Thermal sensing on a vehicle picking up a deer on the road at night

Magna Tech Spotlight: Thermal Sensing System

Automotive thermal sensing technology has undergone remarkable advancements since its inception in the military and first-responder sectors. Initially designed to enhance visibility in low-light conditions, these primitive devices serve as a daily reminder of the noteworthy advancements we have made with this lifesaving technology.

At Magna, we have made significant progress in improving forward visibility for drivers and reducing the frequency of collisions involving pedestrians and animals, which is reported to contribute to over $1 billion in vehicle damages annually. However, there are still numerous challenges that lie ahead, and we are fully prepared to meet them.

Today, Magna is the world leader in thermal sensing technology, with over 1.2 million systems on the road. Magna's thermal sensing system, originally named "Night Vision", was developed in 2003 and introduced on the 2005 BMW 7 Series. It has since been included on over 40 different vehicle models across 13 automakers.

Original 2000 Thermal Camera vs Premium 2024 Gen 5 Camera
Original thermal camera from 2000 (left) compared to latest generation thermal camera (right)

The latest generation of our thermal sensing technology offers improved road coverage, enhanced detection capabilities, and a sharper image for drivers, even in complete darkness. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports more than 70% of pedestrian fatalities occur at night. But our system is not limited to nighttime use, as it is also effective during daytime conditions, providing visibility through smoke, fog, and snow.

Capturing 98% of the Market

Unlike the earlier versions in the industry, which were too large to fit in a trunk, Magna’s thermal sensing technology has undergone major advancements, resulting in a significantly smaller and more affordable solution.

A compact thermal imaging camera, roughly the size of a golf ball, is mounted in the front end of the vehicle and connected to an electronic control unit (ECU) that sends alerts to the driver via the instrument cluster. A dedicated team of Magna software and infrared engineers in the U.S. and Romania are continuously working to enhance the clarity of camera images and optimize detection algorithms, ensuring improved reliability and a greater field of view. The team is also working on making the camera even lighter and more compact, aiming for a size comparable to a sugar cube.

The fifth generation of Magna’s thermal sensing technology is targeted to debut late 2025. While the current generation can see up to four times farther than the vehicle headlight range, the upcoming version will enable the driver to see the length of three football fields, allowing plenty of reaction time – up to 30 seconds – to bring the vehicle to a stop.

The Next Frontier

Our thermal sensing technology is a critical part of the vehicle safety equation, seamlessly integrating with other advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies, such as radar, and improving the overall performance and effectiveness.

We are also developing innovative rear and 360-degree thermal sensing systems that offer enhanced visibility underneath and around the vehicle, primarily aimed at preventing back-over accidents. According to the advocacy group Kids and Car Safety, in the U.S., 50 children are involved in back-over accidents every week due to drivers’ limited visibility.

The evolution of automotive thermal sensing systems, from its roots in military and first-responder applications to its integration into today’s vehicles, marks a significant advancement in road safety. Today’s sophisticated systems are being used in medicine, agriculture, and other industries to capture the infrared energy emitted by people and objects. They offer the unique advantage of working in complete darkness, even in a cave.

While our eyes do not register the infrared spectrum, thermal sensing systems can. By detecting very small temperature differences, the technology can differentiate between a mailbox, a deer, or a person.

With future advancements on the horizon, we remain committed to pushing the boundaries of this technology, envisioning a future where thermal sensing becomes a standard safety feature in all vehicles – ultimately making the roads safer for everyone.

Richard Seoane, Vice President, Operations & Business Development, Thermal Product Area

Richard Seoane

Our thermal sensing technology is a critical part of the vehicle safety equation, seamlessly integrating with other advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies, such as radar, and improving the overall performance and effectiveness.

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