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Obsidian Sensors partnership to make high-res thermal imagers for cars

23 May 2024

San Diego firm sees opportunity following National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruling.

Obsidian Sensors, a San Diego company specializing in high-resolution thermal sensors that can be mass-produced, is to target applications in automobiles under a new partnership with Taiwanese electronics firm Quanta Computer.

Prompted by a recent safety standard ruling from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has mandated autonomous energy braking (AEB) systems on all new cars from 2029, the two firms see a major market opportunity for the technology to help protect pedestrians at night.

“Traffic safety authorities around the world have been looking for solutions to address the alarming rise in pedestrian injuries and deaths in recent years, especially in low light situations,” said the two companies in a statement announcing the partnership.

“ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and AEB systems are greatly augmented by the ability of thermal sensors to see in complete darkness and through fog, smoke, rain, and snow.”

Volume production compatibility
The most recent figures from the US National Safety Council show that after a steady decline between 1994 and 2009 pedestrian fatalities have been trending up in the country ever since, with 7522 recorded in 2022 - up from 4109 in 2009. Around 80 per cent of those deaths occur in low-light conditions.

John Hong, the CEO of Obsidian Sensors said: “Thermal imaging has long been recognized as the key sensor technology to improve automotive safety, especially for pedestrians at night. Uptake has been slow primarily because of the high cost. Our sensors make this all viable at scale.”

The new partnership aims to “revolutionize” the thermal imaging industry by producing high-resolution thermal sensors at low cost and high volume on its so-called “LAMP” (Large Area MEMS Platform), which is compatible with manufacturing lines at established flat panel display foundries.

“With large glass substrates capable of producing sensors with VGA-resolution or higher at volumes exceeding 100 million units per year, Obsidian Sensors will help drive the mass-market adoption of this life-saving technology into the automotive world as well as many others such as security, surveillance, and drones,” added the firm.

RGB/LWIR fusion
Established in 1988, Quanta Computer is a leading contract manufacturer of laptop PCs, as well as servers and conventional cameras for industrial and automotive applications.

Alan Chai, a senior VP at the company, said: “We are developing industry-leading imaging system solutions with both visible and infrared camera technologies.

“The collaboration with Obsidian enables the fusion of RGB and LWIR sensor signals using AI vision processors to trigger potentially lifesaving systems such as AEB and in-cabin vital sign detection.

“The combination will also unlock new frontiers in machine vision products including automotive and professional surveillance. We look forward to the transformative impact these solutions will have across diverse sectors.”

On April 29, the NHTSA finalized a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that will make AEB, including pedestrian AEB, standard on all passenger cars and light trucks by September 2029.

“This safety standard is expected to significantly reduce rear-end and pedestrian crashes,” said the NHTSA. “[It] will save at least 360 lives a year and prevent at least 24,000 injuries annually.”

AEB systems use sensors to detect when a vehicle is close to crashing into a vehicle or pedestrian in front and automatically applies the brakes if the driver has not. Pedestrian AEB technology will detect a pedestrian in both daylight and in darker conditions at night.

ABTechLaCroix Precision OpticsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationTRIOPTICS GmbHSPECTROGON ABHÜBNER PhotonicsUniverse Kogaku America Inc.
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