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Technology

Sony's self-driving sensor sees 300 meters down the road

Eagle-eyed device tracks objects to within 15 cm even in low light

The time-of-flight sensor gauges how long reflected light takes to come back. (Image courtesy of Sony)

TOKYO -- Sony has developed an automotive sensor that determines the distance of objects up to 300 meters away to within 15 cm, aiming to offer it as a crucial technology for automated vehicles.

The direct time-of-flight sensor gauges how long reflected light takes to come back. It will be incorporated into lidar, a radar-style technology that uses light to help automated vehicles "see" the road and objects.

A so-called pixel chip, able to detect even weak light, is combined with logic circuits. This allows for highly precise measurements at long distances and improves reliability in severe weather conditions. Bringing these elements together on a single chip helps lower the cost of lidar as well.

Sony aims to commercialize the sensor by 2022 for sale to lidar sensor manufacturers.

The company is tapping its technology for sophisticated CMOS image sensors for smartphone cameras to develop new industrial applications.

In image sensors, Sony has relied heavily on the smartphone sector. But with business with Huawei Technologies down from the Sino-American technology trade war, the Japanese company sees a need to do more beyond consumer gadgets.

Sensors used as sensing instruments, and not for capturing images, generated just 4% of the segment's sales in fiscal 2019. The aim is to raise the ratio to 30% by fiscal 2025.

Demand is growing for sensors capable of tracking a vehicle's surroundings. (Image courtesy of Sony)

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