PARIS — The message to consumers from the European Microelectronics Summit held here Thursday, Sept. 26, is this: Expect the emergence of vehicle-to-vehicle requirements and the build-out of vehicle-to-infrastructure. Drivers can also depend on their cars to help them avoid crises on the road.
But the emphasis is more on the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), rather than self-driving cars. Driving the business of automotive electronics suppliers today is none other than the ADAS, according to the summit's presenters.
STMicroelectronics, for one, is advancing ADAS solutions by adding more intelligence to the company's image sensors. ST is developing a black-and-white image sensor capable of capturing red, making it easier for the computer vision to see traffic lights, stop signs, and tail lights, EE Times has learned.
Freescale Semiconductor, meanwhile, is offering what the company claims to be the industry's most integrated system-level ADAS solution for automotive radar, by leveraging the state-of-the-art Si and SiGe technologies.
During his presentation at the conference, Martin Duncan, business unit director responsible for ADAS and microcontrollers at STMicroelectronics, predicted that the ADAS will become "more and more pervasive on the full range of cars from economy to luxury."
Fueling the trend is more stringent performance safety requirements advanced by the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) and other regulators. Euro NCAP, based in Brussels, is backed by several European governments and by the European Union.
Carmakers, in hopes of high safety ratings from Euro NCAP, are working hard to make radar and vision sensors standard features on all vehicles. "We can envision at a certain point, it will become mandatory by law to install ADAS systems on all new cars as it happened in the past for ABS [anti-lock braking system] and airbag," Duncan said.
Radars or vision?
Carmakers have a number of choices when it comes to technologies enabling ADAS. They include short-range radar (SRR), long-range radar (LRR), ultrasonic, and vision.
Among the industry players, Freescale Semiconductor is focused on radar solutions, while ST currently holds the lion's share of the automotive vision sensor market.
Automotive Radar Applications
Asked about the future of ADAS and if there may be one winning ADAS technology, Gerard Maniez, director of the automotive segment for Western Europe at Freescale, said, "You really need to look at the whole package -- including both radar and vision." Euro NCAP isn't mandating either radar or vision. Nor is it asking carmakers to have both.
A carmaker can rely on a more advanced radar system combined with a lighter vision system or, conversely, choose to go with a much more advanced vision sensor integrated with a lighter version of radar system.
ST's Duncan stressed the point that there are certain things a radar/lidar cannot do. These include tasks like detecting lane markings and other road information, detecting and reading traffic signs, reliably detecting pedestrians, and performing lighting functions such as controlling the high/low beams.
On the other hand, there are a number of jobs vision technologies can't handle. Seeing through rain or after dark might be possible, but snow and fog are a tougher proposition. Dirt renders vision sensors blind. Unlike radar, vision technology can't see very far. LRR can comfortably handle between 30 and 150 meters, and SRR can detect objects within 30 meters.