Micron plans to announce a new image sensor for cars Wednesday that can keep an eye on you as well as on the road.
The company's charmingly named MT9V023 sensors are geared for a long list of ways that increasingly electronic cars will use cameras in an attempt to improve safety and convenience. The company is selling samples of the 752x480-pixel, 60-frame-per-second sensor at $25 apiece and expects them to be used in cars to ship in late 2008.
Some U.S. vehicles have cameras to improve rear-view vision when backing up--the Hummer H2 uses a Micron sensor for such a purpose--but Micron believes cameras will become common. They're already in half of Japanese cars and should be in half of U.S. cars by 2014 or 2015, said Curtis Stith, director of marketing for Micron's imaging new markets.
"The volume potential is pretty interesting," he said, adding that half the U.S. market is 7.5 million vehicles per year, and luxury cars likely will come with more than one sensor. "That's a reason why we're pursuing the market."
Cameras in Japan are used most often for two reasons: to supply video to aid in backing up and to aid in nosing out into traffic around corners without having to actually poke into traffic, he said. There, camera use is made easier by the fact that many cameras are already equipped with in-dash video screens; in the United States, that feature is largely available only for cars with navigation systems that often are a $2,000 option.
Stith enumerated a long list of in-camera camera uses, some of them shipping now:
Volvo's XC90 SUV uses three cameras: one for backing up and two for monitoring the blind spots to either side of the car.
Cameras can be used to check for vehicles that are destined for a collision, telling the car to deploy air bags or tighten seat belts. The Hyundai Move in Japan uses this application, he said.
Another forward-looking camera can check if a driver is unintentionally drifting out of a lane, using an algorithm that factors in speed and how sharply the steering wheel is being turned to distinguish between unintentional drifting and deliberate lane changes.
Yet another front-mounted camera could keep an eye out for oncoming night traffic, automatically switching headlights between dimmed and high beams.
A camera mounted on top of the steering column can monitor the frequency and duration of a driver's blinks to guard against drowsy driving. If blinks become too rapid or protracted, the car can sound an alarm to jolt the driver awake.
An internal camera can help identify passengers to control how air bags should be deployed--for example, with less force when protecting children.
Another camera could let parents watch their children bicker in the distant reaches of a vast van or SUV.
The Micron sensor has multiple registers so that one, two or three applications can monitor video from a single camera. For forward-looking possibilities such as crash prediction or headlight dimming, the camera is typically mounted in front of the rear-view mirror inside the car so it doesn't get coated with bugs.
Micron's sensor is built using complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing process that lets processing logic be attached to the sensor.