Sony, Prophesee open ‘pandora’s box’ in AI sensing

Written by Junko Yoshida for EETimes | Prophesee, a Paris-based startup that has pioneered neuromorphic vision systems, presented this week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco a new, stacked event-based vision sensor jointly developed with Sony Corp.

Designed by Prophesee’s event-driven technology, the new sensor was built on technologies engineered by Sony for advanced stacked CMOS image sensors.

For event-driven systems, the new sensor offers the industry’s smallest pixel size and the industry’s highest high-dynamic range (HDR) performance, Prophesee claimed. The brain-inspired sensor would allow industrial machines, robots and autonomous vehicles to see and sense the environment better.

The partnership could herald a new era in which AI  — both AI sensing and AI processing  — could take place very close to the sensor, if not yet on the sensor itself, where data is generated.

What’s in it for the two companies?

Sony is the world’s leading CMOS image sensor company. Its partnership lends commercial credibility to Prophesee’s new sensing technology. Luca Verre, CEO of Prophesee, hopes the move will open the door for Prophesee’s event-based cameras to mass-market opportunities.

“Given the nature of our technology that uses a lot of transistors, electronics and photodiodes, working with Sony was always our first choice,” Verre told EE Times. The companies started to work together in 2017. Verre promised that samples of the first stacked event-based vision sensors will be available in 2020. Partnership with Prophesee could prove to be a game-changer for Sony, giving the Japanese behemoth a chance to explore event-driven vision technology.

Pandora’s box

Pierre Cambou, principal analyst at Yole Développement, views the Prophesee-Sony partnership as equivalent to “opening Pandora’s box.”

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