Autonomous and intelligent car magic is not going to come out of a hat. It is the result of many innovations that give “feelings” to see, hear and understand. Instead of eyes, ears and brain, electronic components. In this emerging market, many tech players like Intel or Nvidia are competing. But, other actors, more surprisingly, are in controversy. This is Sony’s position with the new image sensor that responds to the off name IMX459.
We now know that a new type of component that dramatically reduces the price of automotive latrines is a prerequisite for the democratization of the future car.
Converting a single photon into solid information
In our columns, you often read news and tests about photography referring to Sony’s “IMX” sensors, which makes sense as the Japanese electronics engineer is the No. 1 in the world in image sensors.
However, when you use certain parts of the language and technology you hear, the IMX459 is very different from the CMOS image sensors found on cameras and other smartphones.
It’s not a sensor trying to perceive the world in our own way, but an SPAD type sensor: a single photon avalanche diode (avalanche photodiodes reacting to a photon). In the “flight time” category, this sensor is connected to a laser light emitter.
By synchronizing the laser emitter and image sensor, the computer can measure the distance of objects with greater accuracy by halving the travel time of the photons. Compared to the ToF sensors of our smartphones or tablets, the IMX459 is more complex and more sensitive.
On the one hand, the sensor contains 100,000 photodiodes, including only one of the first litars. On the other hand, these “pixels” belong to the SPAD type, which means that the extreme instability of the photodiodes allows them to function wonderfully. The single-photon signal of the pulsed laser produces a million times stronger signal.
In short: there is no need to send a high intensity laser to clear the terrain. This high pixel density (for its domain) and its extreme sensitivity make it possible to reduce the size and power of the laser that comes with it, which lowers the cost of the system.
0.1 Mpix: A Better Definition உலகில் In the world of Liters!
The IMX 459 is a 579 x 168 pixels or approximately 0.1 Mpix sensor. The definition for your holiday photos is very low, but adequate for target use. Ideally, this lower definition is necessary for its proper functioning because it will go faster as it will participate in the safety of the vehicles.
From a physical point of view, it already goes very fast because each of its photodiodes – which act automatically on each other – has a reaction time of 6 nanoseconds (6 billion seconds, yes, really fast).
But this signal must then be processed and interpreted.
⁇ The current definition is sufficient to detect obstacles and their speed, and the amount of data is measured so as not to complete the processors with unnecessary information. , Explains Robert Culman, who is in charge of Sony’s sales and marketing teams for the automotive markets in Europe.
We are in the automotive sector here, the processor is not in frequency operation.
⁇ We do not need to create a complete picture of the scene, but the points in that scene. Its viewing angles and long distance accuracy are important: we need 120 ° horizontal angle coverage, 90 ங்கு vertical coverage and 10-15cm accuracy at 200m. », He explains.
Finally, if this definition of 0.1 Mpix is weak in the world of image sensors, it is a record in the world of Lidar SPAD. By comparison, the ToF sensor on the iPad Pro only has 10,000 useful pixels up to 3 or 4 m. Here, it is ten times the definition and fifty times the distance.
Security above all else
This mastery of the target market and the controls of the more extreme automotive world are also felt in the manufacturing process. At a time when Apple and others are struggling to produce their chips at 5 nm – TSMC is already preparing 3 nm for next year – this sophisticated sensor is being produced at 40 nm.
⁇ We are not in the market for a smartphone that can withstand breakdowns, replace a defective product in a few hours, and replace devices after two or three years. When you buy a car, the semiconductors inside should work well after 15 years of purchase – and fail (This can lead to death, NDR) Can not be tolerated. That is why our highest standards, such as operating temperature testing standards, prevent us from using advanced production processes until we are fully qualified.s ”, explains Robert Culman.
When we talk about standards, Robert Culman here specifically refers to ISO 26262, which manages electronic components in cars and chips must withstand significant temperature variations.
⁇ The sensor is capable of withstanding a maximum temperature of 150 C and can operate for over 1000 hours at 120 ° C, all with zero margin error. The vehicle type sensor should operate uniformly for 15 years », Prometheus Robert Culman.
100 million pixels and other 3 nm engravings are far from the safety and reliability concerns the automotive world demands.
Sony is capitalizing on its consumer technologies
In the paper, various sensors recently announced by Sony, whether image sensor, aircraft time sensor (SPAD or other) or EVS sensor, show Japanese dominance in this segment.
Dominance in the ability to industrialize processes. To get the most out of reading information, the IMX 459 is designed in a model called “stacked sensors”, where the memory is integrated directly into the back of the sensor.
read more: How Sony became a champion in photography
A process called Exmor RS in consumer sensor terminology, we first saw in smartphone sensors. This is from 2012 Sony has begun to test this technology on these smaller sensors, so it offers better testing capability (production yields are better on smaller sensors than on larger sensors).
Later, when this process was mastered in the world of smartphones, Sony used it in its 1-inch sensor, which we found in its expert compacts. RX100 Mark IV. Then go to size Up to the full-frame sensor of the Alpha A9/ A9 Mark II, hybrid camera with 24×36 sensor.
Finally, after years of production testing on consumer products, Sony is now integrating it into a “pro” product like the IMX 459.
The same story applies to the production technology of circuits, such as copper-copper (Cu-Cu) bonds, which were first verified in high-end consumer products.
This mastery of the industrialization of sophisticated processes undoubtedly offers one of the other technological advantages of this sensor: its efficiency in detecting photons of emitted laser radiation.
The world of SPADs started with litars that retrieve only 1% of the photons and while currently 18% of photons are detected, IMX 459 is 30% more efficient and 24% of photons are detected. Record definition, minimum track, … and price never seen before.
Lidar systems for just $ 500?
“The first litars cost about $ 75,000, the price of a luxury car, which made them inaccessible.”, R. Says Kalman.
With its IMX 459, Sony promises incredibly low-cost devices.
⁇ If we are going to market a complete lidar kit for our partners to evaluate our technologies, we are not going to build a lidar. We provide sensors and software tools, and our partners are responsible for selecting their laser, mirror mechanism, and optics. But by our estimates, fPGA and DSP processors are different (Responsible for processing data, ndr), $ 500 to $ 2000 We estimate that our sensors will allow us to build oscillating litars depending on the integrated technologies. », Prometheus Robert Culman.
Price that is similar to mass sorting. Current Lidars are found only at the highest level like the Audi R8s, and are very close to the option of purchasing using the extra expensive security and brilliant features ranging from $ 500 to $ 2,000.
To verify Sony’s promises, it is necessary to wait until at least 2023.
⁇ Mass production of the IMX 459 will begin in the fall of 2022, as we are still in the process of qualifying for sensor resistors.. ⁇
Time for technicians to see for a long time, “he said. But it is the price of quality and safety », Robert Culman insists. Considering the review of the future eyes of our cars, we will appreciate this for a long time. If time is money, security is precious.