Can TriEye’s SWIR Cameras Break Through Geofenced Operations of AV?

Article By : Junko Yoshida

Can TriEye’s SWIR (Short Wave Infrared) cameras break through currently geo-fenced operations of autonomous vehicles (AVs)?

Can TriEye’s SWIR (Short Wave Infrared) cameras break through currently geo-fenced operations of autonomous vehicles (AVs)?

Vehicles that can go anywhere, under all weather or road conditions, are the AV industry’s dream-come-true. That’s what today’s motorists can do, more or less. Right now, though, and for the foreseeable future, no AV company is promising such “universal” operations.

The use of AVs remains constrained. Robo-taxis, for example, can only operate only in geo-fenced areas. They face a gradual rollout, “one city at a time,” Egil Juliussen noted.

Similarly, safety experts see “Operational Design Domain” (ODD) critical to ensure the safety of self-driving cars.  An ODD is “the designer’s model of the types of things that the self-driving cars intended to deal with,” explained Phil Koopman, CTO of Edge Case Research. In the actual world, though, “despite designer’s best efforts,” it’s always possible for AVs to violate the ODD, he cautioned.

“For example, if the ODD is ‘Las Vegas in the desert,’ this system might be designed for mostly dry weather or possibly light rain,” said Koopman. “But in fact, in Vegas, once in a while, it rains and sometimes it even snows. The day it snows the vehicle will be outside its ODD.”

TriEye offers SWIR cameras
Enter TriEye, a Tel-Aviv-based developer of short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensing technology. The company says its priority is solving low-visibility issues, with which the automotive industry must wrestle.

TriEye announced last week that Denso, a $47.6 billion Tier One based in Japan, is evaluating TriEye’s pre-engineering sample, called “Sparrow,” built on its SWIR technology. Earlier this year, TriEye also disclosed its relationship with Porsche.

Given that TriEye isn’t exactly announcing Denso’s design win, it remains unclear what TriEye meant by “Denso’s evaluation.”

Ziv Livne, TriEye VP of business development, told EE Times, “Unfortunately, we are not at liberty to reveal further information regarding the collaboration and evaluation process, except for what was already mentioned in the announcement. TriEye and Denso share a vision to improve road safety by bringing the most advanced technologies to the market and we look forward to delivering this vision.”

But being able to publicly name names — as big a Tier One as Denso — adds credibility to TriEye’s development efforts. TriEye implies in its press release the collaboration with Denso includes learning from Denso’s market experience as well as Denso’s “innovative approach.”

The underlying technology
Lately, more companies are contemplating infrared cameras in the sensor mix in their AV models — largely because vehicles must be able to see in the dark.

TriEye differentiates itself by using the unique physical properties of the the SWIR spectrum. Because SWIR can detect a unique spectral response inherent in the chemical and physical characteristics of each material, TriEye claims SWIR can not only see objects in any weather/lighting conditions but also identify a road hazard — such as black ice — in advance.

What is short-wave infrared (SWIR)? Click image to enlarge. (Source: TriEye)

The world has been aware of SWIR’s benefits for decades, notably via the military and aerospace industries’ adoption of SWIR cameras. The technology hasn’t been seen in mass market products, however, because of the extremely high cost of the indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) necessary to build it. TriEye, however, claims it has found a way to design SWIR by using CMOS process technology.

Last fall, during an interview with EE Times, Avi Bakal, CEO and co-founder of TriEye, told us: “That’s the breakthrough we made. Just like semiconductors, we are using CMOS for the high-volume manufacturing of SWIR cameras from Day 1.” At that time, Bakal told us, “when compared to InGaAs sensor that costs more than $8,000, a TriEye camera will be offered “at tens of dollars.”

Potential applications
Although the startup is pitching it to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) at large, TriEye appears also ready to go beyond the automotive industry.

TriEye noted in its latest press release, that it “has already delivered samples of the Sparrow to its non-automotive customers, allowing them to take advantage of TriEye’s SWIR capabilities to see beyond the visible and solve complex industry challenges.” The company, however, did not specify the applications compatible with its SWIR cameras.

Raven scheduled
TriEye hopes to address low-visibility problems on the road with SWIR cameras affordable and accessible to the global mass market. While it called the release of Sparrow “a major milestone,” the mass market has to wait a while. Sparrow remains a pre-engineering sample. According to Livne, TriEye’s real ace in the hole is the upcoming TriEye Raven, which TriEye calls “the world’s first CMOS-based SWIR HD camera.”

Compared to Sparrow, Raven, the production sample, offers “higher-resolution (1280×960) and five times smaller size (3x3x2.5 cm, excluding the lens),” Lvine explained. This will also enable a simple and flexible integration, he added. Raven is scheduled for launch later this year.

TriEye's SWIR Camera
Images captured by TriEye’s Sparrow (right) and a standard visible camera side by side when adverse conditions were created by using a fog machine. (Source: TriEye)

Companies with IR technologies are going after the automotive market. But IR systems come in many varieties.

For example, Flir, a leading supplier of thermal imaging infrared cameras,explained:

Active IR systems use short wavelength infrared light to illuminate an area of interest. Some of the infrared energy is reflected back to a camera and interpreted to generate an image. Thermal imaging systems use mid- or long wavelength IR energy. Thermal imagers are passive, and only sense differences in heat. These heat signatures (usually black (cold) and white (hot)) are then displayed on a monitor. Because thermal imagers operate in longer infrared wavelength regions than active IR, they do not see reflected light, and are therefore not affected by oncoming headlights, smoke, haze, dust, etc.

Then, how does SWIR stack up against thermal cameras?

TriEye’s Livne noted, “A thermal camera is based on a bolometric sensor, measuring heat, while SWIR is based on the photodiode effect like a standard camera. Unlike a thermal camera that provides heat mapping images, SWIR camera output is similar to that of standard camera images.”

As to the implementations of SWIR cameras, Livne claimed, “SWIR cameras can be placed behind glass (windshield, headlamp, etc.) and thermal cameras cannot.”

He added, “thermal cameras can’t use existing computer vision algorithms so their operation requires millions of miles to train new deep learning algorithms.”

Last year, TriEye completed a $19 million Series A funding round, led by Intel Capital, with the participation of Porsche Ventures and Grove Ventures, as well as a collaboration with Porsche AG.

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