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ICU project gives cars infrared eyes

04 Jul 2008

Low-cost infrared night-vision systems could soon be a regular feature in cars thanks to a new EU project.

Six of Europe's leading companies and research establishments have joined forces to develop a prototype low-cost infrared night-vision system that can accurately resolve pedestrians and animals on the road. The project is called ICU, which stands for Infrared Imaging Components for Use in Automotive Safety Applications.

The plan is for the prototype infrared imaging system to provide high contrast images of warm (living) objects that are completely independent of ambient light conditions. The project partners believe that if such a system were to be used in cars, it would reduce both the number of accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and animals as well as the death toll and the number of people who are seriously injured.

The development will focus on the two main cost drivers: the infrared bolometer sensor array and the infrared lens system. Each of these components individually, their co-development, and their assembly, represents a considerable scientific and technological challenge.

"The target wavelength range is 8–12 ┬Ám," said Frank Niklaus, ICU project coordinator from KTH. "The infrared bolometer arrays will be made of a new monocrystalline SiGe/Si quantum well material, providing increased temperature coefficient of resistance and improved 1/f noise properties as compared to state of the art infrared bolometers."

According to Niklaus, the bolometers will be manufactured using heterogeneous 3D MEMS integration that is compatible with standard MEMS foundry services. He added that a low-cost wafer-level vacuum packaging process will be developed and that infrared optics suitable for mass manufacture using low-cost processes and lens materials will be explored.

"The most important challenge of all, however, is to achieve optimum performance at the lowest cost, such that the infrared imaging module is affordable for everyone and as such can be integrated in high volume applications", said Niklaus.

The industrial partners in ICU are market leaders in automotive safety systems (Autoliv Development AB, Sweden), in automotive component manufacturing (Infineon Technologies SensoNor AS, Norway), and in high-volume infrared optics (Umicore NV, Belgium).

The universities and research institutes that will participate in the project (Acreo AB, Sweden; KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden; and Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium) all have a strong track record in research and development of photonic components and technologies. See below for more details on all partners.

The ICU project is supported by the European Community in the framework of the FP7 Information and Communication Technologies Programme. The project kicked off in Brussels in May and will run for two and a half years until October 2010.

The ICU partners are:

Autoliv of Sweden
Autoliv develops and manufactures automotive safety systems for all major automotive manufacturers. Autoliv has developed an infrared vision enhancement that is in production with BMW.
Contact: Dick Eriksson

Infineon Technologies SensoNor AS of Norway
Infineon Technologies SensoNor AS has expertise in the development, design and manufacturing of MEMS, including key competence in wafer-level bonding in controlled environments.
Contact: Anders Elfving

Umicore of Belgium
Umicore is a materials company active in applications, such as solar cells, car catalysts, batteries and infrared optics. Umicore provides moulded infrared optics for automotive, thermography and other applications.
Contact: Tom Krekels

KTH – Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (project coordinator)
The Microsystem Technology Group at KTH has a very strong track record in MEMS and photonic research.
Contact: Frank Niklaus

Acreo of Sweden
Acreo AB is a research institute working in the fields of electronics, optics and communication technology. Acreo has a long history of developing and manufacturing infrared detector systems and contributes to the project with its expertise in sensor materials, microsystem manufacturing technology and ASIC design.
Contact: Per Ericsson

Vrije Universiteit Brussels of Belgium
The Department of Applied Physics and Photonics (TONA) is a research group within the Faculty of Engineering of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The group is recognized for its basic, strategic and applied research in the field of micro-optics and micro-photonics, and is also involved in industrially oriented research projects.
Contact: Hugo Thienpont

Author
Jacqueline Hewett is editor of Optics & Laser Europe magazine.

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