Samsung’s new UWB chip designed for cars, phones

Exynos Connect U100 is built into products to connect them to objects or people in their environment and identify location and direction of movement.

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Global electronics company Samsung has launched an ultra-wideband (UWB) chip for use in smartphones and other devices to identify and locate people and objects near the device. The technology used in Internet of Things (IoT) applications is designed to interact with tags, badges, key fobs or other devices within 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) or less. The Exynos Connect brand combines Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and UWB, with the U100 being the first product in this family to include UWB.

The company says its chip can be embedded in IoT devices that include phones, tablets and cars, allowing them to transfer data at high speeds. The Exynos Connect U100 chip is designed to provide location accuracy of less than 5 degrees, so that a system using the chip can identify where a UWB-tagged item or person is located, and the direction they are moving and how to quickly and ultimately enable action based on that data.

The Exynos Connect U100 chip

Companies using the chips are likely to be car manufacturers or product and solution providers that make digital keys, location-tracking devices or devices used for mobile payments, and to enable the deployment of smart homes and smart factories, according to Sangdae Lee, the product manager of Samsung Electronics’ Mobile SOC Marketing Group. The company’s Exynos processor products are built for mobility, Samsung says, and can be used as a wearable or in-car device.

How the system works

If a device has an embedded U100 chip, it will transmit a UWB signal in the form of a 2-nanosecond pulse, which is then received by tags or devices that respond with their own unique ID number. The chip can communicate with any UWB-based product, and the solution uses time-of-flight (ToF) measurements between the two UWB devices. This ToF value is calculated by measuring the challenge and response times. UWB uses a channel bandwidth of 500 MHz and data collection is near real-time.

Sangdae Lee

Sangdae Lee

Once an item with the Samsung chip starts transmitting, it continues to look for a response from another UWB device. For example, if a person has a UWB chip embedded in their phone, it can interact with other objects, such as the phone user’s car locking system. The vehicle will only unlock if the phone is identified in a very precise location, for example within one meter of the car door.

The system can provide access control in an office or residential building, Samsung says. In such a scenario, users could opt for a system where their phones are recognized by the U100 chip embedded in the door to a secure area. If the unique ID number of a person who responded to the chip query was recognized as authorized, the door will open when that person is in close range of that door.

Another use case cited by Samsung is in home entertainment. In this case, the chip in the smart TV can interact with a home resident’s phone if it also has UWB functionality. If people are watching a video or program on their phone and if they come within range of the monitor, the chip will identify them, determine that they are approaching the TV, and then transfer that content to display on the TV and on their phones.

Consolidation of wireless technologies

The Exynos Connect product family is designed to leverage Samsung’s existing technologies, Lee says, by consolidating short-range wireless communication solutions “such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and UWB that are essential to creating an increasingly connected world .” He adds: “Our goal is to help people or devices always stay connected to the Internet or to each other. UWB, in particular, will be extremely useful in determining relative positions and measuring precise distances.”

The UWB-based product is still in the early stages of adoption, Lee reports, and is gradually making its way into mobile and automotive solutions. Many Samsung phones, for example, already come with built-in UWB functionality. “We are initially focusing on mobile phones,” he says, “as they represent one of the largest markets for UWB commercialization.” Additionally, the company is exploring the automotive market, which is seeing high demand from customers.

The chips come with flash memory and power management and are designed to be powered by a coin cell battery. However, Lee notes, the Exynos Connect U100 supports a wide input voltage range and multiple RF combinations, allowing customers to choose from different power sources at different price points. This power flexibility will allow the IC to be used for mobile, automotive or IoT solutions, he explains.

To ensure security, the chip’s coded timestamp function and encryption engine are designed to prevent hackers. With this security feature, Lee says, the Exynos Connect U100 can protect digital car keys from being hacked. This encryption, he adds, can help prevent what has become a common vehicle access security breach that was achieved in the past by hacking communications signals.

The chip has been certified by the FiRa Consortium, a standards organization that tests UWB devices for interoperability. Samsung is now in discussions with several customers in the mobile and automotive spaces, though it declined to provide details on potential deployments. “The flexibility of the RF signal paths,” Lee states, “makes the U100 particularly suitable for a number of applications.”

Key takeaways:

  • A new UWB processor from Samsung will enable precise location-based data transfer between mobile devices.
  • Companies that sell mobile devices, as well as car manufacturers, are among those planning to implement a system to identify where an individual or object is within less than 10 centimeters.

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