United Microelectronics, the world’s no.3 contract chipmaker by market share, is hoping that it can offset headwinds in the quickly maturing smartphone market by tapping into the nascent field of artificial intelligence applications used in cars and consumer electronics.
“We don’t see that standardized chips such as core processors for mobile phones that are already shipping in large volumes will grow much, but we see substantial growth from various sensors, microcontrollers, or driver ICs [integrated circuit chips] collectively used to activate new AI features for electronic devices and vehicles,” said S.C. Chien, co-president of UMC in an exclusive interview with Nikkei Asian Review on Dec. 15.
Chien said that some areas that his company will venture into include bio-sensing, voice-activated speakers, advanced driver assistance system, or ADAS, and in-vehicle infotainment systems — a field known as edge AI.
While UMC sees itself as capable of developing edge AI, the company seems unable to afford to expand into cloud AI, which requires advanced data center servers offering massive computing power to handle complex tasks such as processing a large amount of photos and videos.
Panasonic is partnering with Taiwanese chip foundry United Microelectronics Corp. to develop and mass-produce a power-miserly version of a next-generation type of nonvolatile memory known as resistive random access memory, or ReRAM.
UMC’s bigger rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chipmaker, had an advantage in cloud AI. For all of 2017, TSMC spent $10.8 billion, and plans to spend more than $10 billion for the next few years.