Using Camera Technology in Vehicle Applications

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Introduction

These days, every modern vehicle uses digital camera technology. For example, digital camera technology is used in obstacle-detection systems, blind-spot assistance systems and reversing aids. If future camera applications are expected to deliver competitive advantages and differentiation, then shape and resolution are not the only factors to be considered when choosing a camera in the vehicle sector.

For vehicle manufacturers, safety systems have become an increasingly relevant decision-making criterion and these can deliver competitive advantages for relatively low additional costs. However, this equation only adds up if the applications and their integration actually attain differentiation and the camera manufacturers support development and production processes in the vehicle industry.

It is obvious that highly robust and reliable cameras are very much required in vehicle applications. Extreme heat or cold, moisture, dirt and vibrations are not suitable for electronics and optics. However, preparing appropriate specifications and testing their compliance is a standard practice, and will not be dealt with, in further detail here.

Interfaces and Wiring Costs

When it comes to integration in the vehicle, an even better specialist expertise is needed. For example, different types of interfaces are available for a camera connection. An incorrect decision can lead to unnecessarily high wiring costs or technological dead ends. Alternatively, modular camera systems can be used to address these issues. Based on the application, these can be fitted with a range of physical interfaces and are also open in terms of data formats. For instance, First Sensor AG, a manufacturer of special cameras for vehicle applications, combines the power supply and data line and connects the camera to onboard systems through cost-effective four-wire or just two-wire cables.

Data Evaluation: Centralized or Decentralized

Nowadays, cameras in the vehicle sector generally offer 1.3 megapixel resolution or VGA. These are fairly low-resolution applications when compared to standard cameras in cell phones. Yet, even these resolutions also involve data volumes that are strangely extensive for the vehicle sector. In certain applications, it is recommended to perform image evaluation through software algorithms directly in the camera system, instead of moving these data volumes in the onboard electrical system. The camera then has its own "intelligence" and, instead of transferring images, only communicates the data acquired from the image analysis. This needs special camera systems equipped with powerful processors and appropriate memory capacity—and manufacturers that integrate software and hardware expertise.

Process-Oriented Support for Development and Production

Camera systems have an effect on functional safety. Therefore, they must be specified, developed and tested with utmost care. If the camera manufacturer can offer prototypes or similar "off-the-shelf" systems for both initial and concept tests quickly in the context of ongoing development, Developers gain plenty of time and can run software, hardware and integration tests at an early stage.

In subsequent series production, specialist manufacturers are more flexible when compared to large manufacturers that focus on consumer applications. For instance, The entire production process from processing of the sensor chip through to the prefabricated camera system is handled by First Sensor. Additionally, special test procedures are also handled for customers: For example, to rectify discrepancies, a tier-1 supplier or vehicle manufacturer would be happy to outsource calibration of the parameter settings and the optical axes to the specialist partner. For traceability, the German-based specialists transfer all vital figures and settings to the vehicle manufacturer or integrator for each camera supplied, on request. It may also be that some border regions of the image are applicable to an application as "regions of interest." In such situations, the camera must also be tested and parameterized for these regions.

The life cycle of a modern digital camera is short when compared to the lifespan of a forestry, agricultural or construction vehicle. Using suppliers with in-house production capacity for all main components alone can guarantee adequately long availability for the series production and aftermarket.

Partners More Important than the Product

Digital camera technology is evolving rapidly and digital cameras are relatively new products. More success in terms of differentiation, cost optimization, process and quality can be achieved via strategic cooperation with experienced Specialists instead of evaluating individual cameras.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by First Sensor AG.

For more information on this source, please visit First Sensor AG.

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