Optoelectronics

Autonomous imager for smartphones and automobiles

26th May 2021
Alex Lynn

CEA-Leti has announced autonomous imager technology that activates smartphones and small appliances through face recognition or other specific patterns. Called µWAI (micro-WAY) and sized as small as a €1 coin, the autonomous imager features a novel readout and processing architecture co-designed with an optimised algorithmic pipeline, in which the recognition results from a sequence of elementary algorithms, to provide ultralow-power wake-up modes and compact silicon implementation to keep costs down.

It is the first smart image sensor jointly featuring auto-exposure for all lighting conditions and 88dB dynamic range, as well as motion detection and feature extraction for event-based functioning, and AI-based object recognition that triggers highly reliable identification.

These key features also enable highly reliable decision taking for a few tens of pJ/pixel/frame, which outperforms existing off-the-shelf systems. The pJ/pixel/frame measures the energy spent by each pixel for each single image within a frame of images. A typical implementation requires about 10,000 times more energy than µWAI.

The autonomous imager is a highly efficient, compact and ultralow-power, smart-awaken system designed for everyday small appliances. It also includes:

  • Energy efficiency for consuming 10k less than low-power camera plus processor set.
  • Privacy-compliant, AI-based recognition: nearly human-detection performance (95%),
  • Wide operating lighting sensitivity to ensure accurate recognition in extremely variable conditions.
  • Five-year, always-on CR1025 battery lifetime.
  • 3-6µW operation, which is required for IoT and can work with a button cell that lasts five years.

Applications and functions include automatic switching and face identification in mobile devices, contact-less smart switching of household appliances and sport-and-entertainment devices in smart homes. µWAI also provides face recognition, people counting, alarm triggering in smart buildings, vehicle-interior situation awareness, driver identification, parking-situation awareness and a smart-unlocking system in automobiles.

“The recognition engine is optimised to recognise faces when movement is detected. CEA-Leti’s team is working hand-in-hand with STMicroelectronics to develop specific smart-imager products as we consider extending the technology to other use cases,” said Antoine Dupret, CEA-Leti’s industrial partnership manager. “We target adapting the recognition engine as IP embedded in various cameras and optimising the performance of the imager to the requirements of our partner’s customers.”

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