Automotive Camera Module: The Future Of Self Driving Vehicles Is Here

Automotive Camera Module

Tesla, the American electric vehicle manufacturer that has been aiming to bring the most advanced self-driving cars to the market, announced in May 2021, that it will be replacing radar sensors from its semi-autonomous driving system, Autopilot, with the camera-only version, Tesla Vision. Though scepticism abound about the potential of only a vision based guidance system for self-driving cars, Tesla has strong faith in  Tesla Vision.

Tesla in May 2021 started delivering Model Y and Model 3 with driver-assist system based entirely on eight cameras mounted around the car and no radar. The cameras send images to computer networks which recognize and analyse objects. Though experts have pointed out that vision-only systems face challenges in darkness, sunny glare and poor weather conditions, Tesla is championing the vision only system because it claims camera-only system will be safer than radar because of less noise or confusing signals. “Phantom braking” has been one of the persistent problems that Tesla has faced with radar.

Other self-driving vehicle companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo use three different types of sensors: cameras, radar and lidar. All these different kinds of sensors are combined to make a self-driving car fully functional on the road. Though Tesla’s camera-centric system is much harder to design, but it is also much cheaper than Waymo’s laser-based lidar approach, enabling the electric car maker to scale up and further improve its technology. This endeavour by Tesla is justified by the company as an effort to make the vision system independent of any other technology be a self-sufficient system in itself.

According to Reports and Data the automotive camera module market is projected to register double digit CAGR over the coming years owing to factors like increasing vehicle production, consumer demand for safer vehicles, government safety norms, and rising sales of EVs.

Automotive Camera Module Technology And The Biggest Manufacturers

Charge coupled device (CCD) and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) cameras turn optical images into electrical impulses. CCD transfers each pixel’s charge packet sequentially to a common output structure to convert charge to voltage, resulting in lower noise, higher image quality, particularly in low light conditions, higher dynamic range, better depth of colour, higher resolution, and light sensitivity. Since its acceptance, it has benefited from lower power consumption, high integration, smaller size, easy manufacture, reduced price, and enhanced quality.

Front view cameras, surround view cameras, rear view cameras, and in-cabin cameras are the four types of automotive cameras. Bosch, Aptiv, Continental, Denso, Valeo, and other tier 1 camera manufacturers. Infineon, Freescale, Texas Instruments, ST, Panasonic, and others are among the leading automotive camera module manufacturers. Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Konica Minolta, Omron, and other companies are major optics suppliers.

Range improvement, modularization, scalability, and interconnection are all trends in automotive camera module development, as are side or surround view cameras to expand rear view scope and replace side mirrors, in-cabin ToF camera for presence detection and gesture recognition, and all-weather sensing. All-weather sensing necessitates a night vision solution, in which case an infrared camera is a crucial solution to improve the driver’s seeing distance in darkness/bad weather and compensate for the camera’s fatal flaw of being unable to function adequately in low light. Due to the exorbitant cost, such cameras are now only available in high-end brands. The main system supplier is Autoliv. Far infrared and near infrared cameras are the most common types of IR cameras.

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In-Cabin Cameras Are Just As Crucial

Cameras are a critical component of automated driver assistance systems (ADAS) that are proliferating in modern vehicles. These systems are designed with a primary goal of improving road safety and are steps on the path to the fully autonomous vehicles of the future. In cabin camera modules are designed to monitor the driver as the driver remains the most dangerous aspect of any vehicle mainly due to the lack of attention and poor decision-making skills of a large population of drivers. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey shows that drivers are responsible for in excess of 90% of all road traffic accidents.

Automakers and safety regulators are aware that ADAS systems can only go so far, and that if the driver is not paying attention, the risk of an accident remains high — even with ADAS in place. As a result, in-cabin cameras and vision systems are increasingly being used to monitor the driver as well as the other occupants.

Indeed, these driver monitoring cameras (DMC) are so crucial to road safety that Euro NCAP has designated them as a core safety feature beginning in 2020. The ADAS system can assess a variety of things that will contribute to road safety by discreetly focusing a camera at the driver and using advanced image processing software.

ADAS systems with DMC can detect whether the driver is gazing at the road ahead or trying to read a message on their smartphone. It can detect if the driver has been disabled due to a major illness, and more advanced systems can discern the driver’s emotional condition using facial expressions as clues.

Will Cameras Replace Mirrors In Vehicles?

There is already a proposal in the works that plans to replace sideview mirror with cameras. After all, the NHTSA mandated that new vehicles under 4500 kg must be equipped with rear-view cameras by 1 May 2018. The phasing out process has already began in 2016.

In response to NHTSA’s ruling, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Tesla Motors have petitioned the agency to let them replace clunky side-view mirrors with cameras as well. Traditional exterior side-view mirrors increase a vehicle’s total aerodynamic drag by 2-7 percent, according to the Auto Alliance’s petition. According to the Alliance, a 10% reduction in aerodynamic drag would result in a 3.2 percent reduction in fuel usage. However the process of replacing all mirrors with cameras can be a long one as experts wage the pros and cons of such replacement. Before researchers hurry to replace any mirrors with cameras, they must address a number of human aspects. What is the best position in the car to put the visual information? How bright should the display screen be to avoid distracting drivers while driving at night? How to use displays to provide drivers a better sense of their surroundings while also representing correct depth perception? These are all question that need to be satisfactorily answered before side view mirror can be considered redundant and replaced with cameras.

However, in 2016, Japan and Europe legalised the use of mirrorless cars, which replace rear-view and side mirrors with camera-monitoring systems. Mitsubishi announced the debut of a proprietary Maisart-brand based artificial intelligence (AI) technology enabled car camera module in 2018..these cameras are capable of detecting various object kinds at distances of up to 100 metres. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that rear-facing cameras will save 58 to 69 lives per year that would otherwise be lost in back over crashes. According to NHTSA, back over crashes result in 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries per year. Children under the age of five account for 31% of all accidents, while senior persons aged 70 and up account for 26%. With these figures in mind, it’s safe to predict that mirrorless automobiles will become the norm in the automobile industry in the not-too-distant future.

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