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Driving GaN Into The Fast Lane


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Ask EPC’s chief executive, Alex Lidow, what the future holds for his GaN power device business, and automotive certification features prominently.

Recently delivering AEC Q101-qualified 80 V discrete transistors for LiDAR, 48V power distribution systems and other applications, the company’s latest enhancement-mode FETs deliver higher switching frequencies and efficiencies than silicon MOSFETs, in a smaller footprint. And this is just the beginning.

“We have more transistors as well as integrated circuits designed for LiDAR [sensors] and are proceeding with automotive certification here,” highlights Lidow. “LiDAR is under intense cost and performance pressure so integrating components and improving performance while lowering the cost is a big deal.”

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Alex Lidow, Founder and CEO, EPC



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eGaN® Technology is Coming to Cars


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Alex Lidow, CEO and Co-founder of Efficient Power Conversion (EPC)

Automotive technology has entered a renaissance with the emergence of autonomous cars and electric propulsion as the driving forces.  IHS Markit estimates that 12 million cars will be autonomous by 2035 and 32 million cars will have electric propulsion according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Marklines.  Both trends translate into a large growth in demand for power semiconductors.  This is also happening at a time when silicon is reaching its performance limits in the world of power conversion, thus opening a huge new market for power devices based on gallium nitride grown on a silicon substrate (GaN-on-Si).


Why GaN for cars?

Over the past eight years during which GaN power devices have been in mass production, several large applications where GaN has significant advantages over the aging silicon MOSFET have emerged − LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), radar, 48 V – 12 V DC-DC conversion, high-intensity headlamps, and on-board electric vehicle charging.

One of the first applications anywhere for GaN transistors and ICs was LiDAR, prompted by the creative thinking of Dave Hall at Velodyne.  The idea was to trigger laser pulses so fast that the time of the flight of light of the emitted photons could be accurately measured, making it possible to rapidly measure distance within a few centimeters at distances of a few hundred meters.  Using a spinning disk with several solid-state lasers stacked parallel to the axis of rotation, Velodyne was able to create a fast and accurate digital point cloud, such as that shown in figure 1. Much to everyone’s amazement, this sensing technology, combined with cameras and radar sensors, was used by many to create prototype autonomous vehicles.

eGaN for Cars

Figure 1: LiDAR sensors using GaN FETs create a fast and accurate digital point cloud that is used by autonomous cars to identify surrounding structures and obstacles.


eGaN® FETs from EPC were the logical choice to use for firing the laser because the FETs could be triggered to create high-current pulses with extremely short pulse widths (See figure 2).  The short pulse width leads to higher resolution, and the higher pulse current allows the LiDAR system to see further.  These two characteristics, along with their extremely small size, make eGaN FETs ideal for radar and ultrasonic sensors in addition to LiDAR.


eGaN for Cars

Figure 2: An EPC2202 AEC-Q101 qualified FET is used to generate a 1.8 nano-second pulse (yellow trace) at a peak current of 26 A. The optical receiver pulse signal is shown as the blue trace.


LiDAR was just the start of a trend.  Along with the array of sensors used to provide input for navigating and controlling the vehicle, a new market developed for high performance graphic processors to integrate these sensor inputs, digest their meaning, and decide what commands to send to the self-driving actuators.  Fast processing speed being a key attribute, companies such as Mobileye (now part of Intel) and NVIDIA have introduced ultra-fast multicore processors.  These processors can gather, interpret, integrate, and make sense of all the inputs from multiple radar, LiDAR, camera, and ultrasonic sensors quickly enough to safely navigate our roads and highways.

Need for 48 V – 12 V Power Distribution Systems 

A cost of these high-performance processors is that they are very power hungry and put an additional burden on traditional automotive 12 V electrical distribution buses.  The solution to providing the high-power levels to these processors needed for automotive LiDAR systems turns out to be the same solution being applied to operate high performance gaming systems, high performance servers, artificial intelligence systems, and even cryptocurrency mining – implementation of a 48 V distribution bus, where current levels and wire sizes can be reduced by a factor of four.  Also, 48 V is the highest practical voltage for these applications because, given overshoot and various fault conditions, the voltage on the bus will stay below 60 V, avoiding the need for additional (and costly) safety measures.

