Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tesla Autonomous Cars Keep Relying on Cameras

TED interview with Elon Musk has a couple of interesting notes about Tesla autonomous car plans:

"Tesla Model 3 is coming in July, Musk says, and it’ll have a special feature: autopilot. Using only passive optical cameras and GPS, no LIDAR, the Model 3 will be capable of autonomous driving. “Once you solve cameras for vision, autonomy is solved; if you don’t solve vision, it’s not solved … You can absolutely be superhuman with just cameras.”

Musk says that Tesla is on track for completing a fully autonomous, cross-country LA to New York trip by the end of 2017. “November or December of this year, we should be able to go from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any point during the entire journey,” Musk says.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Lund University Camera Reaches 20 Tera-fps Speed

Lund University, Sweden, announces that its researches were able to achieve 200fs temporally resolving camera. Their paper has been accepted for publication in "Light: Science & Applications" journal and available on-line: "FRAME: femtosecond videography for atomic and molecular dynamics" by Andreas Ehn, Joakim Bood, Zheming Li, Edouard Berrocal, Marcus Aldén, and Elias Kristensson:

"In this Letter, we present a laser probe-based method that unifies the aforementioned aspects and is capable of producing a video sequence of non-repetitive dynamic events at femtosecond timescales and beyond for spectroscopy. Our method, called Frequency Recognition Algorithm for Multiple Exposures (FRAME), allows acquisition of a series of laser-induced images at frame rates that are limited only by the laser pulse duration. Here, we used femtosecond laser pulses to demonstrate videography with record high sub-ps (THz) temporal resolution, although attosecond laser pulses could, in principle, increase the frame rate into the PHz regime. The novelty of the FRAME concept lies in superimposing a structural code onto the illumination to encrypt a single event that is then deciphered in the data post-processing. Because each image in the video sequence is extracted by using a unique spatial code, the method does not rely on a specific optical wavelength or laser bandwidth, and hence can be used for spectroscopic measurements. Here, we provide a proof-of-principle demonstration of our method by performing imaging light-in-flight – often regarded as the gold standard experiment for ultrafast imaging at 5 THz, a timescale on which even light appears stationary on a macroscopic scale."

Although the paper talks about 200fs temporal resolution, the University demo shows 50fs time step between the frames of their video:

Conversant NPE Buys 29 CIS Patents from Dongbu

IAM-Media: Ottawa, Canada-based Conversant NPE has acquired 29 image sensor patents from Dongbu HiTek, USPTO assignments records reveal.

Dongbu’s somewhat unusual willingness to sell its IP seems to be related to previous debt problems and the financial woes of its parent, the Dongbu Group chaebol (conglomerate). In the previous years, IAM-Media identified Dongbu HiTek as one of the top 15 sellers of patents worldwide:

Samsung to Add One More CIS Fab

PulseNews: Samsung is to convert Line 11 in Hwaseong fab in Gyeonggi Province active since mid-2000s to CIS production starting the first half next year to meet growing demand for mobile imaging, high-end photography, and security and surveillance applications. Sony is said to have a solid lead on the CIS narket, controlling 44.5% of global supply including iPhones. Samsung is at second place with a share of 15% as it supplies the imagers for Samsung premium phones.

SeekingAlpha quotes Samsung representative on that: "we’re planning to convert Line 11 to CIS given the fact that strong image sensor demand...

And to give thorough detail about the CMOS image sensor CIS that we’ll be using part of Line 11 to produce as you know with the increased adoption of dual camera, the application has itself been growing and also in addition to these mobile cameras we’re also trying to expand the applications to VR automotive as well as 360 degree cameras. So to respond to market demand as well as customer request, we will be converting part of Line 11 for our CIS production. Our target is to start mass production first half of 2018 but that is subject to market demand as well as customer request."

Samsung Hwaseong plant

Sony Reports FY2016 Results

Sony reports its quarterly and yearly results. Few slides showing image sensor business status and the new year forecas:

From the Sony PR:

Results for a fiscal year ended on March 31, 2017:

"Sales increased 4.6% year-on-year (a 15% increase on a constant currency basis) to 773.1 billion yen (6,903 million U.S. dollars). This increase in sales was primarily due to a significant increase in unit sales of image sensors mainly for mobile products, partially offset by the impact of foreign exchange rates, a significant decrease in sales of camera modules, a business which was downsized, and the decrease in production due to the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes. Sales to external customers increased 10.1% year-on-year.

Operating loss of 7.8 billion yen (70 million U.S. dollars) was recorded, compared to operating income of 14.5 billion yen in the previous fiscal year. This significant deterioration in operating results was primarily due to the negative impact of foreign exchange rates, the above-mentioned expenses resulting from the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes, and a 6.5 billion yen (58 million U.S. dollars) write-down of inventories of certain image sensors mainly for mobile products. This deterioration was partially offset by the above-mentioned year-on-year increase in sales and the decrease in impairment charges against long-lived assets related to the camera module business.
During the current fiscal year, there was a 43.7 billion yen negative impact from foreign exchange rate fluctuations.

