Rambus’ lensless smart sensor (LSS) technology took center stage at a recent summit in San Francisco co-hosted by frog San Francisco and IXDS from Berlin. This event represented the culmination of several months of intense design innovation collaboration between Rambus and its “Partners in Open Development (POD).” In this context, they worked together to conceive and develop functional prototype product design concepts based on LSS hardware and software.
Participants unveiled a number of LSS-based prototypes and explored additional use cases for the evolving technology.
The frog team presented multiple LSS-powered prototype platforms that focused on three major categories, including eye tracking, vehicle sensing and intelligent roadways.
“Most eye tracking technology uses very advanced computer software that relies on high-definition cameras that are able to get a clear view of users eyes only when they focus on a specific location,” Carlos Elena-Lenz told attendees.
“Today’s solutions are too large to be placed on glasses or on a person without drawing attention or being cumbersome. By virtue of its package and power advantages, LSS is an ideal solution.”
Elena-Lenz and his team also identified a number of specific applications for LSS-powered eye tracking devices, such as observing fatigue, enhanced night vision, assistive technology via gaze recognition and augmented/VR reality.
“Eye tracking covers a range of applications across industries,” he added. “Historically, the technology has been used for market research, although the advent of mobile devices and wearables has ushered in a breadth of new opportunities.”
A similar LSS-centric approach can also be applied to autonomous vehicles.
“As vehicles of all stripes realize different levels of autonomy – from self parking to self driving – the need for sensing technologies becomes more important especially in close proximity to people and physical objects,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the UAV market is growing rapidly as well. The UAV market alone is poised to drive market growth. Within that market, UAV sensing is expected to grow to be a $1B market by 2020.”
According to frog, the affordances of LSS span a wide range of applications, including toys, drones, military and commercial vehicles.
“Alternative technologies exist today, but lack important context,” said Elena-Lenz. “Ultrasonic sensors detect proximity, but not precise location. PIR also detects proximity, but can’t sense lateral movement.”
Specific LSS-based solutions for autonomous vehicles highlighted by frog included collision avoidance, navigation and aerial imaging.
“Collision avoidance is applicable across many vehicle sizes from toys, drones, cars and trucks,” he explained.
“Smaller vehicles gain the ability to detect and navigate – while larger vehicles utilizing LIDAR for long-range mapping can still use LSS for close quarters navigation around people or physical objects.”
Beyond avoiding collisions as a result of detecting proximity and presence, LSS’s ability to sense movement enables autonomous navigational systems to rapidly react and choose a viable direction.
“Consider a drone equipped with multiple LSS which allows it to select a vector in three dimensions – thereby avoiding multiple objects moving towards it with varying velocities,” Elena-Lenz told summit participants. “In terms of aerial imaging, primary use cases include mining, construction, infrastructure management, agriculture and emergency response scenarios.”
The frog team also believes LSS-powered smart streetlamps can play a potential role in the evolution of intelligent roadways by tracking traffic flow, monitoring congestion, vehicle speeds and alerting authorities to motorists in need of roadside assistance.
“Connecting a cities roads at scale is a massive undertaking, especially when doing it retroactively. LSS’s low cost, small footprint, and low power consumption make it an ideal candidate,” Elena-Lenz opined. “LSS provides optical flow, image change detection and near IR all in a small package; capabilities ideally suited for the large scale sensing of transportation infrastructure.”
In addition to presenting LSS-powered prototype platforms, the frog team outlined a number of potential use cases for Rambus’ lensless smart sensor technology including real-time, thermal performance monitoring of commercial solar modules; industrial automation (part presence); embedded battery monitoring and intelligent agriculture.
According to Prof. Reto Wettach, Rambus lensless smart sensors have the potential to fulfill three primary roles:
* Upgrade – To upgrade existing products.
* Integral – To be part of an original product design.
* Auxiliary – To observe (monitor) other objects for change.
Wettach also identified six primary categories Rambus LSS technology could potentially help evolve, such as smart infrastructure (cities and homes), tool manufacturing, medical, toys, consumer electronics and professional equipment. Specific LSS-powered prototypes showcased at the event included an assembly & maintenance platform, a self-driving model vehicle and a smartwatch.
Eliott Jones, Rambus Vice President of User Experience, who led the effort from the Rambus side, feels particularly strongly about the upgrade potential that Wettach referenced. He explained, “Obviously, most of the world of objects already exists. So, if LSS can be incorporated into them as a retrofit due to its low power and minute size, there is huge potential to bring intelligence to existing domains such as city infrastructure and vehicle navigation, among others.”
The IXDS team outlined three key features of the assembly & maintenance platform, including low energy sipping, extended battery life and a minimal price point (disposable).
As Wettach notes, a number of platforms and devices could potentially benefit from the low energy sipping requirements of LSS, such as smart cat-eyes, structural integrity monitors for urban infrastructure (bridges or buildings) and traffic lights. Meanwhile, the low cost of LSS would allow the technology to be deployed in disaster relief emergencies (non-retrievable items), disposable medical devices and pay-per-usage monitoring and packaging platforms.
Similarly, the IXDS self-driving model vehicle on display at the summit emphasized three primary LSS features: size, cost and symbol recognition capabilities.
According to Wettach, Rambus’ uber-mini lensless smart sensors can also be integrated in internal medical tools, implants and wearables. In addition, the symbol recognition capabilities of LSS could be used to track license plates, read barcodes and assist drivers with navigation.
Gesture control and low energy sipping were the primary themes of the LSS-based prototype smartwatch designed by IXDS – which could ultimately be powered by kinetic energy at some point in the future. In the meantime, the gesture control capabilities of LSS offer potential benefits for in-car infotainment systems, smart devices and music players.