Uhnder Dives Into the Ocean With Digital Radar

Manju Hegde says a paradigm shift away from legacy analog radar is underway.

While the semi-conductor shortage continues to make headlines, a radar-technology company is readying a first-to-market digital radar chip application on the 2023 Fisker Ocean EV, as part of Magna’s ICON system. With its staff of some 200 engineers and technology specialists, Austin, Texas-based Uhnder has netted multiple patents for its digital imaging technology. CEO and co-founder Manju Hegde spoke with SAE Media during a recent drive in Michigan demonstrating Uhnder’s technology.

How important is it to be first-to-market with digital radar chips in the passenger vehicle market?

We have been very deliberate in bringing digital radar chips into the automotive market. We’ve done multiple tape-outs and extensive testing and validation to ensure maturity of the technology, and we’ve obtained the full complement of certifications. In any technology market, being first is a competitive advantage, but especially so in automotive because products are built to the exacting requirements of the industry. We are not resting on our laurels. We have already begun working on our next-gen product to be in-sync with the increased safety needs as OEMs and consumers push for more [driving] automation.

What’s the biggest advantage of being a start-up in the digital radar space?

Digital radar is transformative technology for mobility. It addresses the safety short-comings of analog radar. In addition, the software-defined aspect stimulates innovation by the Tier 1s and OEMs, which will accelerate the enhancement of safety. Only a start-up could take a step as bold as this, because a start-up can dream big, is not hostage to the legacy IP of existing products and not subject to the dogma of the incumbent. Our team brings decades of experience working for some of the biggest names in automotive-specific technology, including TI, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, AMD, NXP, Continental, Aptiv, and QNX. Our start-up dynamic allows us to move quickly and creatively to pioneer new technologies to meet the needs of the industry.

What is Uhnder’s core business plan?

Uhnder is targeting global Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs making automated mobility applications for the movement of people and the movement of goods. Our products are already in delivery robots for last-mile delivery and autonomous container transports for container shipping, and we’re excited to make our debut in the electric vehicle market on the Fisker Ocean later this year. We see a huge opportunity to help make automated passenger vehicles safer, while supporting the growth of autonomy in agriculture, construction, mining, shipping, last-mile delivery and warehousing.

Why has Uhnder been an under-the-radar company since its start in 2015?

Uhnder, as a start-up, has had a very close collaboration with Magna, an automotive engineering powerhouse. From that relationship, we learned that the auto industry takes announcements very seriously and expects delivery on what is promised. We adopted this philosophy. And while we discussed the advantages of digital radar technology, we refrained from making any promises about the product until it was done, and we had tested and validated all our claims.

Is analog radar an outdated technology for vehicle applications?

Recent reports from AAA and IIHS have raised serious concerns about the shortcomings of ADAS features in many vehicles currently equipped with traditional analog radar. Legacy analog radar arose from legacy applications, such as cruise control and blind spot detection, where the need was to detect other cars whether at antenna boresight or in an adjacent lane. As the industry moves toward (SAE) Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, the needs are much more stringent: We must detect bicyclists next to the curb, children next to parked cars, stalled cars under bridges, and so on. It is in these use cases that the shortcomings of legacy analog radar, such as insufficient resolution, poor contrast, limited range, and interference susceptibility get exposed and compromise safety. The legacy radar manufacturers are all feverishly putting together many, many, legacy analog radar chips on a system to try and address these deficiencies but these solutions create a new set of issues, such as complexity, power, and ambiguity.