The advantages of 48 V become even more evident when all the new power hungry electronically-driven functions and features appearing on the latest cars are considered.  For example:

  • Electric start-stop
  • Electric steering
  • Electric suspension
  • Electric turbo-supercharging
  • Variable speed air conditioning

These new functions and features are opening a large new market for 48 V – 12 V DC-DC converters.  Power can be generated at 48 V and converted to 12 V to run legacy systems and battery packs.

Superior Performance of GaN FETs and ICs

GaN FETs and ICs are the most efficient way to get from 48 V to 12 V as shown in figure 3.  GaN devices are many times smaller than a silicon power MOSFET, and many times faster [1] which leads to higher efficiency as well as smaller, lower cost peripheral components.  eGaN FETs from EPC are also on par with silicon when it comes to volume pricing [2].  Now the technology is taking the next step to wide-spread adoption by the automotive world by passing AEC-Q101 qualification testing.

Figure 3: The EPC9130 is a 700 W 48 V – 12 V DC-DC converter based on EPC2045 eGaN FETs. It has higher power density and higher efficiency than the best silicon-based converters. The eGaN FET-based converter also has the lowest cost bill of materials.

eGaN technology has been in mass production for over eight years, accumulating billions of hours of successful field experience in automotive applications.

AEC-Q101 Qualified eGaN FETs

EPC is offering its first two products that have completed AEC-Q101 qualification testing.  The products, EPC2202 (figure 4) and EPC2203 (figure 5), are discrete transistors in wafer level chip-scale packaging (WLCS) with 80 VDS ratings. These first AEC-Q101 qualified products will soon be followed with several more discrete transistors and integrated circuits designed for the harsh automotive environment.

Figure 4: The 80 V EPC2202 device passed AEC-Q101 testing. It measures 2.1 x 1.6 mm and has a pulsed current rating of 75 A.










Figure 5: The 80 V EPC2203 device passed AEC-Q101 testing. It measures 0.9 x 0.9 mm and has a pulsed current rating of 18 A.









The EPC2202 is an 80 V, 16 mΩ enhancement mode FET with a pulsed current rating of 75 A in a 2.1mm x 1.6mm chip-scale package. The EPC2203 is an 80 V, 73 mΩ part with a pulsed current rating of 18 A in a 0.9mm x 0.9mm chip-scale package. These eGaN FETs are many times smaller and achieve switching speeds 10 – 100 times faster than their silicon MOSFET counterparts.  Both products are designed for a wide range of emerging automotive applications including:

  • LiDAR
  • 48 V – 12 V DC-DC Converters
  • High Intensity Headlights
  • Ultra-high Fidelity Infotainment Systems

To complete AEC-Q101 testing, these eGaN FETs had to undergo rigorous environmental and bias-stress testing including humidity testing with bias (H3TRB), high temperature reverse bias (HTRB), high temperature gate bias (HTGB), temperature cycling (TC), as well as several other tests.  Of note is the fact that these wafer level chip-scale (WLCS) devices passed all the same testing standards created for conventional packaged parts, demonstrating that the superior performance of chip-scale packaging does not mean a compromise to ruggedness or reliability. These parts are produced in facilities certified to the Automotive Quality Management System Standard IATF 16949.

Conclusion: eGaN® Technology is Coming to Cars

Automotive electronics can now take full advantage of the improved efficiency, speed, smaller size, and lower cost of eGaN devices with the completion of the AEC-Q101 qualification testing of the EPC2202 and EPC2203.  Throughout 2018 there will be several additional 80 V parts undergoing certification, expanding the range of performance to higher currents.


[1] A. Lidow, J. Strydom, M. de Rooij, D. Reusch, GaN Transistors for Efficient Power Conversion, Second Edition, Wiley, 2014.

[2] R. Cortland, “Gallium Nitride Power Transistors Priced Cheaper Than Silicon,” IEEE Spectrum, 8 May 2015




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Apple and Self-Driving Cars


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Three autonomous vehicle business models have emerged; Tesla wants to sell more cars, Uber wants to eliminate costly drivers, and Waymo wants to own the data. Apple will need to decide if they are going to follow one of these models or forge a unique path. In my opinion, Waymo is on the winning path.



