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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Obsidian Sensors Partners with Quanta Computers

TECH: Companies Will Develop Night-Vision Vehicle Cameras

SAN DIEGO – Local technology company Obsidian Sensors has partnered with a Taiwan firm to develop high-resolution thermal-imaging cameras that could meet a new requirement looming for all new U.S. vehicles in the near future.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a mandate in April calling for pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems to be installed as a standard feature on all new cars sold in the United States starting in 2029.

John Hong
Obsidian Sensors

Obsidian CEO John Hong said the night-vision technology his company has developed could be used to meet that requirement, and the new partnership with Taiwan-based Quanta Computer, Inc. is a major step in bringing a product to market.

“Quanta is very, very important for us,” Hong said. “They’ve partnered with us to develop a demonstration camera that works with their AI back end. They see a very important future for thermal imaging. They decided to look around for potential partners and picked us.”

Obsidian will send some of its demonstration cameras to Quanta by the end of the year.

Ultimately, Quanta will build its own cameras that will communicate with a car’s system using technology developed by Obsidian.

Better Night Vision

AEB systems already exist on some cars using either radar or traditional vision cameras. The cameras spot people, animals or other things in the road and automatically trigger the vehicle’s brakes.

“The problem is, these things don’t work at night very well because it can only see what the headlights illuminate, which is only about 15 meters ahead of you,” Hong said. “The rule says if you’re driving 45 miles an hour and a person appears in the line of collision, you have to come to a complete stop and not hit this person.”

Thermal imaging could solve the problem, he said. The sensors pick up images through heat, not vision, Hong explained, adding that cameras with the technology could be used to detect machinery that is overheating before it causes a fire.

Outside of the military, there has not been much of a market for such cameras, so there has not been much incentive for their development. What has been available has been either low-resolution or expensive.

“Our value proposition pitch is we can deliver at a much lower price point than competing products offered in the market,” Hong said. “Our hope is that by addressing price as a limiting factor in allowing thermal imaging to grow, we can get it in the hands of more people.”

Hong noted that a thermal-imaging camera developed by market leader Teledyne FLIR sells for $3,500. A demonstration camera from Obsidian sells for $500, and Hong said the price would be lower for a large-volume purchase.

The company so far has sold only about 100 demonstration cameras to various customers, but they are anticipating their first larger purchase order of about 1,000 at the end of the year.

Obsidian raised $24 million in its Series A fundraising round, including $13 million in cash and $11 million in in-kind funding from Innolux, its fabrication facility factory in Taiwan.

Four of Obsidian’s 16 employees work at Innolux, which is Taiwan’s largest flat-panel display maker.

Hong said the company is actively talking to investors with plans to complete a $25 million Series B fundraiser by the end of the year.

Qualcomm Connection

“We all came out of Qualcomm in 2017,” Hong said, referring to a team that was developing the company’s mirasol electronic reflective digital display technology.

The product used a micro-electromechanical system, which Hong described as tiny structures built into a glass substrate.

“The know-how that went into our company is all from that heritage,” Hong said. “When Qualcomm decided to close down that project, they allowed us to take about a year to see if we could pivot and do something else with it before just shelving the technology.”

With seed money invested from Qualcomm, the Obsidian team spun off and continued to develop a glass substrate that was capable of producing sensors with Video Graphics Array (VGA) resolution at high volumes.

As Hong explains, the company’s breakthrough was to use glass instead of traditional 8-inch diameter silicon water. Obsidian uses a glass that is roughly 24 inches by 30 inches.

The significantly larger substrate allows for greater resolution, and glass also is significantly cheaper than silicon wafers.

Obsidian is producing VGA sensors with a pixel resolution of 640 pixels by 512 pixels, and Hong said its plan is to produce an SXGA display with 1280 by 1024 resolution by the end of next year followed by a 1920 by 1080 resolution. In 2026, it plans to make a huge upgrade with a resolution of about 4,000 by 3,000, he said.

Obsidian Sensors
CEO: John Hong
HEADQUARTERS: Sorrento Valley
BUSINESS: Thermal imaging technology
WEBSITE: www.obsidiansensors.com/
CONTACT: (858) 500-6050
SOCIAL IMPACT: The company’s technology can be used to save pedestrians and prevent fires.
NOTABLE: The company raised $24 million in its first round of funding.


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