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Sony breaking into automotive image sensor market

TOKYO -- Sony plans to offer image sensors for automotive cameras, aiming to tap a new growth market amid the drive toward smart cars and driverless vehicles.

     The company has developed a sensor 10 times as sensitive to light as existing chips, allowing for easier detection of objects in dark environments. The sensor can provide a color display of the surrounding area even in moonlight, enabling it to detect obstacles more readily than a driver can.

     Sony will start mass-producing the sensor through a chipmaking subsidiary and begin sales to automotive equipment manufacturers in the latter half of 2015. The component is expected to find its way into car-mounted devices in 2016.

     Japanese electronics makers have lost out to Apple and Samsung Electronics in the battle for the smartphone market, but they have remained on top in such key parts as image sensors. Such companies as Google and Apple are working to commercialize smart cars, and the Japanese contingent aims to take the lead in core components in this area as well.

     Annual production of smart cars is expected to reach 100 million vehicles by 2025. The integration of information technology into cars had been limited to such applications as collecting information for navigation systems, but electronics will be used in smart cars for safety systems and other key functions.

     Development is difficult for automakers to handle alone, offering electronics makers a business opportunity.

     Aptina Imaging and OmniVision Technologies, both of the U.S., are leading the way in image sensors for automotive cameras. But Sony aims to eventually pick up 50% of the market.

     As the number of image sensors per car rises, demand is growing for components that boost the processing power of onboard computers. TDK plans to effectively double sales of components that improve efficiency and protect against glitches to 40 million units a month. A single smart car is expected to require dozens of these parts.

     Kyocera aims to lift sales of automotive products to 300 billion yen ($2.89 billion) in fiscal 2016, double last fiscal year's figure.

     A wide range of companies are getting involved in smart cars. Google is working with Japanese automakers, including Honda Motor, to develop onboard systems and has been conducting research on technology for self-driving vehicles on its own. Nissan Motor plans to commercialize driverless cars by 2020.

     In industrialized countries, where the new-car market is unlikely to see much more growth, automakers have been working to add value by integrating IT into their vehicles.

(Nikkei)

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