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My Predictions for 2017


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In January of 2016 I made several predictions for the then-nascent year.  Predictions were made for new markets such as wireless charging, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and advances in medical diagnostics and internet access.  Progress in these markets was made on all fronts, sometimes faster and sometimes slower than anticipated.  So here we are about to start a new year and, perhaps foolishly I am ready once again to predict the future.


Wireless Power Will Become Mainstream:  Full disclosure:  I have made this exact same prediction for the last three years!  Wireless power will continue to gain traction with increased consumer demand charged by new products and applications. We have already seen companies such as Hewlett Packard, Dell, jjPlus, and Witricity introduce, or announce their intention to introduce products based on Airfuel standards. Qi deployments continue at a rapid pace.  Both standards can be bridged with multi-mode transmitters that work with anything.  Qualcomm has included the Airfuel format into their Snapdragon chipsets thus reducing the cost to enable hundreds of millions of cell phones, tablets, and Chromebooks.  Automotive companies such as Toyota and GM have introduced wireless charging in the center console of passenger vehicles.  Wireless charging of electric vehicles has been standardized and deployed.  Furniture makers such as IKEA are embedding wireless chargers into desks, end tables, lamps, and chair armrests.  Holding back the rate of deployment is the convenience factor.  Convenience is still the major concern with consumers’ complaints about Qi slow rate of charging, and the required precision alignment between sending and receiving units causing disappointment.  Airfuel standards promise to remedy these issues, and enable one large surface such as a desktop to be used to change multiple devices simultaneously, but deployment has lagged due to the small number of Airfuel compatible products available.  As far as the consumer is concerned, everyone hates power cords and therefore wireless power can’t come soon enough!  So, once again, I predict that 2017 will be the year that wireless power “arrives.”

2016 predictions_1

Wireless power enables the remote powering and charging of the myriad of battery-powered devices that have infiltrated our daily lives.

Key Takeaway: Wireless charging will be a reality in 2017 led by systems deployed on cars, furniture, and for phones, tablets, and small notebooks.






Augmented Reality Moved to Center Stage:  As virtual reality climbs into the consumer living room through video games, sports broadcasts, and other creative content, augmented reality (AR) has moved even faster than expected into our consciousness, if not yet the living room.  Pokémon GO was a viral AR hit that gave the consumer a taste of the possibilities derived from mixing our real-life surroundings with a virtual world.  The astronauts used Microsoft HoloLens at the International Space Station.  Magic Leap raised over $1B in venture capital and has teased us with their extraordinary AR demonstrations.  Augmented reality will increasingly be used for such purposes as 3D product design, remote surgery, and education training (to name a few). While virtual reality is primarily confined to entertainment, the use cases for augmented reality are seemingly limitless. The affordability of augmented reality products will become its own reality in 2017.


LiDAR enables applications such as real-time motion detection for video gaming, computers that respond to hand gestures, and fully autonomous vehicles.

Key Takeaway: Augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles will garner increasing attention throughout 2017 with real products gaining traction later in the decade. LiDAR has emerged as a key enabling technology.








Autonomous Cars Will Advance – But Keep Both Hands On The Wheel For Now:  This was the same headline we used a year ago for our 2016 predictions.  I think we get extra points for calling this one correctly! While the technology to enable autonomous vehicles has advanced at an extraordinary pace, we are still a few years away from the proliferation of consumer driven autonomous vehicles as we work out the technology and the regulatory issues. We have seen “beta-testing” of autonomous cars in Singapore and Pittsburg. Google continues to rack up millions of miles with an enviable safety record.  Ford, Volkswagen Group, Nissan, Baidu, BMW, Hyundai, Toyota, Renault, Volvo, GM, and Mercedes all have on-going road tests with their own autonomous creations. We also saw beta testing of an autopilot on Tesla vehicles.  This latter deployment has caused controversy due to the death of at least one driver using the autopilot in May 2016.  The balance between risk and reward has yet to be found, and Tesla has both updated their systems, and restricted functionality while more experience is gained under controlled conditions.  In the meantime, we will see more and more autonomy of vehicles under specific driving circumstances such as parking, freeway driving, and low speed stop-and-go.  One star has emerged from all the deployments and beta testing; LiDAR (Light Distancing and Ranging).  This method of creating accurate and rapid digital 3D images is used by all the key automotive companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles except for Tesla.  Tesla’s unique combination of radar and cameras is the outlier and was called out as a key reason for the May 2016 fatality.

