Thursday, October 29, 2020

Sony 33-Sensor Concept Car

NikkeiAsia: "I believe the next megatrend [after mobile phones] will be mobility," said Sony Chairman and President Kenichiro Yoshida as he unveiled the Vision-S concept car at the CES tech show in the U.S. in January.

The Vision-S will have 33 sensors, including image sensors, a Sony specialty. Izumi Kawanishi, Sony's SVP who is shepherding development of the car, said the sensors "give passengers and pedestrians a sense of security thanks to the 360-degree vision it provides."

NikkeiAsia says that Sony controls about 70% of the global market for the image sensors used in smartphone cameras, but its share for automotive image sensors is only 9%. The Vision-S is an exploratory effort by the company as it taps into a market led by ON Semi. According to NikkeiAsia, ON Semi has been producing automotive image sensors for over 50 years (since 1970?) and controls 45% of the market.

Sony and Omnivision Receive US License to Supply Sensors to Huawei

Nikkei reports that Sony and Omnivision have been granted licenses by the U.S. government to resume some shipments to China's Huawei.

"What we learned was that some... image sensor related suppliers are receiving some licenses from the U.S. government as those components are viewed as less related to cybersecurity concerns, and Sony is among those who received approval," an unnamed chip industry executive told Nikkei Asia.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Light Launches Clarity, Better than LiDAR

 Light Co. announces its automotive 3D depth Clarity platform:

"Lidars do a great job, but they don’t do the whole job. Their range is often limited to ~250 meters. Class 8 trucks need at least 400+ meters to come to a complete stop, safely. Lidar as well as monocular camera-based systems can get confused as to whether they’re seeing a person painted on the side of a truck or an actual person.

Clarity is a camera-based perception platform that’s able to see any 3D structures in the road from 10 centimeters to 1000 meters away — three times the distance of the best-in-class lidar with 20 times the detail."

There is nothing else like the Clarity platform with its combination of depth range, accuracy, and density per second. It enables a new generation of vehicles that can be made safer, without having to compromise on cost, quality, or reliability,” said Prashant Velagaleti, Chief Product Officer of Light. “Rather than only minimizing the severity of a collision, having high fidelity depth allows any vehicle powered by Clarity to make decisions that can avoid accidents, keeping occupants safe as well as comfortable.” 

Sony Reports 1% Decrease in Image Sensor Sales, Reduces Forecast

Sony reports its quarterly results and updates on its image sensor business:

  • FY20 Q2 sales decreased slightly year-on-year to 307.1 billion yen and operating income significantly decreased 26.5 billion yen to 49.8 billion yen.
  • FY20 sales are expected to decrease 40 billion yen to 960 billion yen and operating income is expected to significantly decrease 49 billion yen to 81 billion yen.
  • Even accounting for the decrease in operating income in FY20, we expect the difference between the total of operating cash flow and investing cash flow for the segment over the three fiscal years begun April 1, 2018 to be positive.
  • Pursuant to export restrictions announced by the U.S. government on August 17, 2020 we terminated product shipments to a certain major Chinese customer [Huawei - ISW] as of September 15, 2020.
  • The forecast disclosed today for the second half of this fiscal year does not include any shipments to that customer.
  • In addition, the operating income for the quarter includes an approximately 17.5 billion yen write-down of finished goods and work-in-progress inventory for that customer recorded at the end of September.
  • Based on this situation, we are further revising the business strategy, as I explained at the previous earnings announcement, from the perspective of capital expenditures, research and development and customer base.
  • We are further postponing the timing of capital expenditures, with cumulative capital expenditures for the three fiscal years begun April 1, 2018 expected to be reduced 40 billion yen from the approximately 650 billion yen I explained last time.
  • We do not think it is prudent to prematurely reduce research and development spending because we want to meet the needs of a wide range of smartphone customers, as well as maintain and increase our future technological competitive advantage.
  • We have had some success expanding and diversifying our customer base for FY21. The financial impact on our business in FY20 is limited, but we think it is possible to recapture, in FY21, a large portion of the market share, on a unit basis, we lost this fiscal year.
  • However, we expect that it will take a long time for other customers to follow the trend to higher-functionality and larger die-sized smartphone cameras that the Chinese customer [Huawei - ISW] was leading. Thus, we expect the substantial recovery of profitability driven by these high value-added products to take place in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023 (“FY22”).
  • By recapturing market share in FY21 through an increase in sales of commodity sensors, and by recouping our business profitability in FY22 through more high valueadded products, we aim to return the mobile image sensor business to growth.
  • In addition, there is no change to our mid-to long-term strategy of growing our business through expansion of applications that use edge AI and 3D sensing capabilities, as well as through starting up automotive sensors in earnest.
Reuters reports that Huawei was Sony’s second-largest image sensor customer after Apple, accounting for about 20% of its $10b in sensor revenue, according to analyst estimates.

Will the iPhone LiDAR Change AR Forever?

 AWE publishes a panel discussion "AWE Nite NYC: Will the iPhone LiDAR Change AR Forever? With Snap, Niantic, Occipital."

