ams wants to sharpen its profile as a supplier of sensor solutions and focuses primarily on optical and acoustic sensors, image acquisition and special sensors in various industrial fields of application. To this end, the Austrian-American company is cooperating with various industrial partners; most recently, it announced a cooperation with the imaging expert SmartSens. “We are focusing on a narrow niche in the highly specialized sensor market,” explained ams CEO Alex Everke at a company event in Munich.
One of the most important markets for ams is the fast-growing field of automotive electronics. “In reality, this market is much larger than just automotive electronics – we serve the entire mobility market,” said Everke. This market is not that small: ams estimates that the entire global automotive industry will need 22 billion sensors by 2020 – in just one year.
An important building block in ams’ automotive strategy is the previosly announced cooperation with Ibeo Automotive Systems, a supplier of lidar systems for environmental sensing. “Automated driving requires sensor technology that complements radar and camera,” says Chris Feige, Executive Vice President of ams’ Automotive division, describing the motivation for this collaboration. The interest is mutual: Ibeo’s unique selling proposition is a semiconductor-based lidar that does entirely without moving parts – “even without MEMS,” as the head of Ibeo’s sensor development, Michael Kiehn, emphasizes. Because the sensor has no moving parts, it is cheaper in production and much more robust in operation, explains Kiehn.
So how does this sensor work? And what does all this have to do with ams? The sensor achieves its high resolution by arranging VCSEL’s Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser). It is an array of infrared laser sources with 128 columns and 100 rows. These laser sources are mutiplexed column by column and the reflected beams are then received as a point cloud from which an image of the surroundings is then calculated. These VCSELs are delivered by ams, as well as the corresponding driver circuits.
This method allows very short laser pulses with high peak power. This results in the specific properties of the Ibeo laser, as Kiehn explains: high range of 200 m, large field of view and the ability to detect even small obstacles. In addition, there is an extremely compact, robust design. A further advantage is that the separate control of the individual laser sources makes it possible to change the sequence of the scans as required and, for example, to increase the scan frequency at critical points in order to eliminate interference and obtain more accurate images. “A system with mechanical components cannot do this,” explained Kiehn. The laser sensor generated a data volume of about 20 GBit/s, which is then reduced to about 50 Mbit/s using sophisticated algorithms.
The sensor is expected to be ready for series production in 2022. As one of the major shareholders, the automotive supplier ZF is Ibeo’s “preferred Tier One”. However, it is not supplied exclusively. “We also serve other customers,” says Kiehn.