LiDAR is also appearing in various unmanned aerial vehicles for survey and navigation applications.  LiDAR is beginning to show up in augmented reality systems to rapidly and cheaply generate an accurate image of “reality”.

In future years, autonomous vehicles may need vehicle-to-vehicle communications and will allow passengers to spend more time on their smartphones for both communications and entertainment.  This, in turn, will drive demand for greater wireless bandwidth, 5G implementation, and wireless charging in our cars to prevent smartphones from running out of battery power.

2016 predictions_3

LiDAR (Light Distancing and Ranging) uses pulsed lasers to rapidly create a three dimensional image or map of a surrounding area.


Internet Enablement In Underdeveloped Nations Will Grow at a Greater Clip:  While most people on the planet are still without Internet access, coverage via wireless technologies will continue to accelerate.  Balloons (such as Google Loon), satellites (such as the Google-SpaceX venture), and high altitude drones (Facebook) are the most likely solutions to serve much of the underdeveloped world in the coming years and decades.  Facebook has flown their drone, Google is flying their balloons, satellites are under development at SpaceX in conjunction with Google.  In addition, communications companies such as AT&T have announced their deployment of drones equipped with 4G mini base stations. These drones will deliver expanded bandwidth to concerts and sporting events where local cell stations might become temporarily overloaded.  This is a stepping stone to the deployment of such systems to areas of our planet where there are high population densities but low internet access.

2016 predictions_4

Companies such as ViaSat and Boeing are teaming up to create and produce satellites that will deliver high-speed internet to remote areas around the world.

Key Takeaway: Internet access to the 4 billion people currently without will be looking for an airborne solution. Drones? Balloons? Satellites?






Improved Medical Diagnostics Will Gain More Attention:  New, early detection techniques such as nano-RNA and micro imagining will make significant inroads towards early detection of certain types of cancers. For example, XRAY-in-a-pill colonoscopies will gain European approval in 2017 and will eliminate the key barriers to early detection of Colon Cancer. US approval is now expected in 2018 and GE Healthcare has been selected to produce the product.

colonoscopy pill

Check-Cap’s ingestible pill will change colon cancer screening


Servers will be limited by their power density: In the past few years the use of servers has shifted towards cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and deep learning.  All three of these trends have caused a rapid growth in the inter-server communications requirement.  Decisions and computations need to be made inside the server farm faster and faster to keep up with the growing use of massive parallel computation crunching big data to come up with the best recommendations for medical treatments, advertising campaigns, autonomous vehicle control algorithms, and personal digital assistants.  A new limitation just now surfacing is the density of the server itself.  We need to pack servers closer together, and have the functional elements inside each server packed more tightly to speed up our computation and communication.  Getting the heat out of the server is preventing improved performance.  Making the servers more energy efficient has now moved up from a cost-savings on the electric bill to a bottleneck to performance.  OpenRack and OpenCompute projects have all tried to address this key limitation by increasing the distribution voltage inside the server itself.  This, plus transitioning to new materials such as gallium nitride in the power conversion systems can reduce overall power consumption by 20% and increase server densities by 30-40%.


Data centers consume vast amounts of electrical energy. Operating power for these centers runs from megawatts to tens of megawatts.

Key Takeaway: Server performance requirements are being driven by increased use of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and deep learning. A new bottleneck has emerged – power density.









Moore’s law refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention.

Moore’s Law Continues its Decline: This is consistent with our prediction from last year.  Moore’s Law – the technology pact conceived by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore some 51 years ago – continues its decline. Even Intel has backed away from this promise.  In 2016 technology companies, facing slow growth in end markets and increasing technology development costs engaged in an unprecedented number of mergers and acquisitions. In 2017 the consolidation will continue with semiconductor executives seeking growth or golden exits through acquisition.  These activities will reduce the motivation for innovation.