Last quarter results:

"In the Semiconductors segment, sales increased significantly due to an increase in unit sales of image sensors. Sales to external customers also increased significantly year-on-year."

Reuters comments
: "Image sensors have emerged as the biggest contributor to profit growth, as operations at a factory damaged by earthquakes a year ago return to normal just as smartphone makers are increasingly adopting dual-lens rear cameras in their handsets, requiring extra sensors.

"The market is growing for higher-end models with dual-lens rear cameras or with high-performance front cameras designed for self-shooting," Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida said at an earnings briefing. "That serves as a tailwind for us."

Sony forecast its chip division, which includes image sensors, to return to profit this year, at 120 billion yen.

To meet increased demand, it will more than double capital expenditure on image sensors to 110 billion yen, raising production capacity by 13.6 percent by the end of March.

Hynix to Separate 8-inch Foundry Business

ETNews: SK Hynix is separating its 8-inch Foundry Business Department as an independent subsidiary tentatively named "SK Hynix System IC". The 8-inch M8 fab has a capacity of 100K wafers per year and image sensors is one of its main specialties.

According to IHS, SK Hynix’s Foundry Business made about $140M in sales last year, less that 1% of the whole company sales of $15.2b. The foundry business registered a loss last year.

SK Hynix will continue production of high-megapixel image sensor products of over 13MP at its 12-inch M10 fab.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dynamic Photodiodes are Said to Save Power in Heartrate Sensors

PRNewswire: Switzerland-based ActLight presents its Heartrate Sensor for wearables, said to reduce power consumption by 80% compared to what is currently available on the market, while delivering the same performance. The Heartrate sensor is based on ActLight's proprietary Dynamic Photo Diode (DPD) technology and has been developed in co-operation with a global MedTech semiconductor vendor and EPFL.

In smartwatches and wearables, up to 80% of the power consumption is said to be related to heartrate monitoring when it is activated. Already tested and calibrated, ActLight's heartrate sensor is ready to be produced in large series to equip next generation wearables with reduced power consumption.

"Increased interest in fitness and wellness - has necessitated more affordable, precise, wearable sensing options. Our technology offers unique competitive advantages to our partners when compared to existing Photo Diodes used in wearable heartrate solutions," stated Serguei Okhonin, CEO of ActLight. "ActLight is now working with a number of partners to bring this technology into consumer electronics and MedTech grade solutions. We are open for IP licensing of our patented DPD technology that we own 100%," Okhonin continued.

EPFL publishes an article and an Youtube video on the new product:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

ARM Announces 24b HDR Imaging and Vision Co-Processor

Anandtech: ARM announces Mali-C71 ultra-wide dynamic range (UWDR) ISP with up to 24 stops DR for automotive camera applications. It removes noise and processes the multiple exposures from the camera, creates an ultra-WDR frame and sends it across to a display or a computer vision engine. The Mali-C71 is the first imaging product since ARM acquired Apical in 2016. OmniVision Technologies, a leading developer of advanced digital imaging solutions, has welcomed the development:

OmniVision has been closely collaborating with the ARM ISP team (formerly Apical) for several years now, and see the Mali-C71 as an important advancement in image signal processing for emerging automotive applications. ARM’s expertise in ISP technology together with OmniVision’s best-in-class HDR image sensor technologies offers an industry leading solution for our automotive customers,” said Will Foote, senior partnership manager, OmniVision.

The Mali-C71 brings advanced error detection with more than 300 dedicated fault detection circuits to enable system-level certification to the modern automotive standards (ISO26262, ASIL D and IEC 61508, SIL3). It is able to process up to 4 real-time cameras and 16 camera streams with a single pipeline:

Mali-C71 block diagram

Cadence Vision DSP Certified as Khronos OpenVX 1.1 Conformant

Cadence Tensilica Vision P-Series DSPs are said to be the first imaging/vision DSPs to pass Khronos Group’s conformance tests for the OpenVX 1.1 spec. This enables faster development of computer vision and imaging applications on Tensilica Vision P-Series DSPs being deployed in applications processors for mobile, automotive, drone, security, AR/VR and other markets. Applications developed using the standard OpenVX 1.1 API can be compiled and run on Tensilica Vision DSPs without any code changes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cameras are 9.25% of Samsung Galaxy S8 Cost

TechInsights completes its teardown report of Samsung Galaxy S8, and publishes an estimation of the phone's BOM. The cameras are about 9.25% of the BOM, down from 10% in the last year's S7: