AI camera system reference design for low-power applications

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By Rich Pell

Processing solutions developer Alif Semiconductor and semiconductor supplier onsemi have collaborated to create a complete camera reference design to maximize performance and efficiency for low power applications using machine vision such as supplemental security cameras, biometric ID passage control, retail management, and smart eyewear. The solution combines technologies from Alif using a highly integrated low-power MCU, and a compact low-power image sensor from onsemi.

The reference design is aimed at addressing the challenge of implementing imaging products with a long battery life and enough localized AI/ML capability to be useful, which comes down to power consumption, ML inference latency time, and many times fitting into a restrained physical space. Alif’s Ensemble family of secure microcontrollers (MCUs) contain an ample amount of on-chip memory to store and process all image data without the need for external components that add cost, size, and consume extra energy.

To further reduce power consumption, Alif’s proprietary aiPM technology utilizes dual-processing regions within the MCU that uniquely accelerate machine learning. The MCU’s High Efficiency region is designed to be always on to sense the environment, while the MCU’s High Performance region wakes as needed to rapidly execute heavy workloads and return to sleep.

The dual processing regions in Ensemble MCUs, says the company, enable extremely long battery life by serving up the optimum amount of processing power at any given time to satisfy immediate requirements.

“We’ve incorporated onsemi’s sensor onto our development kit making it quite simple for developers to build their own AI imaging products,” says Mark Rootz, VP of Marketing at Alif Semiconductor. “Starting from scratch on a design like this is no easy task when you deal with managing an image pipeline while optimizing machine learning and stretching power efficiency to the max. We do it all here in this reference design.”

onsemi provides image sensors with a wide choice of resolutions, optical formats, and technologies for IoT applications including drones and barcode scanners. The ultra-miniature ARX3A0 sensor in this reference design draws less than 3.2 mW while active.

“onsemi offers a portfolio of low-power sensors designed specifically for AI/ML applications, which matches perfectly with the power-efficient engine in Alif’s MCUs,” says Steve Harris, Sr. Director of Marketing at onsemi. “This combination of low-power sensing and processing results in maximized battery or power efficiency for a broad range of AI-based systems.”

Alif Semiconductor


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