Key Takeaway: Moore’s Law’s decline has catalyzed massive mergers and acquisitions in the semiconductor space. Innovation has slowed to a crawl with only a few players with the resources needed to advance the technology.








GaN Will Continue To Power Advancement:  The ability to fuel technology advancement, including the applications above, will require significantly increased speed, voltage, bandwidth and efficiency, not to mention meaningful miniaturization. As silicon reaches its performance limitations, other new entrants are delivering significantly greater performance with rapidly decreasing costs and hundreds of new applications in mainstream markets. Independent GaN companies will set the pace while established power silicon producers will downplay the significance of the technology.

Alex co-authored the first textbook on GaN transistors, “GaN Transistors for Efficient Power Conversion”, now in its second edition published by John Wiley and Sons.

Key Takeaway: Gallium nitride is picking up the baton and enabling vast new markets for semiconductors while changing the way we live.

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GaN Technology for the Connected Car


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GaN for the connected car

GaN technology is disruptive, in the best sense of the word, making possible what was once thought to be impossible – eGaN® technology is 10 times faster, significantly smaller, and with higher performance at costs comparable to silicon-based MOSFETs. The inevitability of GaN displacing the aging power MOSFET is becoming clearer with domination of most existing applications and enabling new ones.

This posting highlights the contribution GaN technology is making to several automobile applications – the increasingly complex infotainment system, all important safety systems, and the emergence of electrically powered vehicles.

Automotive Applications: Introduction and Overview

The automotive industry understands the trend to have the interior of the car a “living space,” and has begun to show its vision of the future for the fully mobile lifestyle. The dashboard is being taken over by the smartphone, while sensors and computers are being added to increase its safety. Moving toward a longer-term goal, our vehicles are on a path to become fully electric, reducing our use of fossil fuel needed to power them.

There are a few things in common with these trends. They all involve batteries, a greater reliance on sensors, and they all rely on wireless communications. As a result, there is growing pressure for faster sensors, more wireless bandwidth, and anything that will help us “un-tether” from the relentless recharging of our phones and other electronic devices, including one day, our cars.

Let’s take a closer look.

Infotainment: Smartphone and Wireless Power Throughout the Cabin

Mobility has become a major theme for the consumer. Smart phones allow us to take our music, games, movies, television shows, contacts, and “the internet” with us at all times…even in our automobiles! Applications such as Google Maps give us directions, tell us about traffic conditions, and provide us with street and satellite images of our destination. We want our vehicle to be completely in synch with our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.

A rapidly emerging technology to enable the batteries in our electronic devices keep up with the demands added by the vehicle’s infotainment system is wireless power transfer. The latest techniques enable wireless charging of multiple objects without contact with the power transmission unit (PTU) with efficiencies similar to wired chargers.

Wireless phone charging in a car is becoming more critical as the smartphone itself is becoming the information receiver and router for the dashboard infotainment center. Several automotive manufacturers are adopting operating system standards that enable seamless Android or iOS interfaces to dashboards that become “slaves” to the information and entertainment available in the drivers and other occupants’ smartphones.

wireless phone charging in a car

The AirFuel Alliance wireless power transmission standard developed by a consortium of electronics industry leaders such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Intel, and EPC is undergoing rapid adoption in mobile phone and tablet charging applications. To Implement this standard, several automotive manufacturers are developing embedded wireless charging stations in the center console of the vehicle so smartphones, as well as other mobile devices, can remain charged while the automobile is in operation, despite intense and continuous usage.

Given that the AirFuel Alliance standard uses a 6.78 MHz standard frequency for power transmission, a stretch for the aging silicon power devices, GaN technology is the heavy favorite for adoption over the slower and less efficient silicon power MOSFET in both mobile and automotive applications.

Beyond using wireless power transfer technology to charge devices, some visionary designers in the automotive industry are exploring ways to use this technology to reduce or eliminate the wiring harnesses throughout the car thus reducing cost, weight, and fire hazards.

