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Shining a light on optical semiconductor technology

New developments in automotive head-up displays, micro- projectors and other applications are expected to be spurred by the recent introduction of an ultra-compact, high-precision MicroElectroMechanical System (MEMS) mirror by Hamamatsu Photonics of Japan.

The electromagnetically-activated laser scanning MEMS mirror is available in one-dimensional and two-dimensional formats. Hamamatsu is a global leader in photoelectron conversion technologies. The company’s opto-semiconductor products are used in a wide range of sectors, including the automotive industry. Hamamatsu says its quality policy is to “take responsibility as an opto-semiconductor manufacturer to establish a quality control system that provides products the customers needs and contribute to the progress of industry and science”.

The company says it constantly looks for ways to make products that are better, cheaper, faster and eco-friendly. In-house process and packaging technology is being used to develop automotive devices that are highly reliable over a wide operating/storage temperature range. Products include transmitter and receiver devices for high-speed transmission of entertainment information that conforms to the MOST network standards and plastic optical fiber or POF. It also makes high-speed photo-sensors used in systems to measure the distance between vehicles as well as also makes photodiodes and infrared LEDs for rain sensors and light emitting and receiving modules for vehicle information and communication systems.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Dr. Peter Eggl, Managing Director, Hamamatsu Photonics Europe how he would describe Hamamatsu’s leadership and expertise in providing advanced optical solutions across a wide range of automotive applications.

Eggl: The strength of Hamamatsu Photonics is our ability to offer customized optical solutions which are fitted to the specific needs of our automotive customers. Excellent customer support is our highest priority for that. Our local key account managers – who are also engineers – as well as our product engineers from the headquarters in Japan, assist the customer during the whole development, qualification and later series production phase with any technical, quality, legal, commercial and application-related challenges. With our deep knowledge of optical semiconductor technologies and our long experience in the development and production of high quality parts for the automotive market, we are a reliable long-term partner for innovative new products. There are tens of millions of parts operating reliably in the field today, and we are proud to be an A-rated supplier with failure rates far below 1ppm.

AI: Tell us about the automotive infotainment solutions that your company offers.

Eggl: We offer fiber optical transceivers for audio, video and other data transmission via MOST bus. The latest generation is capable of 150 Mbps transmission, which is used to transport data between the infotainment devices – for example from the radio to the amplifier and loudspeakers, or from the TV tuner or Blu-ray player to the HD screens. There is also a MOST Ethernet channel available, which makes it easy to plug in external devices, such as Smartphones or tablets which can be used in the car network to, for example, control the radio, listen to music or watch a movie from the hard disk in the car. The optical MOST network is the standard in cars today, as the optical fiber transmission has many advantages, such as low weight of the fibers compared to copper cables and high quality audio and video signals, as no external electromagnetic noise can interfere with optical signals.

AI: Similarly, how do Hamamatsu’s products help in creating ADAS advanced driver assistance solutions?

Eggl: Optical semiconductors are the driving technology for many of the electronic systems in the car which provide comfort and protect the occupants and other road users. An example is Photo-ICs, which measure the ambient light to adjust display brightness, control the headlights automatically or dim the rearview mirror. Photodiode or avalanche photodiode arrays measure reflected laser light to determine the distance to the vehicle in front, to keep a constant suitable gap, or to do emergency braking in the city in case of dangerous situations. Plastic optical fibers are used to protect against pinching in windows, doors or the trunk lid, or to detect a potential pedestrian accident and activate suitable protection mechanisms. Hamamatsu Photonics’ reliable, high quality optical sensors and LEDs are the core of many such innovative systems which provide comfort, safety and also environmental improvements in todays’ and future cars.

AI: What makes Hamamatsu’s Fiber Optical Transceiver FOT solutions better than others?

Eggl: Our experience and close customer contact put us in the good position to always be one step ahead in technology. Our FOTs in Sidelooker (through-hole-mount) technology are reflow solderable in standard automated production process due to a unique resin material. As this was an important request from our customers we developed an outstanding high quality resin. The other version of our FOT has a reflow solderable SMD package, with a box-shaped metal part on top. This holds the fiber ferrules safe, while at the same time also protects the unit from particles and external noise. It also enables easy automated handling by pick-and-place machines. A special feature is that the FOTs survive up to 105°C operating temperature, which is important on boards with other components that generate high heat. Besides these technical points, we support our customers to implement the FOTs in their application, and also work closely with the standardization group for the network.

AI: Tell us a little about your collaboration with MOST Co for Gigabit networks – how will this translate into breakthrough technologies for the auto sector?

Eggl: Safety is one of the main topics for the auto sector. The European Union funded many research projects, promoted the EURO NCAP rating and set goals as to reduce fatalities in traffic accidents. One improvement action is for several cameras to be included, as standard, in a car in the near future. They will look in all directions and support functions such as pedestrian protection, traffic sign recognition, lane keeping, blind spot detection, and so on. Together with the MOST Cooperation, we are working on an optical Gigabit network that can transmit a huge amount of uncompressed data to the control unit, which has to activate the necessary warning or protection systems.

AI: How would you describe Hamamatsu’s automotive identity?

Eggl: We started to deliver the first sun sensors for automatic cooling systems in cars over 30 years ago. Since then we developed and delivered high quality optical semiconductors for many automotive applications, to many different customers. Millions of cars on the road have Hamamatsu technology inside. The automotive market is as much part of our identity as medical and biomedical applications, analytical and industrial customers, university research and high-energy physics projects.

AI: How important is the automotive sector in terms of your overall business. How do you see this segment growing and why?

Eggl: With our broad product range, we serve many different markets and applications, the automotive sector being one of them. As the use of electronic and optoelectronic components in vehicles is continuously increasing, this market segment is growing rapidly.