Dr. Ron Black
CEO, Imagination Technologies
You’ve been with Imagination for just over three months, what is your vision for Imagination going forward?
Imagination is an iconic company that led the way in low-power, high-performance graphics and parlayed a great customer experience in that area into a broader IP supplier relationship across connectivity and now neural network acceleration too.
I must admit that the ups and downs in our customer’s strategies did distract us a bit, but I am happy to report that we are not only back on track, but things are exceeding my expectations. This is a company that truly excels at innovation at all levels. Our investors are super committed, and since going private we have invested heavily and have launched a great range of new products – PowerVR Series9 GPUs, automotive specific GPUs, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) connectivity, and also neural network accelerators (NNAs) for artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) applications. Feedback from customers has been exceptional, which is the leading indicator we are focused on.
And this year our new products will be even more exceptional. ‘Just what the customer ordered’, you might say. We’re also seeing some significant new shipments – for example, the first devices with our NNA cores are now in silicon with extraordinary performance results.
On top of that, this is a great time to be an IP business. China’s strategy to develop strong local technology companies means there’s a growing market there for IP. Every handset vendor wants better graphics. AI/ML is everyplace, and we have the relevant technology. And the automotive market with its long development and sales cycles is more committed than every to GPUs.
Any new products you can tell us about?
In October, we launched our Global Navigation Satellite System IP. It enables the creation of low-cost location devices that don’t require the batteries to be changed for years and so for the IoT, it’s a real game changer.
Then, in November, we revealed PowerVR Automotive, a complete product package comprising of five essential elements – hardware IP, software, tools, documentation and long-term support to enable customers to meet automotive safety standards and performance requirements.
In December, we launched PowerVR Series3NX, our latest NNA, and PowerVR Series9 GPUs. Series3NX is enabling SoC manufacturers to optimize compute power and performance in ‘edge’ devices. The Series9 GPU family has everything from entry-level to high-end – a customer can develop one software stack for their full range. It’s also got a ground-breaking visually lossless compression with a guaranteed 50% compression ratio.
Even better yet, we’ll be making some significant product announcements raising the bar even higher towards the end of the year, so stay tuned!
What markets is Imagination focusing on?
We have a great range of GPU and NNA technology for mobile and that remains our largest market. But automotive is also very important for us and we have put a huge amount of effort into creating technologies that enable our customers to deliver safety-certified products. That’s a complex task with a lot of risk so we really stand out there, as evidenced by the strength of our customers and the automotive brands that use our technology. Our connectivity technology hits the largest range of markets from industrial to automotive to drone, TV and computing.
Autonomous vehicles seem to be dominating the headlines. Are you seeing an increase in interest/activity?
The demand for IP and chips is growing significantly in automotive. We have a 15-year history in this market but have never been busier. The evolution of the market means that functional safety, or FuSa, is crucial and our ability to enable that is opening new doors both with existing customers and with new ones – so far this year we’ve seen great business in Europe, South Korea, Japan and China both with new sign-ups and with product shipping.
What’s happening with ray tracing?
We have had world-class ray tracing technology for years but were in the market too soon. The problem was developing an ecosystem – no one wanted to invest in hardware without a software ecosystem and no one wanted to create software with no target hardware platforms. But the rest of the market seems to be catching up with our thinking and maybe the time is now right for ray tracing in consumer platforms, for gaming, for AR/VR and even for automotive. There’s a resurgence of interest, and of course we have world-class design IP backed up by key patents that several years ago was able to deliver performance matching today’s new entrants.
What do you think are the big challenges and opportunities for the IP industry in 2019?
The key challenge remains innovation, just as it has been for the past 25 years. We’ve introduced new IP ranges, like NNA, which complement our GPU and connectivity offering. And we are generating a lot of new IP – we were recently named the EU’s tenth most activity patent filling company ahead of other UK companies like Dyson and Arm.
We see many opportunities – there’s a real strategic need for IP in China; there are new market opportunities in automotive and smart vision, and of course mobile, which is still an innovative category.
One thing I am passionate about at Imagination is a focus on closer customer collaboration and exploring new, innovative business models. Watch this space and let us show you how we can create inimitable value for customers, and in doing so create substantive value for our investors.
A Short Bio of Dr. Ron Black
Dr. Black was appointed CEO of Imagination in December 2018. He is a veteran figure in the semiconductor and technology industry with over 25 years of experience, most recently as CEO of Rambus, and previously as CEO of UPEK and Wavecom. He has held leadership roles with Agere Systems, Gemplus, IBM, and Motorola, led companies both in the USA and Europe, and created partnerships and joint ventures in China.
Dr. Black holds a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Science and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Cornell University.