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Exclusive Interview With Dr. Boyd Fowler, Vice President of Marketing, OmniVision Technologies

Smithers Apex: Your talk focuses on achieving high dynamic range (HDR). What do you see as the biggest technical hurdles to overcome?

Dr. Boyd: Achieving high dynamic range involves multiple technical elements. A pixel must be designed and manufactured with high full-well capacity and low read noise to allow for simultaneous capture of bright and dark areas in the same frame. The pixel also must have the ability to combine multiple captures to extend dynamic range without sacrificing signal-to-noise ratio or introducing artifacts. These all involve specific challenges and approaches from system, circuit and process perspectives.


Smithers Apex: Where do you see the best opportunities for image sensors in automotive applications?

Dr. Boyd: Current high-volume applications include advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as assisted parking, rear-view cameras (RVCs), surround-view systems and machine vision. With regulations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate for RVCs, we see the volume of the RVC market as steadily increasing. Four-camera, 360-degree surround-view systems are becoming much more prominent as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) seek to differentiate themselves.

 Front-view, machine-vision ADAS cameras can enable features such as automatic emergency braking, high-beam assist and traffic sign recognition. These systems are becoming prominent not only in high-end cars, but also in mainstream models. The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) 2018 standard requires additional features, such as front-view camera systems with multiple fields of view. We expect this standard to further drive volume for ADAS applications. In the aftermarket segment, car digital video recorders (DVRs) are currently high-volume products, driven in part by insurance and other concerns.

Emerging applications that we expect to gradually increase in volume over the next few years include mirror replacement and driver-state monitoring systems. Mirror replacement, including e-mirrors and associated camera monitoring systems (CMS), could add three more cameras per car. This trend has begun with in-cabin e-mirrors, and we expect volumes to increase quickly as regulations enable the elimination of exterior mirrors (which is also advantageous to car manufacturers in reducing drag on vehicles). Driver-state monitoring systems for gaze detection and face detection could also enable automobiles to warn drivers to pay attention to the road when obstacles are detected and to automatically pull over in case of emergencies.


Smithers Apex: What are unique challenges in the automotive market versus other end users that OmniVision serves?

Dr. Boyd: Compared to the consumer segment, the automotive segment expects higher performance, quality and service, due to the specific circumstances and needs of the application. Automotive development cycles are also longer than those for consumer products, which require more investment in time and R&D before seeing financial returns.


Smithers Apex: What do you think consumers will expect from their vehicles in 2020?

Dr. Boyd: We expect to see vehicles start to become “semi-autonomous,” which will mean cars will become able to drive, navigate and also act as a communications device. Cameras will enable many of these features in conjunction with other sensors. As this trend continues, we expect high-end configurations to have more than 12 to 16 cameras for various applications.