In addition to wireless charging becoming commonplace within the car’s cabin, it is becoming available to charge fully electric cars or plug-in hybrids. With a “charging mat” as the power transmitter, you will merely have to place the mat on the floor of your garage, park the car over the mat and off you go – no need to “connect the car to an outlet.”

Safety: Sensing and Autonomous Control

To ensure safety and prevent collisions, it is critical that a vehicle be aware of its surroundings at all times. The higher the speed of the vehicle, the more rapidly the “situational awareness” system needs to sense, and the more precisely it needs to interpret the distance to the potential hazard.

Today automotive manufacturers use a variety of sensors in these safety-related functions, including ultrasonic sensing, microwave radar short-range radar, and video pattern recognition. Light Distancing and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors have recently begun to emerge in automotive sensing applications.

LiDAR how it works

Although we anticipate broad adoption in automotive, initially LiDAR sensors were used to generate three-dimensional digital topographical maps used for landscape mapping and navigation software by companies such as Google and Nokia NAVTEQ-Bing. Because LiDAR chases the speed of light for improving resolution, eGaN® power transistors, with about a 10 times advantage in switching speed over silicon MOSFETs have been used almost exclusively in these mobile applications.

The imaging speed and depth resolution has become so good using eGaN® FETs that manufacturers experimenting with autonomous vehicles are using similar LiDAR sensors for driverless navigation systems. In addition, several automakers are incorporating eGaN® FET-based LiDAR sensors in their vehicles for general collision avoidance and blind spot detection. LiDAR has a very exciting future, since it is the detection and guidance system being used for “driverless cars.”



Electric Drive: Automotive Freedom From Fossil Fuels

The inevitable evolution – from an internal combustion engine, to hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and, finally, to fully electrically powered cars – is potentially a very large market for GaN technology. The demand for electrical power grows in proportion to the amount of propulsion handled by the electric motor; for example, the Tesla S delivers 416 hp, or 310 kW of electrical power to the rear wheels. Delivering more power to propel a vehicle requires higher voltages in order to keep the current levels flowing through the motor windings with minimum conduction losses. Today the dominant transistor in electric or hybrid vehicle propulsion systems is the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) in voltages ranging from 500 V to 1200 V.

However, wide bandgap (WBG) transistors made using either silicon carbide (SiC) or GaN technology hold great promise for this high power application, since they have higher efficiency at lower switching frequencies and possess the ability to operate at much higher temperatures.

The requirements for electric motor drives sit at the interface between GaN, SiC and IGBT technologies. Ultimately, the cost and reliability of the electric drive system will determine the winner for this application, but for now, it is too soon to call.

Summary: GaN Technology for the Connected Car

GaN technology is on the move in the automotive industry!

In 2013 there were 65 million cars manufactured worldwide. This presents a huge potential market for any technology that can improve the customers’ automotive experience. Infotainment mobility through wireless charging and autonomous vehicles, enabled by LiDAR sensors, are two areas that will emerge within the automotive world over the next few years. Both of these applications rely on the higher speed and low cost of GaN transistors.

In the future, as electric vehicles gain acceptance and become more ubiquitous, motor controls for the powertrain has the potential to become an enormous market for GaN transistors. The issue among the competing technologies – GaN, SiC and IGBT – will be the cost.

The automotive industry is undergoing a technological disruption and is taking advantage of high performance gallium nitride technology. GaN devices are appearing in an ever-increasing number of systems, with the future looking even more promising, as discussed above several areas are clearly emerging:

  • Infotainment – where electronic devices such as phones and GPS systems can be powered wirelessly
  • Safety – LiDAR sensing and autonomous control of the vehicle is leading to safer driving with more precise avoidance control systems
  • Electric Drive – electric vehicle propulsion putting us on the path to “freedom from fossil fuels”
  • Autonomous Vehicles – LiDAR sensing and electronic control systems are available and being tested throughout the world

Gallium nitride is displacing silicon as the fundamental material used for power conversion with the promise to displace silicon not just in power transistors, but in analog and digital integrated circuits as well. EPC is pursuing this $350B combined power transistor, analog and digital IC semiconductor market, and the reason is simple – GaN technology is faster, smaller, and now, price competitive with MOSFETs.

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