Presented by Infineon

Silicon Valley has long been an amazing marketplace for connecting and exchanging ideas, talent, money, and influence in pursuit of breakthroughs in technology. Fed by rich sources of capital, an entrepreneurial culture, strong links between industry and academia, and regular waves of immigration, Silicon Valley has brought together some of the world’s most talented technologists, offered them huge rewards for success and qualified forgiveness for failure, and provided an infrastructure that has enabled them to give innovative ideas their best shot.

The rapid pace of innovation and appetite for risk in Silicon Valley has fostered an ecosystem of native startups, spun out of local universities and established businesses, transplants hoping to get a boost by moving to the area, and mature companies, some of which have grown into trillion-dollar businesses while still be being based just miles from where they started. Silicon Valley is also home to many ‘innovation centers funded by large corporates from across the world, which believe that having a physical presence in the Valley will knit them into its ecosystem, teach them about its culture, and somehow infuse their organizations with its dynamism.

The Silicon Valley Innovation Center

I run one of these innovation centers for Infineon Technologies, the global semiconductor company, but our purpose is a little different. Yes, we like to have an ear to the ground in the Valley so we can understand the directions in which technology is moving and what our competitors are up to. Yes, we like to recruit from the talent pool here. And yes, we like the way the culture and infrastructure enable us to move quickly. But we also want to act as an enabler to Silicon Valley startups, by connecting them to our newest products and technologies and the rich systems knowledge embodied within them. And we want to partner with some of these startups in a deeper way, to work together and shape new cutting-edge products and new markets that have the potential to grow, and to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

How does our strategy work? First, a brief history lesson. Infineon has its roots in the global industrial giant Siemens, for which it was the captive semiconductor supplier until it was spun off in the 1990s. One consequence of this history is that, while other chip makers have focused on mainstream manufacturing processes, Infineon sustained a suite of more complex processes with which it could build the power devices, mixed-signal sensing circuitry, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and more needed by Siemens’ diverse product range.

Some of what Infineon now makes might seem like pretty mainstream stuff. Power semiconductors in concept are nothing new, but our decades of systemic experience with them means that we’re well placed to push these technologies to new limits, which in turn, enable new capabilities.

For example, improving the power conversion efficiency of a transistor by 1% sounds prosaic, until you realize that it could add miles of range to top-end electric vehicles (EV). We’ve spent years developing an even more efficient power process, based on silicon carbide, and EV makers are already picking up on it because it means they can use smaller batteries to achieve the same vehicle range.

Similarly, the current focus on machine learning often neglects the fact that many of its applications need real-world data to act as inputs to the algorithms. Infineon has a broad portfolio of sensing technologies and has recently introduced three forms of radar module for tasks as diverse as sensing oncoming vehicles and measuring the rise and fall of a sleeping person’s chest. We’ve also developed infrared time-of-flight sensors for mapping rooms, very sensitive MEMS microphones for use in smart speakers, and CO2 sensors that can be used to build accurate, low-cost environmental monitoring systems.

We have other enabling technologies, such as a special memory for use in data loggers for autonomous vehicles, security chips to protect IoT ecosystems from being mis-used, and a wide variety of hardware and software relevant to producing safe, efficient service robots. Although these are standard products, they have been developed by innovative, entrepreneurial people at Infineon who really like to know how they work in real applications and what could be done to make them a better fit in future.

Enabling the next $100m startup

Our Innovation Center can work with startups to show them the technology as it currently is, and to develop a joint understanding of how it could be enhanced for their applications. We can take this kind of interaction a stage further, when we find a startup, or partner working on an issue that we think could evolve into the next $100m business.

In this case, we can work with them to understand their application, and offer them technologies to address it. For example, we have worked with a company called Blumio, which began by looking at radar as a way to track blood pressure beat by beat and without the need for a pressure cuff. Our expertise is in small, power-efficient radar sensors the size of your finger nail. When applied to the wrist, it turns out our systems, not only can measure the pulse, but has the sensitivity and fidelity necessary to track the actual changing shape of blood vessels as blood is pumped around the body. Blumio was able to pursue converting radar signals to a pulse waveform and continues to evaluate how to convert that into beat-by-beat blood pressure as well as other health metrics.

Where that specific effort ends ups, we cannot say, but it has taught us that by working together with medical startups and medical domain experts, and by sharing state-of-the-art sensing technologies, we can enable innovative sensing modalities that in turn have the potential to create new breakthrough medical devices. Health sensing is an area we are very excited about, and continue to explore for both its economic and social impact.

If we want to go a step further, we can help a startup develop a proof of concept, absorbing some of the engineering costs involved as part of our commitment to the project. This kind of backing, from a credible partner such as Infineon, can also help the startup raise further funding.

We can also help a company move from the startup phase into an incubation and scale-up process, by providing operational support such as sales and marketing skills and other commercialization services. Ultimately, Infineon can form joint development agreements with companies that need an experienced partner to help them grow. With such partners, we offer specialized process integration knowledge and opportunities to scale their production and improve its yield.

Silicon Valley has long been one of the world’s most important marketplace for exchanging ideas, talent, money, and influence in pursuit of breakthroughs in information technology. Infineon’s presence here in the Valley helps us bring our system smarts, technical solutions, and business expertise to that marketplace, accelerating startups and the pace at which raw ideas can become value-adding products and services.

Dig deeper: Learn more about Infineon’s Silicon Valley Innovation Center.

Adrian Mikolajczak is Head, Silicon Valley Innovation Center, at Infineon Technologies Americas.

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