MKSemi launches integrated low power UWB SoC for precision sensing -

MKSemi launches integrated low power UWB SoC for precision sensing

Mauna Kea Semiconductors is aiming to make UWB ubiquitous for location sensing in IoT products, as it launches its first fully integrated SoC for this purpose, partners with Infienoen, and raises $12.8 million in funding.

Mauna Kea Semiconductors (MKSemi), a startup founded in 2019, has launched its first product, the MK8000, a new low power ultra-wideband (UWB) system-on-chip (SoC) enabling high-precision location sensing to be integrated in secure ranging and internet of things (IoT) applications. Along with the launch the company also announced a £12.8 million funding round and a partnership with Infineon Technologies and ThinkSeed Systems to help accelerate development of location solutions for IoT applications.

The new MK8000 chip, which integrates processor, radio and peripherals, allows customers to implement UWB ranging products with only a handful of external components, ensuring small footprint and low power consumption. The company said its solution empowers IoT devices with the “smallest batteries and size for high-precision sensing”, and enables OEMs and ODMs to rapidly design, integrate and deploy complete location and direction-finding solutions.

MKSemi MK8000 block diagram
The MK8000 block diagram. (Source: MKSemi)

MKSemi’s co-founder and CEO, Yifeng Zhang, who holds 15 patents in IC design and UWB technology, told, “We see demand for high precision location sensing technology, and with our background in low lower IoT, we looked at UWB. What we have developed is a self-contained chip for location applications, with software and protocol stacks also integrated.”

The entire management team has a track record in wireless technology. Zhang co-founded Quintic which sold its BLE and wearable business to NXP Semiconductors in 2015. The chief architect of MKSemi, Vasanth Gaddam, was director of system design at NXP and ams, and the main contributor of the earlier MBOA-UWB specification when UWB was previously being looked at for rapid HD content transmission; and Xuechu Liu, the VP of engineering, was a principal architect at NXP with experience in mixed signal design and Bluetooth, NFC, wireless charging, and power management.

The company’s chief marketing officer, Thomas Chen, who also has product marketing background from Atheros, Qualcomm, Mediatek, NXP and Ambiq Micro, told us, “What we have is a true single-chip SoC [for location sensing with UWB]. The big thing we bring to the table is our ability to integrate – which in this case is the processor, full radio integration, security and peripherals. And we cover 3 GHz to 9 GHz, not just 6-8 GHz. And our power consumption is just 40mA at 3V RX peak power, compared to 75mA from the nearest competitor. We also do ranging and AoA [angle of arrival].”

MKSemi MK8000 competitive analysis
MK8000 versus competitors – MKSemi said its SoC is fully integrated, covers the 3-9GHz frequency band, and features lower power consumption than other available devices. (Source: MKSemi)

The company said its low power UWB technology significantly extends the battery life of electronics and enables even the smallest wireless devices to have high precision ranging and location capability.

Key features the company highlighted for its MK8000 include:

  • Ultra-low power consumption: at 43mA@3V/RX the SoC is 2X better in power consumption than others on the market.
  • Wide frequency band: supports widest UWB band 1 and 2 (3.1 GHz to approximately 9 GHz), enabling global UWB operation with backward compatibility capability.
  • High level of integration: chip’s high level of integration with integrated TRX switch and matching network, Arm Cortex M0 MCU with multiple RF channel 4 RX and 1 TX for full ranging and AoA measurement lowers BOM cost and helps speed up deployment.

Chen added, “We are the only solution that can drive battery size requirements down [for location sensing applications]. We are ready to sample with lead customers and expect wider distribution later in Q1 2022.” He said the key target applications will be smartphones and tag and track devices, as well as automotive.

This is where it will utilize the partnership with Infineon Technologies and ThinkSeed Systems brings – by joining forces, the three companies expect to help accelerate development of secure ranging and locations solutions for IoT applications. MKSemi and Infineon Technologies will jointly develop a system design that incorporate the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) MCU from Infineon Technologies with the MK8000 SoC. ThinkSeed Systems will take the combined design to add application software and qualify it for industrial and automotive markets. Since Bluetooth LE and UWB coexist and complement each other, using the two technologies creates an enhanced solution for spatial awareness.

“MKSemi chose to pair their low power UWB SoC with Infineon Technologies’ best-in-class PSoC 63 Bluetooth® LE MCU,” said Ali Bukhari, director, product marketing – BTBLE IoT computer & wireless division, Infineon Technologies. “Together with MKSemi we are creating an ideal solution for various location-based use cases including asset tracking, passive keyless entry (digital key), warehouse management, and location tags.”

Funding to push mass production

Along with the product launch, MKSemi announced the closing of a $12.8 million funding round led by Lightspeed China Partners with participation by investors Qiming Venture and Ivy Capital, bringing its total funding to date to $21 million.

Zhang said the company is already working closely with tier one smartphone OEMs, with the MK8000 having potential to “dramatically bolster consumer and industrial IoT applications such as smart homes, cities, automobiles, wearables, and health monitoring devices.” He added, “The funding will help bring our product to mass production, enable greater customer engagement, and we plan to double our headcount by Q3.” The company currently employs 35 people across its Silicon Valley, Beijing and Shenzhen offices.

Market research firm ABI Researchsaid that despite UWB being early in its ecosystem development, it is fast becoming a major short-range wireless technology. UWB-enabled devices are forecasted to reach more than 1.3 billion shipments by 2026, growing from 143 million in 2020.

James Mi, founding partner, Lightspeed China Partners, commented, “Every once in a while, we see all the necessary ingredients that present itself in one promising startup – industry pioneers evident in the founders’ experience, breakthrough product and tremendous potential with a growing market. MKSemi is one such company that we are proud to support. The company has a chance to impact industries and accelerate UWB market adoption, and we’re excited to help them scale globally.” Mi himself holds 14 U.S. patents in flash memory, communications, internet security and commerce, and also co-invented MLC NOR Flash technology, which developed into Intel’s StrataFlash business.

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