Samsung unveils its first image sensor for cars and signs a $436 million deal with Tesla

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Today, Samsung unveiled the ISOCELL Auto 4AC, its first custom-designed image sensor for cars. It is intended to be used as a rearview camera or (on more advanced systems) to power surround view monitors.

It’s not about image quality and certainly no resolution – instead, the focus is on practical things like high dynamic range (120 dB) and LED flicker mitigation. Both are based on what Samsung calls CornerPixel.

This technology combines two photodiodes per pixel – one of 3.0 μm for low-light operation and one of 1.0 μm placed in the corner (hence the name) that will be used for bright environments.

This configuration allows the sensor to quickly adapt to changes in the surrounding light, for example at the exit of a tunnel. It also offers high dynamic range with little motion blur and reduces the flicker of LED lights. If you’re wondering why this is important, know that many modern headlights on cars as well as streetlights have switched to LEDs. In any case, the reduction of flicker is achieved by lengthening the exposure time of small photodiodes.

Samsung dévoile son premier capteur d'image pour voitures et signe un accord de 436 millions de dollars avec Tesla

The ISOCELL Auto 4AC is a 1/3.7″ sensor with a resolution of 1.3 MP (1,280 x 960). There is an ISP built into the sensor. The sensor meets AEC-Q100 Grade 2 requirements, which include operation in a very wide temperature range of -40°C to 125°C (i.e. -40°F to 257°F). In fact, it seems that it covers the stricter level 1 if we read this PDF correctly.

4AC is already in mass production. Note that it is not intended for autonomous driving applications or cab use (e.g., driver monitoring), Samsung plans to introduce more sensors to cover such use cases.

Why is all this important? Well, The Korean Economic Daily reports that Samsugn Electro-Mechanics has signed a $436 million deal with the “leading U.S. manufacturer of electric vehicles.” It’s not hard to guess that this means Tesla.

With 4AC being Samsung’s first image sensor for automotive apps, the timing of the announcements is no coincidence. This decision will put additional pressure on the current market leader in this segment, Sony.

Samsung dévoile son premier capteur d'image pour voitures et signe un accord de 436 millions de dollars avec Tesla

There’s more. While the KED report does not name names, rumors are circulating in the industry that the Tesla/Samsung deal is to provide cameras for the Cybertruck. Once you get past its geometric design, you’ll notice that it lacks side mirrors. Instead, it has cameras built into the fenders and one under the front bumper. There are probably more cameras scattered around the truck, but Tesla remains secret with the details for now.

Caméras sur un prototype Tesla Cybertruck
Caméras sur un prototype Tesla Cybertruck

Cameras on a Tesla Cybertruck prototype

The unique-looking truck was announced in 2019 and Tesla is trying to put it on the market later this year, although it may be delayed until 2022.

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