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December 20, 2017updated 17 Jun 2022 8:08am

Sony revs the engine on driverless cars with new micro sensor

Sony's latest sensor has a distance precision rate at 1m of 6mm in ambient light (2k lux).

By Sabrina Dougall

Sony is making strides into the emerging technology sector with the mass roll-out of its new time-of-flight (ToF) image sensor. The improved accuracy of depth map production in the latest sensor model is a formidable string to the bow of the tech-builders’ autonomous vehicle capability.

The Japanese electronics giant has released its 1/2-type, VGA resolution sensor as part of its DepthSense range for use in autonomous operations, VR, AR and mixed reality systems. ToF refers to the measurement of time it takes for light to reflect from a surface to the sensor. The latest product stamps Sony as no lightweight competitor in the race to driverless cars, in which Apple, Google (Waymo), Tesla and Uber are fierce competitors.

Sony claim the 9mm component provides enhanced distance measurement capability owing to their development of 10µm square pixel. The tiny gadget detects distance information for every pixel, creating more accurate depth maps, the company promise. Images produced are back-illuminated.

While typical ToF sensors have trouble measuring distances of up to 10m, Sony say its IMX456QL model has a “sensitivity raising mode” to improve performance in this range. Its distance precision rate at 1m is 6mm in ambient light (2k lux), producing an image size of diagonal 8.0mm. Its close range distance is 30cm. Additionally, the tech captures depth maps at a rate of 120fps and supresses some distortion of moving subjects. Sony says this functionality creates better depth maps than laser scan object distance measurement.

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Sony’s announcement comes a month after the planned mass-production shipment date posted on its website. The electronics firm will ship sample products in April 2018. Each unit costs 3,000 JPY (£19.78).

The news comes as Sony is set to record its highest level of profit this year, boosting its profile in the tech sector as the company steps up its production of 4IR sensor development.

In the year up to March, Sony predicts it will post operating profit of 630 billion yen ($5.6 billion), more than double the 2016 figure. In April, the sensor specialist announced their HDR camera image detection component with improved vision in low-lit environments. Last year, Sony Europe was announced as a major research leader in the Atlas project to study data critical to autonomous vehicle operation.

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