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Startup Orca Semiconductor Exits Stealth Sampling Its First PMIC

The new startup is tackling the inefficiencies of “big analog” with its application-specific approach.

In recent years, the semiconductor industry has undergone a noted trend of consolidation. While new startups pop up often, their most common exit strategy is a merger and acquisition with a larger player, resulting in big players gaining an increasing share of the marketplace. This consolidation can sometimes hinder innovation and reduce the availability of customized solutions for niche markets.

To tackle these challenges, Orca Semiconductor emerged from stealth mode today to serve small customers who need specialized hardware solutions that larger companies may overlook.

All About Circuits interviewed Andrew Baker, CEO of Orca Semiconductor, to learn firsthand about the company, its mission, and the new OS1000 PMIC.

The OS1000

The OS1000 from Orca Semiconductor is an advanced power management integrated circuit (PMIC) specifically designed for wearable applications requiring an efficient, low-quiescent current operation.

“We’re calling it the most advanced in its class,” Baker said. “I would consider the feature set and the performance levels to be at the high end. It has most of the things that you would expect to cover in a system like this: battery management, power management, and system-level control functions.”

The chip features a comprehensive set of power management components, including a linear lithium-ion (Li+) battery charger, two low-quiescent buck regulators, and two low-quiescent low dropout (LDO) linear regulators.

The linear battery charger supports power path management, JEITA thermal safety monitoring, step charge profiles, and multiple safety timers. It can also provide a charger input to system nodes up to 1 A. The two buck converters offer 300-mA output current capability with dynamic voltage scaling (DVS), adjustable through either I2C communication or dedicated GPIO pins. They operate with less than 500-nA quiescent current. To boost efficiency, these converters can also recycle energy from output to input during voltage transitions.

Meanwhile, the two LDOs/load switches can operate either as LDOs or load switches with a quiescent current of less than 1 uA. In LDO mode, they support an input range of 1.71 V to 5.5 V. Output voltages are adjustable from 0.5 V to 3.3 V, also in 5 mV steps up to 1.2 V and 13 mV steps up to 3.3 V. They provide 100 mA of output current capability. In load switch mode, they handle an input range of 0 V to 5.5 V with a low on-resistance of 0.25 Ω.

Beyond these blocks, the OS1000 boasts several unique features tailored for wearable and IoT applications. A “shelf mode” reduces battery current draw to below 100 nA, preserving battery life during periods of inactivity. The device also includes an 8-bit ADC to read battery thermistor values directly. Additionally, the OS1000 supports a power button function and offers four GPIO pins with programmable alternate functions, increasing flexibility in design.

The Challenge of Big Analog ICs

Orca, a relatively new player in the analog and mixed-signal IC market, offers tailored solutions for wearables and IoT devices.

“Big Analog is getting bigger and, we think, too impersonal in terms of their engagements with some of the customers that historically got attention from other companies,” Baker explained. “These small companies are extremely frustrated,” Baker noted. They’re nervous about bringing on a new, unproven supplier, but they’re desperately in need of somebody who will listen.”

Orca Semiconductor differentiates itself by focusing on application-specific standard products (ASSPs) rather than custom silicon. This approach allows them to offer customized solutions without the high costs and inflexibility of full custom designs.

Baker observed that larger analog IC companies often have complex, slow decision-making processes.

“Big Analog wants you to buy what they have because they have massive portfolios. They’ve invested over the decades in their portfolios, but a lot of the portfolio is aged, not fit for today’s fast-moving applications,” he explained.

This inefficiency and customer frustration create opportunities for Orca to step in with more relevant and customized solutions.

The company’s founders, all veterans of Maxim Integrated, bring deep industry experience, which Baker believes is a significant advantage. Orca’s fabless model and strategic partnerships with foundries and OSAT providers further enhance their agility and independence. 

A New Paradigm in the Analog Market?

With its emergence from stealth mode and its application-specific approach, Orca Semiconductor aims to disrupt the traditional analog IC market.

Only time will tell if the company’s vision comes to fruition, but with promising products like the OS1000 and a strong leadership team, Orca Semiconductor may be the analog champion small companies are looking for.

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