Even as car makers are snapping up lidar technology firms in an effort to build vertically integrated, full-stack systems for autonomous vehicles, two recent joint-venture announcements highlight other roles for optics and photonics in the cars of the future.
Denso and FotoNation
In mid-October, the worldwide automotive components and technology supplier Denso, headquartered in Japan, and the FotoNation image-recognition subsidiary of the Silicon Valley-based tech company Xperi announced a joint venture to develop cabin-sensing software and systems particularly targeted to Level 3 (“eyes off”) autonomous vehicles. The goal of the venture, according to Denso, is to “achieve the world’s most sophisticated driver status detection,” particularly by enabling robust face recognition that’s resistant to confounding factors like changes in lighting, facial coverings and sunglasses.
To achieve the goal, the venture plans to press into service FotoNation’s previous work in face-recognition software and neural-net computing, combining it with Denso’s experience in driver-status-monitoring systems. Denso has marketed the latter systems since 2014 mainly to truck and bus fleets, where the technology focuses on sensing signs of driver drowsiness and sounding an alert if the driver seems to be falling asleep at the wheel.
The more ambitious goal of the Denso–FotoNation venture will be to craft a system that can integrate a fuller, more continuous picture—and an AI-driven understanding—of the driver’s state, factoring in such data as gaze direction and even facial expression. This, the companies suggested in a press release, could “accelerate the development of next-generation products to be used in passenger vehicles, including a system to help drivers return to driving mode during Level 3 of autonomous drive.”
Osram and Continental
In a different automotive sphere, in early November, the German-based lighting company Osram and the German auto parts company Continental announced that they’ve teamed up in a venture to push forward smart-lighting technology for next-gen vehicles. The objective of the venture, Osram Continental GmbH, is, according to the companies, to “generate annual sales in the mid-triple-digit-million-euro range with a workforce of around 1,500 employees and 17 locations worldwide.”
The venture hopes to achieve these lofty goals by melding Osram’s expertise in solid-state lighting with Continental’s growing presence in automotive electronics and software technology, honed through recent work for customers such as Volkswagen and Daimler. Osram will, in fact, transfer its entire automotive solid-state lighting module business over to the joint venture, while Continental will drop the light control business from its body-and-security unit into the mix. Osram and Continental will each own a 50 percent stake in the venture, which will operate as a stand-alone entity.
The Osram–Continental venture expects to focus particularly on “end-to-end, innovative lighting solutions” for headlight and taillight applications, according to a press release. Stefan Kampmann, the chief technology officer of Osram’s lighting business, said in the release that, by combining his company’s lighting expertise with Continental’s software and electronics experience, the joint venture would “create a forward-looking company for digital automotive lighting.” And Helmut Matschi, a member of Continental’s executive board, argued that the venture “will systematically combine these two areas and raise them to a new level.”