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Dutch chipmaker NXP makes China push by backing radar company Hawkeye

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in alibaba, Asia, Automotive, autonomous driving, banma, China, Nanjing, NXP Semiconductors, Qualcomm, Radar, self driving vehicles, semiconductor, Transportation | 0 comments

Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors has come a long way since Qualcomm’s outsize $44 billion to acquire it fell through last year. In an announcement released on Tuesday, NXP said it’s agreed to back and partner with Hawkeye Technology, a Chinese company specializing in automotive radars, as part of an ambition to capture the rapid growth of sensor-powered vehicles in China.

Financial terms of the investment were undisclosed, but the tie-up will see Hawkeye providing a suite of technical know-how to NXP. That includes the Chinese company’s engineering team, a research lab it set up with Southeast University in the Chinese city of Nanjing, and its 77Ghz radar, a long-range sensing technology that enables cars to detect crashes down to sub-millimeter accuracy.

Under the agreement, NXP and Hawkeye will work together to create reference designs rather than retail products.

“The fast development of ADAS [Automatic Data Acquisition System] and autonomous driving technologies has raised new requirements for vehicle-based millimeter radar,” said Alex Shi, co-founder and chief executive of Hawkeye. “By partnering with NXP, Hawkeye will focus on providing advanced millimeter wave radar system level solutions as well as comprehensive technical support for Tier 1 customers.”

The deal is a smart move for NXP, whose claim to fame is its chips for car-related applications, as it strives to be a key player in China’s autonomous driving race. Hawkeye may be little known, but not its CEO. Shi was the former boss of Banma Network, a joint venture between ecommerce behemoth Alibaba and Chinese state-owned automaker SAIC Motors, which is the key force to commercialize Alibaba’s connected car solutions.

In April 2015, Shi and a group of other prominent auto figures from China founded Hawkeye with an initial registered capital of 30 million yuan ($4.5 million).

The Hawkeye funding arrived less than a year after Qualcomm dropped its proposed buyout of NXP, which was set to be one of the largest in the semiconductor space but ended up as a collateral damage in rising trade tensions between China and the U.S. Qualcomm had mulled buying NXP as early as September 2016.

China remained a focus for NXP, which assured that its alliance with Hawkeye is evidence of its “confidence in the Chinese market” and “determination to continuously invest in the country,” said NXP president Kurt Sievers in a statement.

“Innovators in automotive, like Hawkeye and Southeast University, have become the driving force for the transformation of China’s automotive industry. We are pleased to collaborate with these excellent partners, leveraging NXP’s leadership in the fast-growing radar semiconductor market to improve road safety,” Sievers added.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Two former Qualcomm engineers are using AI to fix China’s healthcare problem

Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 in 12 sigma, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, chief executive officer, China, Health, healthcare, Hospitals, idc, imaging, Infervision, medical imaging, medicine, Qualcomm, san diego, Sigma, Tencent, Tsinghua University | 0 comments

Artificial intelligence is widely heralded as something that could disrupt the jobs market across the board — potentially eating into careers as varied as accountants, advertising agents, reporters and more — but there are some industries in dire need of assistance where AI could make a wholly positive impact, a core one being healthcare.

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still coping with a serious shortage of medical resources. In 2015, the country had 1.8 physicians per 1,000 citizens, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure puts China behind the U.S. at 2.6 and was well below the OECD average of 3.4.

The undersupply means a nation of overworked doctors who constantly struggle to finish screening patient scans. Misdiagnoses inevitably follow. Spotting the demand, forward-thinking engineers and healthcare professionals move to get deep learning into analyzing medical images. Research firm IDC estimates that the market for AI-aided medical diagnosis and treatment in China crossed 183 million yuan ($27 million) in 2017 and is expected to reach 5.88 billion yuan ($870 million) by 2022.

One up-and-comer in the sector is 12 Sigma, a San Diego-based startup founded by two former Qualcomm engineers with research teams in China. The company is competing against Yitu, Infervision and a handful of other well-funded Chinese startups that help doctors detect cancerous cells from medical scans. Between January and May last year alone, more than 10 Chinese companies with such a focus scored fundings of over 10 million yuan ($1.48 million), according to startup data provider Iyiou. 12 Sigma itself racked up a 200 million yuan Series B round at the end of 2017 and is mulling a new funding round as it looks to ramp up its sales team and develop new products, the company told TechCrunch.

“2015 to artificial intelligence is like 1995 to the Internet. It was the dawn of a revolution,” recalled Zhong Xin, who quit his management role at Qualcomm and went on to launch 12 Sigma in 2015. At the time, AI was cereping into virtually all facets of life, from public security, autonomous driving, agriculture, education to finance. Zhong took a bet on health care.

“For most industries, the AI technology might be available, but there isn’t really a pressing problem to solve. You are creating new demand there. But with healthcare, there is a clear problem, that is, how to more efficiently spot diseases from a single image,” the chief executive added.

