The advent of self-driving technology has disrupted the auto industry, opening new avenues for growth in this market space. The autonomous wave has not only hit the automakers and suppliers but also the manufacturing industry, telecom industry, financial districts, insurance hubs, political dynamics, and technology clusters across the globe. The phenomenal growth of the autonomous vehicles industry is driven by the consumer attractiveness for comfort and hands-free driving. The autonomy in vehicles have reached the preliminary threshold with certain active safety features being made mandatory to accelerate the penetration in the mass market. However, the fully autonomous vehicles are still a way to reach commercialization stage. With respect to the level of automation, level 2 vehicles are already on the roads of major economies and level 3 vehicles are expected to undergo mass production by 2021.
Among the complete sensor suite of autonomous vehicles, camera is the only sensor that offers opulent data with true intricacy of surrounding, it is the must use sensor in all levels of automation. Camera manufacturers are making further advancements in the technology, making them capable of sensing the surrounding with higher range and resolution. There are three major segments in autonomous driving camera technology- in-cabin, viewing and sensing. The in-cabin cameras or imaging solutions functions as driver monitoring, gesture recognition or dashcam or black-box. Thermal or infrared cameras, Forward mono, stereo and trifocal cameras are used for sensing the environment and detecting obstacles in day and night irrespective of weather conditions. Surround view imaging is gaining high popularity as the system offers 360-degree view of the vehicle surrounding to help the vehicle identify the blind spots and take necessary actions. Rear view cameras are used for autonomous parking. The other viewing system called side-mirror replacement is expected to have high future prospect which will eliminate the side mirrors with imaging system offering a broader and clearer view of vehicles/pedestrians overtaking or passing through sides. All leading OEMs such as Audi, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, GM and others are developing the system for their high-end vehicle models.
The integration of cameras differ with respect to the level of automation in the vehicles. For instance, Level 1 and 2 cars are installed with different image sensing systems as the vehicle is under the control of driver and majorly requires the viewing and sensing system. Level 1 cars are generally installed with 1-rear view, 1-forward ADAS monocular, and 1 dash cam for warning and assisting drivers. On an average 2-3 cameras are used in combination with radar and other sensors for developing level 1 system. Similarly, level 2 cars are installed with 4-6 surround view cameras, one of these or in combination of forward mono, stereo, and triple camera, 1-dash cam. New high-end models are now also using 1-thermal/IR camera for night vision. So, on an average 6 – 9 cameras are installed on a level 2 car along with other sensing components.
Everyone is aware of the high potential and worth, the self-driving market would bring to the tier-1s and sensor suppliers. Camera being the one of the most vital sensors, there is fierce competition between leading camera system suppliers. Even the new entrants with their innovative technologies are competing to grab a hold of this market. Thermal or infrared cameras are gaining huge traction as it performs the sensing function even in very low light or no light scenarios. The established infrared/ thermal camera supplier FLIR Systems holds lion’s share in the market while the new entrant ADASKY in partnership with STMicroelectronics is dedicatedly working on development of Far-Infrared (FIR) thermal imaging technology to serve ADAS system. Time-of-Flight (ToF) cameras has opened new opportunities in this market. Due to its 3D capabilities, it serves in-cabin applications like driver monitoring and gesture recognition. Melexis, BrightWay Vision, Infineon, ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, and STMicroelectronics are few of leading players in this area. Mobileye, now an Intel Company is a leader among the ADAS camera SoC suppliers using Apitna’s (ON Semiconductor) image sensor. While Renesas, Kalray, Geo Semiconductor Inc., ARM, Intel, MIPS Technologies, Qualcomm, and NXP are the leading brands in vision processing. Leading CMOS-based image sensor providers for autonomous driving applications include ON Semiconductor, OmniVision, CMOSIS (acquired by AMS AG), Infineon, Sony, Ficosa, Samsung, Hamamatsu Photonics, PMD Technologies, Teledyne DALSA, and TowerJazz. Some of the new players include Owl Autonomous Imaging, Inc., Newsight Imaging, STMicroelectronics, Smartsense Technology, Smart Ray, Fastree 3D, and others.