Panasonic has developed an image sensor 100 times as sensitive to light as existing technology.

With the race to build road-ready autonomous cars heating up, so too is the competition in the electronics needed to make them work. That will enable self-driving cars to spot pedestrians, traffic signals and other objects instantly even at night.

Image sensors, found in digital cameras like those embedded in smartphones, convert light into electrical signals. Sony enjoys a market-leading 40% global share and is chasing demand for automotive applications. Panasonic had scaled back its presence amid declining profitability in its semiconductor business. But the prospect of growth in high-end sensors has prompted it to resume development.

The company’s new design is made from a thin film of organic material rather than silicon, the stuff of most microchips. Panasonic developed the basic technology with Fujifilm. A proprietary circuit design reduces noise when converting light to electrical signals, while a modified electrode structure helps detect even faint light efficiently.

Conventional image sensors tend to get blinded by headlights or other sources of glare — a shortcoming that limits their ability to discern objects at night. Panasonic says its new sensor is sharp-eyed enough to make out the license plate number of a speeding car. The company envisions a range of uses besides self-driving cars, including surveillance cameras and medical equipment.

The company announced in a Press Releases that in OPF CMOS image sensor, charge-storage function and photoelectric-conversion function can be set independently. By utilizing this unique feature of the OPF CMOS image sensor, overexposure can be prevented in bright situations without time distortion against moving object. And a sharp and texture-rich image can be reproduced even in dark situations. These technologies enable high-speed, high-precision imaging without time distortion in high-contrast scenes.

This technology enables to capture high speed moving object up to 10 times brighter2 scene in global shutter mode.

The Japanese manufacturer aims to have a practical version ready as early as 2020 or so.

Technical Group on Information Sensing Technologies (IST), the Institute of Image Information and Television Engineers (ITE), holds an image sensor conference at NHK Lab facilities, Tokyo, Japan, on March 11, 2016.
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Sources: Panasonic, Press Releases from Panasonic, Image Sensors World
Image credits:
PanasonicImage Sensors World
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