Thermal imaging will make autonomous vehicles safer and more affordable: Page 4 of 5

January 10, 2019 // By Paul Clayton
It’s a matter of when, not if, thermal cameras become an integral part of the ADAS and AV ecosystem. As their cost steadily continues to drop, that could be sooner rather than later.

FLIR Systems has already solved the problem of mass-producing thermal sensors through its Lepton thermal camera, having produced nearly two million units in the last few years alone. These lessons can help the industry quickly ramp up production on a global scale. Moreover, FLIR has delivered more than 500,000 automotive-qualified thermal sensors through its tier-one auto supplier for night time detection systems on luxury automobiles.

Until recently, thermal cameras were measured in thousands of dollars each for VGA resolution or higher—the baseline resolution required for ADAS and AV scenarios. Now they’re an order of magnitude lower in price due to volume and technology improvements.

5. Estimated global average end-user price and
volume of thermal cameras.
(Courtesy of Maxtech International Inc.)

Continuous improvements in smaller pixel design and yield improvements promise to lower costs still further (Fig. 5). Based on current development plans, it’s forecasted that an additional 2X reduction in cost can be accomplished over the next several years. This compares favorably with the required 10X cost reduction of LiDAR systems necessary to meet OEM cost targets.

Adoption of significant volumes of thermal cameras for SAE automation levels 2 and 3 will likely start in 2022 or 2023, with annual growth rates of 200% to 300% through 2030. With the planned improvements and automotive manufacturing scale, thermal cameras will become an affordable component for the ADAS and AV sensor suites.

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