An engineer named Gao Dashan who had worked closely with Zhong at Qualcomm’s U.S. office on computer vision and deep learning soon joined as the startup’s technology head. The pair both attended China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, another experience that boosted their sense of camaraderie.

Aside from the potential financial rewards, the founders also felt an urge to start something on their own as they entered their 40s. “We were too young to join the Internet boom. If we don’t create something now for the AI era, it will be too late for us to be entrepreneurs,” admitted Zhong who, with age, also started to recognize the vulnerability of life. “We see friends and relatives with cancers get diagnosed too late and end up  The more I see this happen, the more strongly I feel about getting involved in healthcare to give back to society.”

A three-tier playbook

12 Sigma and its peers may be powering ahead with their advanced imaging algorithms, but the real challenge is how to get China’s tangled mix of healthcare facilities to pay for novel technologies. Infervision, which TechCrunch wrote about earlier, stations programmers and sales teams at hospitals to mingle with doctors and learn their needs. 12 Sigma deploys the same on-the-ground strategy to crack the intricate network.

12 sigma

Zhong Xin, Co-founder and CEO of 12 Sigma / Photo source: 12 Sigma

“Social dynamics vary from region to region. We have to build trust with local doctors. That’s why we recruit sales persons locally. That’s the foundation. Then we begin by tackling the tertiary hospitals. If we manage to enter these hospitals,” said Zhong, referring to the top public hospitals in China’s three-tier medical system. “Those partnerships will boost our brand and give us greater bargaining power to go after the smaller ones.”

For that reason, the tertiary hospitals are crowded with earnest startups like 12 Sigma as well as tech giants like Tencent, which has a dedicated medical imaging unit called Miying. None of these providers is charging the top boys for using their image processors because “they could easily switch over to another brand,” suggested Gao.

Instead, 12 Sigma has its eyes on the second-tier hospitals. As of last April, China had about 30,000 hospitals, out of which 2,427 were rated tertiary, according to a survey done by the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The second tier, serving a wider base in medium-sized cities, had a network of 8,529 hospitals. 12 Sigma believes these facilities are where it could achieve most of its sales by selling device kits and charging maintenance fees in the future.

The bottom tier had 10,135 primary hospitals, which tend to concentrate in small towns and lack the financial capacity to pay the one-off device fees. As such, 12 Sigma plans to monetize these regions with a pay-per-use model.

So far, the medical imaging startup has about 200 hospitals across China testing its devices — for free. It’s sold only 10 machines, generating several millions of yuan in revenue, while very few of its rivals have achieved any sales at all according to Gao. At this stage, the key is to glean enough data so the startup’s algorithms get good enough to convince hospital administrators the machines are worth the investment. The company is targeting 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) in sales for 2019 and aims to break even by 2020.

China’s relatively lax data protection policy means entrepreneurs have easier access to patient scans compared to their peers in the west. Working with American hospitals has proven “very difficult” due to the country’s privacy protection policies, said Gao. They also come with a different motive. While China seeks help from AI to solve its doctor shortage, American hospitals place a larger focus on AI’s economic returns.

“The healthcare system in the U.S. is much more market-driven. Though doctors could be more conservative about applying AI than those in China, as soon as we prove that our devices can boost profitability, reduce misdiagnoses and lower insurance expenditures, health companies are keen to give it a try,” said Gao.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Qualcomm lays off 269 employees in North Carolina and California

Posted by on Dec 7, 2018 in Hardware, layoffs, Personnel, Qualcomm | 0 comments

Qualcomm’s struggling data center business was hit another massive blow as the company laid off hundreds. The news, first revealed by the Information, has since been confirmed by TechCrunch.

The chipmaker laid off 269 employees in all, including 144 in Raleigh, North Carolina, where its data center business is located, and an additional 125 in San Diego, the company’s hometown. This is the latest in a number of cost-cutting moves made by the company this year. In April, it slashed north of 1,500 jobs, primarily in California.

The news comes at the tail end of what ought to have been a celebratory week, as the chipmaker unveiled its 2019 roadmap — including the Snapdragon 855 — at an event in Maui.

These latest layoffs follow an announcement in June that the company intended to lay off 241 people in a data center business that has been struggling to compete with Intel. At the time, however, the company roundly denied that it was abandoning the category altogether — something the company has reiterated in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Qualcomm conducted a small reduction of our full-time and temporary workforce in certain areas of the company,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “While this activity impacts a very small percentage of our workforce, we know a workforce reduction of any size affects not only those employees who are part of the reduction, but their families, co-workers and the community. We recognize this and have offered affected employees supportive severance packages to reduce the impact of this transition on them.”

With a reported ~50 or so employees currently left in the Research Triangle location, however, Quacomm’s prospects appear to have dimmed considerably.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Qualcomm Ventures is dedicating $100M to AI investments

Posted by on Nov 28, 2018 in AnyVision, Artificial Intelligence, Bosch, facial recognition, fitbit, Qualcomm, Qualcomm Ventures, SenseTime, TC, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Qualcomm Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of the chipmaker, has plans to invest up to $100 million in artificial intelligence.

