A cross-section of the microcamera module, with the image sensor mounted on the printed circuit board [Fraunhofer IZM]

Miniature camera for vehicles could cut accidents

A new microcamera module measuring only a few cubic millimetres could soon be integrated into driver assistance systems to aid car drivers facing critical situations.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin have developed a microcamera module to detect events and alerts such as traffic signs, warnings or obstacles. In contrast to driver assistance systems already on the market, the Fraunhofer microcamera processes image material directly inside the camera and evaluates the frames.

“The video itself no longer has to be sorted and analyzed by an interposing system. Instead, only the relevant signals are transmitted,” says Andreas Ostmann, group manager at IZM. The advantage for traffic signal detection is that the data volumes to be transmitted and processed are much lower. The detection can thus be adapted and extended to include all traffic signs and road warnings.

The microcamera measures 16x16x12 cubic millimeters, including optics, or 16x16x4.6 cubic millimeters without the optics. Driver assistance cameras currently installed in vehicles typically measure 20x20x20 cubic millimeters (without optics). A total of 72 passive and 13 active components (LEDs, DC-to-DC converters, memory chip, image sensor and image processor) were positioned within the Fraunhofer module to save space.

All components for the module are also integrated directly into the PC board from glass fiber and epoxy resin. By encapsulating the electronic components, the microcamera is impervious to vibrations on uneven street surfaces.

“Our system can not only be used to detect traffic signs. If one programs the software accordingly, it is also possible to detect road markings. In this case, the camera is combined with a lane departure assistant. Since it also controls motion detection and detects objects such as animals, people, and their position, it can be readily coupled with a brake assistant or pedestrian safety system,” Ostmann explains.

If mounted on the dashboard, the miniature system could also monitor the cabin of vehicles and sound an alarm if it detects the driver’s eyes closing for longer than a second. Other potential applications for the miniature camera could be anti-theft protection and quality control.

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