ICU project goal is automotive night vision

July 15, 2008
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—Six of Europe’s leading companies and research establishments have joined forces in the strategic research project entitled “Infrared Imaging Components for Use in Automotive Safety Applications” or ICU.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—Six of Europe’s leading companies and research establishments have joined forces in the strategic research project entitled “Infrared Imaging Components for Use in Automotive Safety Applications” or ICU. The ICU project aims to prototype a low-cost infrared (IR) night-vision system that can resolve a pedestrian or animal on the road. The IR imaging system will be developed to provide high-contrast images of warm (living) objects completely independent of ambient light conditions. It is expected to considerably increase safety on the roads—reducing accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists, and animals thereby reducing the death toll and the number of seriously injured. “Besides applications in the automotive, the infrared imaging system will also find use in security, surveillance, process automation, thermography, retail, and smart buildings,” says Tom Krekels from Umicore (Brussels, Belgium). Umicore is a provider of molded IR optics for automotive and other applications, and is one of the six companies involved in the project.

In addition to Umicore, ICU project partners include Autoliv (Stockholm, Sweden), Infineon Technologies SensoNor AS (Norway, Sweden), KTH - Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), Acreo AB (Kista, Sweden), and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB; Brussels, Belgium).

Autoliv develops and manufactures automotive safety systems for all major automotive manufacturers in the world and has developed an IR vision-enhancement system that is in production with BMW. Infineon has expertise in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), including key competence in wafer-level bonding in controlled environments. The Microsystem Technology Group at KTH has a very strong track-record in MEMS and photonic research. Acreo has a long history of developing and manufacturing IR detector systems and contributes to the project with its expertise in sensor materials, microsystem manufacturing technology, and ASIC design. And the Department of Applied Physics and Photonics (TONA) within VUB is internationally recognized for its basic, strategic, and applied research in the field of micro-optics and micro-photonics.

Currently, the IR night-vision system is envisioned to be comprised of several sub-components. The development will focus on the two main cost drivers: (1) the IR bolometer sensor array; and (2) the IR lens system. Each of these components individually, their co-development, and their assembly represent a considerable scientific and technological challenge. “The most important challenge of all, however, is to achieve optimum performance at the lowest cost, such that the infrared imaging module is affordable for everyone and as such can be integrated in high volume applications,” said Frank Niklaus from KTH and ICU project coordinator. “Low-cost infrared components will enable widespread use of infrared technology in automotive safety applications such as pedestrian and animal detection,” said Dick Eriksson of Autoliv.

The ICU project is supported by the European Community in the framework of the FP7 Information and Communication Technologies Programme (2007–2013, see The ICU project kicked off in Brussels on May 27th and will run for two and a half years until October 2010.

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