Specifically, Qualcomm says it will provide capital to startups building on-device AI, which is AI that runs on the end device, like a smartphone or vehicle, rather than in the cloud. The fund’s leader, Qualcomm investment director Albert Wang (pictured), says on-device AI is the future.

“Today’s AI processing is very computationally intensive,” Wang told TechCrunch. “When you’re talking to Alexa, nothing is processed on your device, it gets taken to the cloud and gets scrunched there. There are a few problems with that — performance deteriorates, it consumes a lot of bandwidth and there are privacy issues. Imagine you have an Alexa that is more private and user-friendly, you ask the questions and can get the answers instantly. It doesn’t take the round trip all the way to the cloud.”

Qualcomm has previously made AI investments out of its evergreen venture fund, including in SenseTime, a Chinese AI facial recognition company, and GM-acquired Cruise, which is building AI-enabled autonomous driving technology. The AI fund’s debut investment was in AnyVision, an AI startup based in Tel Aviv working on face, body and object recognition technology. Qualcomm participated in the company’s $28 million Series A funding round, which was led by Bosch in July.

The corporate VC typically hands out cash to 12 to 15 startups per year. As for the AI fund, it’s not sure just how many companies it will back, but says its investments will range between $5 million and $15 million per deal.

Qualcomm doesn’t typically set aside capital for specialized funds, opting instead to rally behind its evergreen flagship vehicle. The firm did, however, launch a digital healthcare fund, which deployed capital to Fitbit, among others, years ago. As for AI, Wang says they bring a pretty unique set of resources to the table.

“Qualcomm is very big on the mobile platform and it’s gaining ground in the IoT space, so there are a lot of tech partnerships we can provide, a lot of market insight we can provide from both the hardware and software perspective, and just given our exposure, in general, we have a pretty big portfolio of companies.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Fossil announces new update to Android Wear watches with HR tracking, GPS

Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in android, Apple Watch, computing, fossil, Gadgets, Google, gps, huawei watch, Qualcomm, smartwatches, TC, Technology, ubiquitous computing, watches, wear os, wearable devices, Wearables | 0 comments

Fossil’s Q watch line is an interesting foray by a traditional fashion watchmaker into the wearable world. Their latest additions to the line, the Fossil Q Venture HR and Fossil Q Explorist HR, add a great deal of Android Wear functionality to a watch that is reminiscent of Fossil’s earlier, simpler watches. In other words, these are some nice, low-cost smartwatches for the fitness fan.

The original Q watches included a clever hybrid model with analog face and step counter. As the company expanded into wearables, however, they went the Android Wear route and created a number of lower-powered touchscreen watches. Now, thanks to a new chipset, Fossil is able to add a great deal more functionality in a nice package. The Venture and the Explorist adds untethered GPS, NFC, heart rate and 24-hour battery life. It also includes an altimeter and gyroscope sensor.

The new watches start at $255 and run the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, an optimized chipset for fitness watches.

The watch comes in multiple styles and with multiple bands and features 36 faces, including health and fitness-focused faces for the physically ambitious. The watch also allows you to pay with Google Pay — Apple Pay isn’t supported — and you can store content on the watch for runs or walks. It also tracks swims and is waterproof. The Venture and Explorist are 40mm and 45mm, respectively, and the straps are interchangeable. While they’re no $10,000 Swiss masterpiece, these things look — and work — pretty good.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Qualcomm says it will drop its massive $44B offer to acquire NXP

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in Enterprise, nxp, Qualcomm | 0 comments

Qualcomm today said it wouldn’t extend its offer to buy NXP for $44 billion today as part of its release for its quarterly earnings, and instead be returning $30 billion to investors in the form of a share buy-back.

So, barring any last-second changes in the approval process in China or “other material developments”, the deal is basically dead after failing to clear China’s SAMR. As the tariff battle between the U.S. and China has heated up, it appears the Qualcomm/NXP deal — one of the largest in the semiconductor industry ever — may be one of its casualties. The White House announced it would impose tariffs on Chinese tech products in May earlier this year, kicking off an extended delay in the deal between Qualcomm and NXP even after Qualcomm tried to close the deal in an expedient fashion. Qualcomm issued the announcement this afternoon, and the company’s shares rose more than 5% when its earnings report came out.

“We reported results significantly above our prior expectations for our fiscal third quarter, driven by solid execution across the company, including very strong results in our licensing business,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a statement with the report. “We intend to terminate our purchase agreement to acquire NXP when the agreement expires at the end of the day today, pending any new material developments. In addition, as previously indicated, upon termination of the agreement, we intend to pursue a stock repurchase program of up to $30 billion to deliver significant value to our stockholders.”

Today’s termination also marks the end of another chapter for a tumultuous couple of months for Qualcomm. The White House blocked Broadcom’s massive takeover attempt of Qualcomm in March earlier this year, and there’s the still-looming specter of its patent spat with Apple. Now Qualcomm will instead be returning an enormous amount of capital to investors instead of tacking on NXP in the largest ever consolidation deal in the semiconductor industry.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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