We love cars. No doubt about it. At Aptina, we’re technologists; we’re early adopters; we love gadgets that we can touch, interact with, and see. And automobiles—particularly in the next couple of years—will offer some of the coolest technology around.
So we’ve designed CMOS image sensors specifically for automotive use. These sensors generally fall into two categories, scene viewing (think backup camera) and scene understanding or processing. And they enable current and next-generation safety and convenience systems that will make tomorrow’s vehicles safer and more fun. Our commitment to the automotive segment has driven us to become the world’s foremost supplier of CMOS imaging solutions for the industry. Read on to learn how our image sensors can improve drivers’ experiences and even save lives.
View or download Aptina’s recent automotive imaging solutions brochure.
The following video offers a brief and compelling side-by-side look at how our popular scene-viewing automotive sensor—the MT9V125—stacks up against the closest competitor in real-world situations. Notice how the competitor's images lose information in the brightest and darkest areas of the image, while the Aptina sensor provides good detail and accurate color balance
The automotive experience
A car isn’t just a means of transportation; it’s an extension of the driver’s personality, situation, and aspirations. It should be a pleasure to maneuver, a joy to experience, and as safe as the road is long. It’s for this reason that we work with most of the world’s leading automotive systems makers to produce fascinating, convenient, and life-saving camera-based solutions.
Scene-viewing camera systems provide additional information to the driver. And while they’re often marketed as parking aids or driver convenience systems, they serve to dramatically reduce injuries and help to eliminate backover fatalities.
Scene-viewing cameras improve automotive safety
In their November 2006 report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made it very clear that “of the technologies tested for their potential to reduce backover incidents, camera-based systems may have the greatest potential to provide drivers with reliable assistance in identifying people in the path of a vehicle when backing.”
Aptina has developed system-on-a-chip, CMOS imagers specifically for this sort of scene-viewing, backup camera application. These sensors, which have excellent low light performance and great dynamic range are perfect for backup and parking aid systems. In fact, leading automobile manufacturers in the U.S., European Union, and Asia have all successfully implemented Aptina solutions in production cars, trucks, and commercial vehicles.
By 2011, our automotive customers will be making between 20 and 25 million backup camera systems annually. They will have superb low light imaging capabilities, good dynamic range, and will be easy to implement because of the SOC’s onboard image processing capacities. These systems will have the potential to reduce backover injuries by an estimated 20,000 annually worldwide.
As a driver, how many times have you started to pull out, but you didn’t have a clear view of the oncoming traffic because there was a bush or fence blocking your view? Well, some smart automotive system makers have begun developing split-view camera systems. These systems place a CMOS camera at the very front on the car’s bumper on both the driver and passenger side. When the driver tries to pull out, he can refer to the monitor and see if the roadway is clear or not. This same system will help drivers avoid pedestrians or bicyclists on the sidewalk.
Scene viewing for interior systems
These same scene-viewing sensors are also perfect for certain occupant classification systems associated with smart airbags or backseat monitoring and some drowsy driver applications because they’re both low-light and near-IR sensitive.
Some of the coolest automotive systems currently available or in development involve collecting and processing (understanding) visual data. We build right-resolution sensors with high dynamic range, low-light and near-IR sensitivity, fast video frame rates for context switching, and automotive temperature ratings for these systems.
Lane departure warning systems
Long drives over familiar roads can make a driver less than alert. In these situations, a driver might allow his vehicle to drift off the road—or worse—into oncoming traffic. Lane departure warning systems can alert a driver when a car with this system drifts too close to a lane marker. These systems use a combination of sensors, including CMOS imagers and infrared detectors, to scan in front of and beside the vehicle to identify and estimate the distance to other vehicles and lane markers.
These systems could dramatically reduce the number of drowsy driver accidents worldwide. Analysts recently estimated that by 2015, over half of all new vehicles sold in North America will feature lane departure warnings. The European Union, Japan, and even China could have a similar percentage of these systems in their new vehicles by 2011.
This application is also a prime candidate for context switching. We’ve been developing sensors that can simultaneously feed data to more than one system. For example, if our sensor was running at 60 fps, it could provide 30 fps to a lane departure warning system and provide the alternating 30 fps to an adaptive cruise control system or pre-crash avoidance system. Both systems would use a single CMOS-based camera, saving money and space.
Adaptive cruise control
Adaptive cruise control systems integrate collision-avoidance Aptina image sensors and some form of distance finding (LIDAR for example) with conventional cruise control systems. This forward-looking, scene-understanding system monitors the road in front of the car, recognizes other vehicles, and adjusts cruising speed accordingly.
Closely paired with lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control is likely to be included in about half of all new vehicles by 2015.
- High dynamic range
- Intra-scene dynamic range is particularly important for scene-understanding applications. If an image is washed out, vital data, like the position of a potential obstacle, can be lost. So we’ve developed automotive specific sensors that have piecewise linear response curves, effectively boosting dynamic range and preventing data loss.
- Industrial temp
- Automotive applications can be some of the harshest environments an image sensor faces, so we’ve developed sensors capable of withstanding temperatures of –40°C to +125°C.
- Low-light and near-IR sensitivity
- People drive in the dark. That means your automotive sensor has to work in the dark. Our CMOS imagers have some of the best low-light and near-IR sensitivity available.
- Fast frame rates
- Fast-moving objects (think others cars or scenery) require a speedy CMOS image sensor. We’ve developed blazing fast imagers capable of freezing fast motion, including a sensor equipped with a global shutter.
A question of supply
- Q: I expect my camera system to be in production for several years. How can I be sure that you won’t EOL my sensor and force me into an expensive redesign in just a couple of years?
- A: We’re totally committed to the automotive industry and we fully understand that cars generally have long production cycles that require long-term support from suppliers like us. So, for most customers we guarantee up to five years of inventory support, plenty of warning about any change in a part’s production, and special consideration for final purchases. You can check with your distributor or manufacturer’s representative for more information.
A question of quality
- Q: I’m designing a backup camera system. Since drivers will be seeing the video from this system, I want to make sure that I’m providing quality images. How do your CMOS imagers compare to CCDs in terms of image quality, particularly in low light?
- A: We believe that our CMOS image sensors provide as good or better image quality than any comparable CCD sensor could hope to. We believe this because of our advanced pixel architecture and our memory-based manufacturing processes. Both of these combine to give us some of the most sensitive pixels around. Please contact your distributor or representative, request a development kit, and see for yourself if we don’t offer the right balance of quality and cost.
High dynamic range concerns
- Q: I’m designing a forward-looking automotive camera system. I’ve been using a CCD, but it just doesn’t have the dynamic range I need. I heard that you had a part that approached 120dB, but I’m worried about loss of contrast. What can you tell me?
- A: Ask a complicated question and, well, get a multi-part answer. First, we do have sensors that can reach or even exceed 120dB dynamic range. When in high dynamic mode, the MT9V023 has a piecewise linear response curve with up to two knee points. Second, you are correct that a loss of contrast is sometimes a trade-off with high dynamic range, but worry not because, third, we can tell you a lot and offer a lot of technical support. Start on our support page and contact your distributor or representative if you still have questions—or you can use our sales and technical support form.