Special Coverage

2010 Convergence

DETROIT – Toyota Prius buyers in Japan now have the option of a dealer-installed “wrap-around” camera system that gives the driver a 360-degree view around the vehicle, a system enabled by Fujitsu Semiconductor America Inc. technology.

Some vision systems in production luxury vehicles today allow only a 2-dimensional top-down view of what’s around a vehicle, made possible by software that digitally stitches together images captured by tiny cameras in the two side-view mirrors, above the rear bumper and hidden in the grille.

With Fujitsu’s new “Wrap-Around Video Imaging Technology,” those four cameras would be in the same location, but sophisticated new software stitches images together from multiple points around the vehicle, not only from directly above.

Fujitsu calls it a seamless, 3-dimensional omni-directional view, enabled by “free eye point” technology operating within a digital polygon mesh.

Think of the vehicle as if it were sitting inside a giant salad bowl. Fujitsu’s algorithms allow views of the vehicle from multiple points around the bowl, much like a video game.

In the Japanese market, Prius owners opting for the package can toggle through various views, for instance, when backing up or maneuvering in a parking lot. Regardless of the view, all four cameras always are working.

Minus labor, the cameras and software retail at the dealer level at the equivalent of $1,000 in Japan, Fujitsu officials say.

At the 2010 SAE Convergence conference here , the system is equipped on a small-model car. The various views from cameras mounted to the vehicle appear on a video monitor above Fujitsu’s booth, as they would on the display screen in the instrument panel.

The system provides a view immediately surrounding the vehicle as well as objects in the periphery that most cameras would not pick up. For the most part, resolution is good, but the perspective is slightly distorted by the “fish-eye” lens that’s necessary to provide the widest possible view.

The view and perspective will get a lot better in a few months when Fujitsu’s new MB86R11 “Emerald-L” 2D/3D graphics “system-on-a-chip” arrives in the market, the supplier says. The 32-bit chip combines an ARM Cortex A9 processor and a powerful, custom-built core capable of delivering leading-edge graphics and effects.

Although more expensive, the new chip is capable of running other onboard systems, such as instrument gauges in the dashboard.

Fujitsu officials say they are in talks with most auto makers and that interest in the system is high. In Europe, where pedestrian-protection mandates have forced many design changes in today’s vehicles, the technology promises another layer of capability.

“The Fujitsu 360-degree Wrap-Around Video Imaging Technology can aid vehicle safety by eliminating blind-spots and by providing visual assistance when the driver is backing up or turning corners,” says Akio Nezu, senior manager-marketing for Fujitsu Semiconductor America, which has offices in Livonia, MI, and Sunnyvale, CA.

Nezu says the system, even with the new Emerald-L chip, will be slightly more expensive than existing top-down vision systems.

Once an auto maker signs a contract to source the technology from Fujitsu, it would take less than two years to integrate in a vehicle, ready for production, Nezu tells Ward’s.

If an auto maker decides to offer the system as a dealer-installed option in the U.S., it would take less than a year to make it available to consumers, he says.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com