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Sony’s all-new image sensor boasts high sensitivity, HDR, and anti-flicker tech, all of which could be extremely useful in helping autonomous cars navigate in less than ideal situations.

Camera sensors in self-driving cars

Of the many components that are indispensable in fully autonomous vehicles are camera sensors. As illustrated by Elon Musk recently, cars see everything – and I mean, everything – through its cameras: lines on the road, lights, people, other cars, signs, and so forth. The camera sensors are what allow the car to be aware of its surroundings, but it gets a bit tricky in less than ideal situations.

For instance, a lot of camera sensors struggle to perform reliably in very dark areas or during sudden transitions such as going through a tunnel on an extremely sunny day. And they have a hard time reading LED signs without making them flicker. Now, that’s where Sony’s brand-new IMX390CQV sensor comes in: first image sensor to be designed specifically for autonomous vehicles, it boasts advanced HDR functions as well as anti-flicker technology.

Comparison between Sony’s sensor and others

As you can see from the video above, the difference is quite evident. The first is a comparison between Sony’s sensor and another HDR sensor that has no anti-flicker tech. The result is that the speedometer is essentially illegible. The second is a comparison between Sony’s sensor and another which has LED mitigation but no HDR. The vehicle isn’t able to see the outside at all even after going through the tunnel.

Sony’s new 2.45-megapixel sensor boasts 120dB HDR sensitivity which should be able to handle extremely dark conditions as well as tunnels and has light sensitivity down to 0.1 lux, making road signs visible even at night. The sensor uses long exposure to get rid of LED flickers, and this works in conjunction with HDR.

Sony says it plans to start sampling the new sensors next month and will ship them in March 2018.

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