Your next car may have this tiny camera to keep you alert

OmniVision's tiny module includes a camera and a chip to check for drowsy and distracted drivers. (OmniVision)

Driver monitoring systems (DMS) are coming to cars using tiny cameras to check whether a driver is drowsy or distracted by a text in order to activate an alert if needed.

Carmakers will likely be hiding the tiny cameras behind and just above the steering wheel or inside the vertical A pillar connecting the windshield to the driver’s door.

The problem for chip and sensor makers is to come up with a device small enough to keep the camera almost undetectable. 

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To help solve the problem, engineers at OmniVision Technologies in Santa Clara, California, have created the CameraCubeChip module, a 1 megapixel first-of-a-kind automobile camera that is much smaller than a penny. It measures just 6.5 mm x 6.5 mm.

The company announced Tuesday it is also the lowest in power consumption of similar devices, about half of the nearest competitor.  Omnivision jammed the image sensor, signal processor and wafer-level optics into a single package, technically called the OVM9284.  The combination means carmakers don’t have to deal with multiple vendors or the separate parts, said Andy Hanvey, director of auto marketing at OmniVision in an interview with FierceElectronics.

DMS will be a key part of level 2 automated driver assistance systems, he added.  Pierre Cambou, principal analyst at Yole Developpement, said such sensors will be implemented in real cars within two to three years.

Automotive imaging will grow at a healthy pace in years to come, especially in China, Cambou said via email. “Driver distraction is becoming a major issue and has brought regulator attention,” he said.

While OmniVision is based in the U.S., it is owned by China-based Will Semiconductor, which quietly  purchased the company for nearly $2.2 billion in 2018 after private equity investors in China purchased the company for nearly $2 billion in 2015.**

"OmniVision has a nice footprint in the automotive market,” and competes primarily against ON Semiconductor, Cambou said.  Yole has forecast a 43% annual growth rate for DMS in the next five years.

OmniVision said samples of the camera module are available now with mass production starting in the fourth quarter of 2020.

In a separate announcement, OmniVision announced an advanced digital image sensor for upcoming premium vehicles to give drivers enhanced views for rear-view cameras and e-mirrors when parking or maneuvering. 

The OXO3C10 ASIL-C image sensor has a 3.0 micron pixel size with a high dynamic range and top-rated LED flicker mitigation. Omnivision said it can deliver 1920 x 1280p resolution at 60 frames a second with the lowest power consumption of any LFM image sensor with 2.5-megapixel resolution.

Those capabilities will provide high image quality across all lighting conditions and when cars are moving along roadways with flickering LEDs from headlights, road signs and traffic signals, Omnivision said.

RELATED: Nvidia, Intel jaw pro and con of Level 3 vehicle autonomy.

**The original version of this story did not include Will Semiconductor's ownership of OmniVision.

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