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DETROIT – Despite the already growing market for vision-based parking assistance and lane-departure warning systems, the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology Inc. (CSEM) is aiming to increase the penetration of such technologies with its new real-time vision-sensor system.

Called ViSe and on display at this year’s SAE International World Congress here, the new technology takes a low-tech approach to bringing high-tech vision systems to more vehicles.

Based on a unique type of low-resolution black and white camera, coupled with a compact vision sensor and conventional digital signal processor (DSP), the ViSe system operates by processing just the outlines and contrasts between images to give the driver a digital view of the road ahead.

This is in contrast to existing vision-sensor systems, such as charge-coupled devices and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor cameras, which analyze complete color images in order to determine lane markings, street signs and pedestrians.

Christian Enz, CSEM vice president-microelectronics, says it is this ability to focus on the contrast between images that allows the ViSe system to offer true real-time video, while at the same time being more compact and priced less than existing vision systems.

“Conventional camera systems must process an entire color image, an operation that takes more time, power and potentially could be affected by poor weather,” Enz says. “Simplicity and cost of ViSe are orders of magnitude better (than conventional camera systems).”

ViSe is not affected by low-light or changing light conditions, such as entering or exiting a tunnel, or driving at night, the company says.

This is because the ViSe camera only needs to make out the rough outline of an object to detect it, a feature that also allows the system to provide true real-time images of the road ahead of the vehicle.

With conventional vision systems, time and power are wasted, as the processor must decipher the various aspects of a full-color image. This creates a slight delay in displaying the image to the driver, which, under certain conditions, could be a safety detriment, Enz says.

Although CSEM currently has no customers for ViSe, the company is seeking interested parties, he says, noting the technology could be integrated into production vehicles in about two years.

It also is possible to integrate the technology with all other safety and telematics systems, such as blind-spot detection, pedestrian detection and occupant sensing for airbags and other interior safety systems. Alerting pre-crash safety restraints are another possibility, the company says.

Of note is ViSe’s ability to clearly make out the number, size and position of occupants within the vehicle, as well as determine if a child seat is present and whether it is facing toward the front or rear of the vehicle.

For production applications, Enz says ViSe will be fitted with a new sensor unit, which will combine the vision sensor with the DSP unit for improved packaging, simplicity and cost.

Says Enz: “With its real-time operation, its ability to deal with changing light conditions, and its cost-effective components, this technology can easily be deployed beyond just the luxury-car market to make all vehicles safer.”