As autonomous vehicles start to hit the streets, competition is heating up among manufacturers of the three types of sensors — image, radar and lidar — that act as a vehicle’s “eyes.”
From an article in Nikkei Asia by Yoichiro Hiroi.
“I believe the next megatrend [after mobile phones] will be mobility,” said Sony Chairman and President Kenichiro Yoshida as he unveiled the Vision-S concept car — the Japanese giant’s entrant into an increasingly crowded electric vehicle market — at the CES tech show in the U.S. in January.
The Vision-S will have 33 sensors, including image sensors, a Sony specialty. Izumi Kawanishi, Sony’s senior vice president who is shepherding development of the car, said the sensors “give passengers and pedestrians a sense of security thanks to the 360-degree vision it provides.”
Sony controls around 70% of the global market for the image sensors used in smartphone cameras, but its share for automotive image sensors is only 9%. The Vision-S is an exploratory effort by the company as it taps into a market led by long-established U.S. manufacturers like ON Semiconductor. The Arizona-based company has been producing automotive image sensors for over 50 years and controls 45% of the market.
Automotive sensors must be able to record scenes with sharp contrast while drastically reducing flicker from light-emitting diode lamps of the kind found in nearly all new cars and modern traffic signals. Fulfilling one or the other of these requirements is easy, but to do both is a challenge.
LED flickering is the thornier of the two, and is caused by a lamp’s rapid blink rate — a phenomenon virtually indistinguishable to the normal eye but all too apparent to image sensors. This is solved by increasing a camera’s exposure time. But this causes highlights to be overexposed, reducing the contrast needed to distinguish objects.
ON Semiconductor has solved this dilemma by changing the structure of pixels used in the sensors. Its products have become a mainstay for automakers like Subaru, which adopted them for its EyeSight safety system.
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