agreements, which gave the company exclusive methods to create synthetic diamonds and use them to produce transistors, capacitors, and resistors — the components of modern-day computers.
Related: Forget one screen — two screens could be the future of the smartwatch
The lab’s research dovetailed with one of Khan’s early breakthroughs: diamonds that stuck securely to conductive metals. The novelty was in the binding process. Khan figured out a way to reliably affix metals and alloys to diamond wafers without impacting either material’s conductivity. That discovery set the final cogs in motion toward Akhan’s end game: semiconductors — the essential component of electric circuits — made of diamond. He received a U.S. patent for the work in 2012.
Not your typical diamonds
Akhan’s diamonds aren’t the cut you might find on a Harry Winston tiara. Instead, Akhan’s Chief of Operations Carl Shurboff told Digital Trends, they’re designed expressly to percolate electrons around the insides of gadgets.
“When you say ‘diamond,’ everyone thinks mine diamonds or blood diamonds,” he said. “The idea of a semiconducting diamond is difficult to convey to the general public.” Unlike the diamonds extracted from subterranean tunnels in Siberia and Zimbabwe, Akhan’s are man-made and manufactured with methane — “the most abundant molecule in the universe,” Shurboff notes, a fact that helps the company keep costs well within reason.

To produce them, Akhan uses microwaves to heat a reactor filled with hydrogen, argon, and the aforementioned methane. Once the cycle finishes, the methane reaches a plasma state, taking on the consistency and appearance of a super-hot gas. The result: thin sheets of diamond material about 1/70 the diameter of a human hair. That is where the future starts.
Transluscent, bendable devices
More exciting than a smartphone with diamond in it is what lies on the horizon: translucent, bendable diamond devices. Akhan is working on flexible diamond semiconductors that can bend a full 45 degrees in any direction, which Shurboff thinks would be a boon for smartwatches and fitness trackers.
“People who bought smartwatches and are interested in styling don’t like how bulky and ugly they are, and so they don’t wear them,” he said. “We can create a wearable technology that can be transposed to anything you want, is completely flexible, and can easily wrap around your wrist.”

The diamonds aren’t going to sprout up overnight, of course. Akhan’s starting small, combining its diamond tech with traditional silicon for a clientele that skews largely industrial. Its new Gurnee facility, the product of a $5.5 million incentives package from the state of Illinois, began shipping chips in the first quarter of 2016. It’ll begin producing consumer-ready, all-diamond models in about two years.
And when it does, Shurboff said the environmental impact will be negligible. The company claims that its diamond semiconductors require 20 percent less water to produce than silicon, and that the devices without heat sinks and fans made newly possible by its chips will cut down on the roughly 85-90 percent thermal materials that end up in landfills. While Akhan currently sources methane from third-party suppliers, Shurboff said one future source could be pollution like the kind produced by cars.
Related: This prototype shows how amazing flexible screens might be
“We’re working with high-caliber people and high-value partners,” he said. “It’s world-leading.”
It’ll be a while yet before Akhan gets a chip for the global semiconductor market, an industry worth an estimated $327 billion in 2016, but Shurboff is confident that diamonds will be a big competitor to silicon.
Also watch: Project Scorpio: Everything We Know | News and Rumors

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