Toshiba will join the market for autonomous vehicles with its image recognition chips.

Toshiba is leveraging its image recognition chips to join in the market for autonomous vehicles, road-testing an obstacle avoidance system it hopes to commercialize by 2020 for marketing to autoparts makers.

Unlike the individual components developed by the competition, this will be something of a turnkey system that saves energy and is relatively cheap. Toshiba hopes to establish a new revenue stream with little added investment by taking advantage of its existing semiconductor and microcontroller technologies.

Developed with Nagoya University, the new system combines a monocular camera and a laser sensor with the Visconti 4, the latest generation of Toshiba’s Visconti image recognition processors for the automotive market.

The Visconti 4 can work even in the dark to recognize objects and ascertain such factors as distance and height.

In the new obstacle avoidance system, the Visconti chip processes the image data captured by the camera to three-dimensionally measure the orientation and distance of stationary objects. The chip combines this with information from the laser sensor for added precision, then creates a map depicting where the object is and how to get around it. Such information enables self-driving cars to navigate roads safely.

Toshiba is now testing this system on public roads in Aichi Prefecture with 3-D mapping software company Aisan Technology and Tier IV, a startup involved in technology for self-driving cars.

Most of the self-driving cars now under development by universities and other research institutions rely on powerful computers equipped with high-performance, electricity-hungry graphics processors and other chips to crunch the data. This approach comes with a variety of issues, including energy consumption, space and cost.

Toshiba’s prototype also depends on a computer running software for data processing, but the goal is to embed these tasks into chips in the system. The company seeks a low-power, low-cost system that can withstand vibrations and temperature swings and run for at least a decade.

Visconti chips are already used in higher-end cars for front-camera-based active safety systems developed by Denso.

By also offering complete systems incorporating the image recognition processor, Toshiba expects to broaden its marketing channels to autoparts makers interested in self-driving cars.

In addition to system chips, Toshiba also makes lithium-ion batteries and microcontrollers for controlling vehicles’ electric motors.

Other Japanese electrical machinery makers are bolstering their business related to self-driving cars. Hitachi group company Hitachi Automotive Systems has road-tested a system it hopes to have ready by 2025 for autonomous driving in all but emergency situations. Pioneer has developed a small laser sensor it will test-market starting in 2017.

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