PORTLAND, Ore. Convergence 2008 in Detroit featured the debut of smart image processing chips that could enable future cars to make decisions based on visual information for navigational tasks like collision avoidance, green energy functions like motion-activated dashboards and environment comfort like automatic window tinting.
STMicroelectronics (Geneva) announced a smart CMOS image sensor that runs decision-making vision processing software from Mobileye (Amstelveen, Netherlands). The chip is being touted as increasing driver awareness by detecting dangerous conditions and providing alarms, such as lane-departure warnings. It can also take control during hazardous situations, such as performing active braking.
The smart CMOS image sensor is already being incorporated into high-end passenger vehicles in Europe, and the European Commission's quest to reduce automobile accidents will make such systems mandatory in Europe for heavy vehicles in 2013.
STMicroelectronics estimates that more than 90 percent of all automobile accidents involve human error and many could be eliminated with automatic warning systems like those used in its smart CMOS image sensor. Mobileye's integrated image processing algorithms are designed to avoid automobile accidents with an array of 1,024 x 512 pixels, 5.6 microns2, running at rates of up to 34 frames per second.
Separately, Elmos Semiconductor (Dortmund, Germany) showed an optical motion detection chip that can read hand gestures in 3-D. The Halios 3-D optical-sensing technology is being used by Citroen for lane departure warnings. Elmos claims it can also read hand gestures in any ambient light to control passenger compartment functions.
One example is to keep dashboard displays dim except when used, for instance powering up the radio's display only when used, which the company claims minimizes an automobile's stand-by energy consumption.
A sun-angle sensor from Elmos is designed to optimize climate control by sensing incident light shinning directly on its flat surface without using an optical focusing mechanism. The process uses a shadow mask built into the metallization layer of the chip. By allowing the light angle to be measured as the difference in photocurrents from two adjacent photo diodes below the mask, the chip can measure angles of light incidence from 15 degrees to 165 degrees. Applications include automatic window tinting, automotive air conditioning systems and even control of window blinds in offices and residences.