13 December 2017
Automotive market showcasing progress in sensor technology, says Osram Opto
Today’s automotive market is a showcase of some of the most important next-generation technologies, as vehicle manufacturers are among the first to adopt the latest technology developments, including the use of visible and invisible light for sensor technology, notes Osram Opto Semiconductors GmbH of Regensburg, Germany, whose portfolio of LED and infrared components for automotive sensor applications is playing a key role in safety, security and comfort.
Much attention has been on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) laser technology. However, it is developments in many fields based on the use of photodetectors and IREDs (infrared-emitting diode) – in particular, as a basis for sensors – that are making headway in bringing a multitude of advances closer to market. The wide range of applications for sensors in car interiors and exteriors span reducing risk (to the lives of drivers, passengers and pedestrians) to enhancing the driving experience in comfort.
“We have seen a huge leap in developments in sensor technology based on photodetectors and IR-LEDs, spurred on by new possibilities to make driving safer and more comfortable,” says Osram Opto Semiconductors marketing manager Walter Rothmund. “Perfecting the sensors required for such technology is crucial for the safety of all road users and pedestrians.”
Camera-based sensor systems making use of infrared light technology are making headway in interior systems. Driver monitoring is an increasingly critical component for today’s safety features as well as for future semi-autonomous cars. IREDs are used to illuminate a driver’s face with invisible infrared light. To detect whether the driver is fatigued or distracted, a CMOS camera monitors the face, especially the eyes, to detect the status of attention and the gaze direction of the driver. A warning is activated in case of drowsiness to alert the driver, or recommend taking a break. In semi-autonomous cars (level 3 and higher) the vehicle must be able to hand back the control to the driver in case of a critical situation at any time, making driver monitoring systems mandatory.
Another example of a safety feature is occupancy detection systems, using invisible IR light and a CMOS camera, which monitors the passenger seats. Occupants are recognized and their size and position are determined to ensure appropriate deployment of the airbag in case of an accident.
However, it is not only inside the car where light technologies are improving visibility, vehicle and traffic safety, an overall smoother journey and styling recognition. Cameras used on cars (to detect the environment around the vehicle for night-vision assistance) are benefiting from increasing efficiency of the latest high-power IR-LEDs. This gives headlamp designers, for example, far more flexibility and freedom.
High-power infrared LEDs are also enhancing road camera systems, such as those used to read number plates. Improvements used to sense the plates mean that computers can read them more easily, reducing the risk of error and opening the doorway to additional technologies such as automatic toll booths (ensuring the smooth flow of traffic). Other applications include adaptive cruise control, pre-crash sensing, pedestrian protection and blind-spot detection.