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SMaL Camera Technologies' logo. Click here to visit the SMaL Camera website! SMaL takes Autobrite on the road
(Monday, July 28, 2003 - 00:01 EDT)

Perhaps not quite directly related to digital imaging, but we thought this story interesting nonetheless: SMaL Camera Technologies will announce today that its CMOS imaging sensors featuring the proprietary "Autobrite" technology will be making the move from digital cameras to an altogether different field.

Several digital camera models based on a reference design from SMaL and commercialised by manufacturers Fujifilm, Logitech, Radio Shack and Oregon Scientific already feature Autobrite, which the company says "is capable of producing clear details in scenes with extreme lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight, backlighting or glare." The technology aims to increase the dynamic range of captured images, capturing detail in both shadow and highlight areas. Today's announcement says that sensors featuring Autobrite will be offered on the road in production vehicles within the next few years.

There is a growing market in the automotive industry for sensors of various kinds which allow vehicles to be aware of the environment around them, and react to it in various ways. Ultrasonic, radar, visual and other sensors can be used to make vehicles safer and more convenient - and, of course, add new selling points to help their manufacturers sell more of their products... Auto manufacturers envision vehicles that can drive themselves 50 years from now, and whilst this might sound like the stuff of science-fiction novels, the first real-world applications using such sensors today are taking small steps in that direction.

Night vision technology lets drivers have a clearer view of the road ahead at night than headlights alone can manage. Lane detection can warn the driver if they're drifting out of their lane without using the indicators (perhaps having fallen asleep) and could even let the vehicle adjust the steering, helping prevent a collision. Adaptive cruise control can detect when you're getting too close to the vehicle in front of you and ease off the gas to keep you at a safe distance. Another potential market for imaging sensors is occupant sensing - the government has mandated that airbag systems must become intelligent, and know if there is a child or small passenger in a seat before deciding whether or not to deploy.

SMaL believes that visual sensors are more flexible than competing technologies such as ultrasonic and radar sensors. Unlike those technologies, which can tell you that there's something in front of you for example, with appropriate software visual sensors can tell the computer what objects are, let it recognize lane markings, etc. Visual sensors have to deal with a great range of lighting conditions though, and since lives could be at stake, it is vital for the sensor be able to deal with these conditions.

Imagine a tunnel that is dark inside but with bright light ahead; the sun on horizon or reflecting on car; headlights and low environmental light levels at night - it is obvious that for the system to work well, sensitivity and dynamic range would be extremely important... That's where SMaL says that Autobrite comes in. The company says it's sensors were selected because of their wide dynamic range, high sensitivity, and because it has proven its ability to provide the sensors, having shipped "hundreds of thousands" of them in digital still cameras already. Today's announcement is obviously good news for SMaL, and we see it as a good example of technologies developed for digital cameras making the leap into complementary markets.

At the moment, SMaL aren't able to name the company with whom the deal has been inked, saying only that it is "one of top five tier-one auto suppliers in the world" (ie. not a specific auto manufacturer, but instead a company that supplies its products to various auto manufacturers), and that it's products appear in name-brand vehicles. The deal will see Autobrite CMOS sensors used for a forward-looking vision system capable of lane detection, adaptive cruise control and night vision, and is worth some US$3.5 million to SMaL.

Original Source Press Release:

SMaL Camera Technologies Announces Design Win with Top Automotive Supplier

Advanced IM102 Image Sensor Installed in a Vision-Based Driver Assistance System

Cambridge, MA (July 28, 2003) - SMaL Camera Technologies, the developer of electronic imaging solutions and the creator of the award-winning Ultra-Pocket® digital camera, today announced a $3.5 million design win with one of the world's top five automotive suppliers. The supplier company has selected SMaL's IM102 wide dynamic range, high sensitivity CMOS imager to provide vision-based driver assistance technologies, which will be released in production vehicles within the next few years.

SMaL's sensors will be used to enable multiple forward-looking, driver-assisted applications such as lane departure warning, night vision, adaptive cruise control and pre-crash safety systems. Industry experts predict that 3 to 5 cameras could be standard in most passenger vehicles manufactured by 2010.

These vision-based applications are designed to make driving both safer and more convenient. Automotive companies implement the applications by connecting video cameras to computers with sophisticated software. Together, the cameras, computers and software "see" the roadway and automatically provide driver warnings or adjust the vehicle's speed or direction when objects like pedestrians, cars or lane markings are detected. These applications must function flawlessly in an expansive variety of lighting conditions such as bright sun, dark country roads, on-coming headlights and the entrances or exits to tunnels.

SMaL's IM102 image sensor provides the best combination of wide dynamic range, low noise and high sensitivity, making it the perfect single solution for the widely varying lighting conditions encountered by today's drivers. Powered by SMaL's Autobrite®, a revolutionary new technology, the IM102's wide dynamic range is capable of producing clear details in scenes with extreme lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight, backlighting or glare. Other CMOS or CCD imaging solutions produce saturation or deep shadow in such scenes, making them risky and unfit for automotive applications. The IM102 is also capable of producing crisp images in extremely low or near-infrared light, so automotive applications can function at night. And unlike CCD imagers, the IM102 will not bloom when capturing bright objects such as headlights.

"SMaL's proprietary IM102 CMOS image sensor, Autobrite technology and integrated Imaging Modules are setting the benchmark for wide dynamic range cameras among automotive manufacturers, Tier 1 suppliers, and developers of intelligent transportation systems," said Maurizio Arienzo, president and CEO of SMaL. "Autobrite provides 1,000 times the dynamic range of conventional video cameras. This technology and our proven ability to deliver high-volume, high-quality solutions, will establish SMaL as the automotive imaging leader and help revolutionize the safety and convenience of driving. SMaL is proud to be partnering with the world's top automotive companies at the forefront of this exciting effort."

In addition to enabling vision-based driver assistance systems, SMaL's technology is being leveraged in the consumer electronics market. SMaL enables existing and future lifestyle digital cameras and camera-enabled devices based on SMaL's award-winning Ultra-Pocket digital camera solution. In 2002 alone, SMaL shipped over half a million imaging kits to OEM customers in the digital still camera market. This proven delivery experience will help SMaL meet the demanding requirements of its automotive customers.

SMaL also serves the security and surveillance market. SMaL's Ultra-Wide™ and Autobrite technologies enable video cameras that help security professionals increase safety and security with the display of wide-angle views and clear, crisp video content, regardless of extreme variations of brightness within the same scene.

About SMaL Camera Technologies (www.SMaLcamera.com)
SMaL Camera Technologies is an award-winning developer of electronic imaging solutions for the digital camera, security and surveillance, consumer electronics and automotive markets. SMaL's solutions are built around its proprietary CMOS image sensors, video processing ASICs and Autobrite® technology. These solutions provide previously unavailable benefits, revolutionizing the digital photo and video markets. With SMaL's consumer solutions, featuring low-power consumption and advanced imaging techniques, consumer electronics manufacturers can now offer convenient digital photography by producing the thinnest, most user-friendly digital cameras and mobile imaging devices in the world. SMaL's technology powers digital still cameras from leading consumer electronics companies. In the security & surveillance markets, SMaL's Autobrite technology enables video cameras that help security professionals increase safety and security with the display of clear and crisp video content, regardless of extreme variations of brightness within the same scene. In the automotive market, SMaL's Autobrite technology provides high-quality video that will enable driver assistance applications of the future. SMaL was co-founded and launched in 1999 by leading electronic imaging experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). SMaL is a privately held, venture-backed company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

For more information on SMaL Camera Technologies and its products, visit the company's web site at http://www.SMaLcamera.com.

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