With Mobileye acknowledged as the king of the hill in the hottest automotive vision market, it has become incumbent upon competitors to say that they’ve got “a Mobileye killer solution.”

Aspirations aside, though, no rival has yet demonstrated a credible solution of its own. At least, not yet.

Potential contenders, however, are saying that they’re ready to take on the challenge. During the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, companies ranging from MediaTek and Renesas to NXP and Ambarella, told EE Times they are working on “alternatives” to Mobileye’s EyeQ chips. On the opening day of CES, On Semiconductor announced that it has licensed CEVA's imaging and vision platform for its automotive advanced driver assistance (ADAS) product lines.

Asked about who’s likely to become the next Mobileye and what it would take, industry analysts and players offered opposing views. Some declared the game already over, others believe the market remains wide open.

For example, Pierre Cambou, activity leader, Imaging & Sensors, Yole Développement, is the most pessimistic. He told us, “Image processor companies will hardly catch up with Mobileye. This is already too late, as the ecosystem is rather well defined now.”

Meanwhile, Mike Demler, a senior analyst at The Linley Group, believes, “There are a lot of openings here, and a lot of competitors.” He explained, “We tend to focus on the more far-out Level-3/4/5 systems, but Level 2 is still at an early stage of deployment.”

Gideon Wertheizer, CEO of Ceva, also believes there’s still a lot of room left for vision SoC vendors to compete—especially in ADAS and in-vehicle vision solutions (such as driver monitoring). By adding more smarts and vision SoC functions to their image sensors that are otherwise getting commoditised, “sensor guys have a potential to make it a lucrative business,” he told EE Times.

Yole automotive market breakdown (cr) Figure 1: Automotive Imaging Market Breakdown—External processing share will increase to 30% of total cost (Source: Yole Developpement)

But before getting into further analysis of the competitive landscape on vision SoCs, it is useful to segment the imaging market for the automotive sector.

Image sensors, vision SoCs, sensor fusion

As Wertheizer pointed out, there are three segments: image sensors (generating imaging sensory data), vision SoCs capable of offering Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning and other functions, and sensor fusion (fusing data from multiple cameras and adding other sensory data from radar, lidar and V2X as redundancy).

Of the three, the sensor fusion market is likely to be most hotly contested. Mainly designed for autonomous cars such as Level 4 and Level 5, the sensor fusion chip is based on a high performance, multi-core architecture. It will be paired with a high computing power processor—like that of Intel and Nvidia—capable of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based “driving policy,” Wertheizer explained.

In his opinion, this still is an uncharted territory where there exists no industry standard, no industry consensus.

What remains unclear is how much image processing should be done on vision SoCs before the data migrates to sensor fusion. Torsten Lehmann, senior vice president and general manager responsible for NXP’s car infotainment & driver assistance, told us, “There is a growing trend among car OEMs and Tier 1's who say they want rawer imaging data” so that they can fuse it on their own.

For the time being, though, Mobileye’s EyeQ5, due for a 2018 launch, will be the incumbent chip and everyone’s target. While companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek are surely hoping to play in the sensor fusion chip market, Wertheizer observed, “Tier 1's and car OEMs might be also interested in developing their own in-house [sensor fusion] chips.”

Vision SoCs

What’s considered more immediate, and still a growing segment, is the vision SoC market—separate from sensor fusion—designed for ADAS in Level 2 and 3 cars.

Yole automotive forecast imaging (cr) Figure 2: Imaging system + vision processing units, which is already at ₹13,332.44 crore ($2 billion) in 2015, will reach ₹66,662.22 crore ($10 billion) in revenue by 2021 (Source: Yole Developpement)

As Yole’s Cambou said, “Clearly the current [Vision SoC] landscape is segregated in two—the ADAS and infotainment.” He put Mobileye in the ADAS segment, while he sees Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Renesas and all others in the "infotainment" category. He sees “Nvidia and Toshiba doing the right move to be upgraded in ADAS, while TI and Renesas less likely to move in this direction.”

Others, however, see the situation a little differently. They believe that many more SoC vendors are poised to gun for vision SoC sockets in autos.

In Ceva’s view, in theory, this is where image-sensor companies like On Semiconductor plan to add more value to their own sensors. They could then potentially clash with video processing chip vendors like Renesas, Texas Instruments, Toshiba or even Rockchip.

Linley Group’s Demler is convinced that the race [for ADAS chips] is hardly over. “Mobileye said they shipped 4.5 million chips last year, and they highlighted Level-2 AEB systems.” He explained, “That’s just 5% of passenger vehicles sold in 2016, so not exactly ‘dominance’ when you put it in perspective of the overall industry.”

Demler pointed out that Mobileye has a valuable relationship with Delphi. But there are many other suppliers, each with their own relationships. “Look at how easily Tesla switched to Nvidia.” Demler sees the ADAS space “very dynamic and rapidly evolving,” where other processor companies such as NXP, Qualcomm, Tohsiba, Renesas, TI are all competing. Demler added, “Some tier one’s may also build their own chips, using IP from Cadence, Ceva, Synopsys, or Videantis.” He concluded: “In the race to develop self-driving cars, Mobileye may currently have the lead but it’s way too early to call them dominant.”

 
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