Auto Electronics

Camera-based active

Whether it is a camera-based sensor, radar or Lidar, the demand for active safety systems in automobiles is on the rise. According to ABI Research, new active safety features are being included in an increasing number of vehicles, and they are here to stay. Consumer demand is growing and the technology is rapidly advancing. While long-range and short-range radars continue to evolve for a variety of safety applications, their cost is being driven down to enable low- and medium-priced cars to tap their benefits. Concurrently, developers of camera-based sensing systems are also lowering cost to bring safety features to both ends of the market.

“The low cost and high performance of cameras, coupled with rapidly developing machine-vision capability, are enabling automakers to offer real help for drivers to keep their vehicles on the road, avoiding accidents,” said ABI Research principal analyst David Alexander. “Looking forward was the first priority, and now new systems are emerging that can watch all around the vehicle.”

The first automotive camera systems were intended to supplement information when the driver is in reverse gear, and upcoming innovative options will extend that view all around the vehicle, including bumper-mounted cameras to see all side obstacles, stated ABI Research in its report, “Camera-Based Automotive Systems.” The drawback of additional visual aides is that they increase the number of distractions vying for the driver's attention. Machine vision will be the solution in the future, with constant monitoring of the surroundings and driver notification only when necessary, according to the report.

While driver assistance via warnings is helpful, the industry is steadily moving toward automatic error correction by the vehicle. With electronic control of braking and steering already implemented in many vehicles, it is only a matter of time (and extensive testing and development) before semi-automatic driving is a reality. In the much longer term, linking these systems with navigation will allow drivers to concentrate on other tasks like reading, eating, catching up with e-mail, and enjoying the latest infotainment options, concluded the ABI Research study.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by IMS Research shows that carmakers are putting cameras on every corner of the car to get a 3608 view of the vehicle's surroundings. For instance, Nissan has announced the introduction of its around-view monitor system, which goes beyond the typical back-up camera by providing a 3608 view of the vehicle's surroundings — achieved by the use of no less than four cameras. Although this might seem like a trend for the Japanese market, in fact it will be introduced in North America as well, in the Infiniti EX-35, reported IMS Research.

However, do not expect that to become the norm everywhere quite yet. According to Helena Perslow, market analyst at IMS Research, the introduction to the North American market of this type of camera system is an extreme case. “My research indicates that the implementation of cameras in automotive is still quite limited, especially in North America. In 2006, only 16% of all automotive camera modules were found in North America, whereas that figure for Japan was 64%,” stated Perslow. The remaining is primarily in Western Europe. As per data in the IMS Research study, the total worldwide market for camera modules was about 3 million units in 2006.

Cameras for park assist have been common in Japan for many years, whereas other technologies, such as ultrasonic, have been favored in other regions, according to Perslow's newly released research report, “The Worldwide Market for Automotive Camera Modules.” The argument for using cameras has always been that they are more reliable than such alternatives as ultrasonic or radar. Now, with safety applications being more of a focus than ever for European manufacturers, they also have started to choose cameras in favor of other approaches. Noted Perslow, “I expect a lot to happen with camera modules in the next few years. It's an emerging market — one forecast to grow by a factor of 10 from 2006 to 2015.”

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