This week, OmniVision Technologies (OTVI) announced the launch of its AutoVision OV9715, an advanced image sensor chip targeted at the automotive market. The product is especially suited for wide angle viewing required for 360 degree vision from the driver’s seat (EU has been pushing for this). It is also expected to come in handy for parking assistance and lane departure warning.

A number of special features make the ¼-inch 1 megapixel camera chip particularly useful for the automotive market. The first is a zero degree micro lens shift and 1280 x 800 pixel array. The high resolution is necessary for correction of electronic distortion, a normal characteristic of lenses used in wide angle viewing. The second important feature is low-light sensitivity.

OmniVision launched the first chip featuring low-light sensitivity as early as 2007. The OV9715 is based on OmniPixel3-HS architecture, a much newer technology, with much greater sensitivity in low-light conditions. The third feature is the chip’s lead-free 48 QFP package that allows operation at very wide temperature ranges (-40C to 85C). This improves driver safety.

The images are expected to be full-frame or windowed in 8/10 bit raw RGB format. These will be seen as a full-frame high density video stream at 30 frames per second and VGA resolution at 60 frames per second. The user will be able to control regular features, such as image quality, formatting and output data transfer. Certain image processing functions, such as exposure and gain control, white balance, lens correction and defective pixel correction will also be taken care of.

Although OmniVision’s auto business has been severely impacted by the recession, the company has continued to increase its market position. Techno Systems Research recently completed a study on the CCD/CMOS image sensor market and concluded that OmniVision had more than a 50% share in terms of shipments in 2008.

It is also estimated that 20% of new vehicles had integrated camera systems in 2008, a number that is likely to increase to 70% in 2012. Given the company’s market position, pipeline products and design wins, OmniVision looks well positioned for growth.

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