Infineon and PMD Announce 10m Long Range ToF Sensor for Smartphones

BusinessWire: Infineon and pmdtechnologies developed a 3D ToF sensor which is claimed to outperform other solutions in the market and aims for a wider spectrum of consumer applications. The 3D sensor market in smartphones for rear side cameras is expected to grow up to more than 500M units per year until 2024.

The latest 3D image sensor from Infineon and pmdtechnologies enables a new generation of applications”, says Philipp von Schierstaedt, SVP Infineon. “It aims to create most immersive and smarter AR experiences as well as better photography results with a faster autofocus in low-light conditions or more beautiful night mode portraits based on picture segmentation. This latest chip development is truly setting standards when it comes to improvements of the imager, the driver and processing as well as unprecedented ten meters long range capabilities at lowest power.

The new chip allows the integration into miniaturized camera modules, accurately measuring depth in short and long range for AR while meeting low power consumption requirements with more than 40% power saving on the imager.

Furthermore seamless augmented reality sensing experiences are being achieved, allowing for high quality 3D depth data capture up to a distance of 10m (at reduced resolution), without losing resolution in the shorter range. Always-on applications such as mobile AR gaming can greatly benefit from the small power budget required by the new sensor. For applications such as the 3D scanning for room and object reconstruction or 3D mapping for furniture planning and other design applications the sensor allows to double the measuring range beyond the current solution in the market.

The volume delivery for this chip starts in Q2 2021, demo kits are already available. The recorded livestream from the official press event is available here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

ST Announces 64-Point dToF Sensor

GlobeNewswireSTMicroelectronics extends its portfolio of FlightSense ToF sensors with a 64-zone device. This first-of-its-kind product comprises a 940nm VCSEL light source, a SoC sensor integrating a VCSEL driver, the receiving array of SPADs, and a low-power 32-bit MCU core and accelerator running firmware. The VL53L5 retains the Class 1 certification of all ST’s FlightSense sensors and is fully eye-safe for consumer products.

The multi-zone VL53L5 FlightSense direct Time-of-Flight sensor uses our most advanced 40nm SPAD production process to offer outstanding 4m ranging performance and up to 64 ranging zones that help an imaging system build a detailed spatial understanding of the scene,” said Eric Aussedat, GM of ST’s Imaging Division. “Delivering 64x more ranging zones than previously available, the VL53L5 offers radical performance improvement in laser autofocus, touch-to-focus, presence detection, and gesture interfaces while helping developers create even more innovative imaging applications.

With a vertically integrated manufacturing model for its FlightSense sensors, ST builds its SPAD wafers on a 40nm proprietary silicon process in the Company’s 12” wafer plant at Crolles, France before assembling all of the module components in ST’s back-end plants in Asia. This approach delivers exceptional quality and reliability to customers.

Packaged in a 6.4 x 3.0 x 1.5 mm module, the VL53L5 integrates both transmit and receive lenses into the module design and expands the FoV of the module to 61-degrees diagonal. This wide FoV is especially suited to detect off-center objects and ensure perfect autofocus in the corners of the image. In the ‘Laser Autofocus’ use case, the VL53L5 gathers ranging data from up-to 64 zones across the full FoV to support “Touch to Focus” and many other features.

Further flexibility is available via the SPAD array, which can be set to favor spatial resolution, where it outputs all 64 zones at up to 15fps, or to favor maximum ranging distance, where the sensor outputs 4×4/16 zones at a frame rate of 60fps.

ST’s architecture can automatically calibrate each ranging zone and direct Time-of-Flight technology allows each zone to detect multiple targets and reject reflection from the cover-glass. 

Customer development with the VL53L5 can build on ST’s strong relationships with key smartphone and PC platform suppliers as ST has pre-integrated the sensor onto these platforms. The VL53L5 is in mass production with millions of units already shipped to leading wireless and computer manufacturers.

Axcelis 5-8MeV Implanters Adopted by Multiple CIS Companies

PRNewswire: Axcelis announces that it has shipped multiple Purion VXE (up to 8MeV) and Purion EXE (up to 5.3MeV) high energy systems to several leading CMOS image sensor manufacturers. The systems shipped in the third quarter. There is no word on adaption the highest energy Purion XEmax supportint up to 15MeV ion implantation.

EVP of Product Development, Bill Bintz, commented, "Axcelis has created a flexible, highly differentiated high energy product portfolio that is ideally suited to address the exact needs of customers manufacturing image sensors for applications requiring ultra-high energy implants with extremely precise and deep doping profiles."

Omnivision to Increase its Wafer Testing Capacity by 420,000 12-inch Wafers per Year

Rising Sun Mobile News reports that Will Semi, Omnivision's mother company, intends to issue 2.69 billion yuan (approx. $400M) of convertible corporate bonds to build a wafer testing and reconstruction facility in Shanghai for Omnivision.  After the project is completed and put into production, 420,000 additional 12-inch wafers will be tested per year.

After the construction is completed, Omnivision would test and reconstruct wafers and sub-assembly of high-MP imagers on its own. This is expected to reduce processing costs and improve products more comprehensively. Also, it would reduce the proportion of the outsourced processing and associated supply chain risks.