Digital radar startup Uhnder Inc. will showcase its digital radar chips and modules at CES this week, ahead of the technology’s passenger-vehicle debut in the Fisker Ocean crossover in 2022.
CEO Manju Hegde said that will be just the start for the Texas company, with its technology finding its way into more vehicles soon after the Ocean’s release.
“You should be looking forward to multiple announcements from us in 2022, each of which will be announcing a new customer,” he told Automotive News.
Uhnder offers a digital radar that it says has 16 times better resolution and 30 times better contrast than standard analog radar. Its debut in the Ocean is part of a partnership with Canadian supplier giant Magna International Inc.
Staff Reporter John Irwin interviewed Hegde in November. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What is the difference between digital radar and traditional radar?
A: The best way to understand digital radar is to pick up your iPhone or Android phone and think about what cellphones were like in the early 1990s. In the early ’90s, all cellphones were analog. Qualcomm and a few other companies made them more digital, and phones became an essential part of our lives.
It’s primarily because digital is synonymous with programmability. When it’s digital, you can program it, and that’s what happened with phones. And so we, as a company, are doing something similar with the radar market.
Digital radars address critical safety shortcomings in today’s radars. Digital radar has a lot more resolution. Resolution is important because you can distinguish a child from a guardrail at 300 meters (984 feet) with a digital radar. You can’t do that with any other radar, and that’s important because if you’re driving on a highway, 300 meters can elapse in 2.5 seconds.
They also have what we call high-contrast resolution, which means digital radar is the best radar to detect a bicyclist next to an SUV or a motorcyclist next to a truck. It’s a critical safety situation, and digital radar handles it much better.
When do you anticipate autonomous vehicles being sold to the public?
Everybody is hankering after Level 4 for passenger cars, and for that, I think there will need to be another intermediate step. If you look at what Waymo and Cruise are doing, they’re hyping up robotaxi services. That’s the first incarnation we’ll see. It’s pretty clear that the amount of sensors and the amount of software is not going to be inexpensive in the beginning. Each robotaxi, if you take the driver away, you’ll make much more money. So the business of robotaxis will be able to support the sensors being a little more expensive and the software being more expensive, pushing up the cost of the vehicle.
But to come into passenger cars that you and I can buy, we are not going to put up with price increases even with all this added functionality. I think that’ll be more towards the end of the decade. Robotaxis will come in the middle of the decade, say 2025.
Amid reports of advanced driver-assistance systems failing and surveys revealing consumer fear of self-driving technology, how can the industry build trust in such systems?
It will take some time. But frankly, self-driving is not at a stage right now that I would be comfortable buying a self-driving car, and I know the technology pretty well. The technology is improving by the day, there’s no doubt about it. But for consumers to buy a car that you will own for a few years, we’ll need to build more faith in the technology, and that will take time as we hear more and more about the success of robotaxis.