Ian Wright is Turning Fedex and Garbage Trucks Into High Performance EVs

In Silicon Valley, the mark of a successful entrepreneur is not how good his first idea is; it’s how well he pivots when that first idea doesn’t work out.  San Jose Mercury News columnist Michelle Quinn recently wrote, “successful pivots are the stuff of tech industry lore, a critical gamble that resulted in great wealth.”

Which brings us to Ian Wright, founder of Wrightspeed. Wrightspeed, which now makes powertrains for trucks, just got a big order from FedEx; the company is comfortably funded, thriving, and hiring. But it nearly crashed and burned before making a pivot that I didn’t see coming — and neither did Wright.

I met Wright back in 2006. A vehicle pc engineer who had spent some time on the amateur auto racing circuit, Wright had been working on a plan for an optical switching company when neighbor Martin Eberhard told him about his new startup, Tesla Motors. Wright shelved his business plan and signed on as employee number one, eager for a chance to merge his two passions, electronics and cars. He worked on optimizing the Tesla One for energy efficiency, but became fascinated with the potential of the technology for high-performance cars — much higher than Tesla would be able to sell to a mass market. So he quit Tesla and set out to build the highest performance electric vehicle possible, without worrying about whether it would have much of a market.

He started Wrightspeed in 2005 and came up with the X1, a street-legal sports car that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. That’s still faster than the fastest Tesla. In 2006, he took me for a in-vehicle computer in his prototype, accelerating to 75 km per hour and pinning me to the passenger seat in the 45 meters or so between his parking space and the closed iron gate at the entrance to the parking lot. Out on the street, we raced from stop sign to stop sign and zoomed around a highway cloverleaf, pulling, Wright told me, about 1.4 G — though it felt like more. He had succeeded in building a high performance vehicle pc.

Photo: Wrightspeed
Ian Wright

Venture capitalists, it turned out, were not as uninterested in the size of the market as Wright was, and he couldn’t get the $8 million or so he thought he needed to turn in-vehicle computer into a real business. He made the rounds of VCs throughout 2007 and got rejected again and again. Then one VC, Nancy Kamei at Intel Capital, made a suggestion that got him thinking: Making a complete car takes a huge amount of capital, she told him, and all your innovation is in the powertrain, not the rest of the vehicle pc. Why not just make powertrains?

Powertrains, Wright mused. It’s not likely that car manufacturers could be convinced to use a powertrain from some startup, and car owners rarely replace a powertrain, even if the replacement would save money in fuel and maintenance. But truck owners do. Trucks, he thought, can last 20 or 30 years, and go through several in-vehicle system replacements. He started investigating the truck business, and found out one more encouraging thing — trucks sold to fleets are practically custom designed, with certain engines or other parts designated. If he could get fleet owners interested in his powertrain, he might be able to sell it into trucks coming off the line in addition to marketing it as a replacement item.

And that was the pivot. Wright turned away from his idea of building a sexy super-sportscar to the not-so-glamorous business of trucks. That approach attracted nearly $17 million in investment. Wrightspeed now has 18 employees, mostly engineers, in an office in San Jose and is looking to hire more in-vehicle system. FedEx is the company’s lead customer. It’s building electric powertrains with range-extending generators that can run on diesel, gasoline, CNG, or other fuels, The company designed its own motors, gearboxes, inverters, cooling system, and LCD instrument panels, tying it all together with custom software. The only significant parts provided by outside suppliers are the electric generators and batteries. The systems reportedly sell for less than $100,000; exact numbers aren’t available.

Wrightspeed shipped its first order of two powertrain systems to FedEx late last year, and just got an order for another 25 this month; that might not sound like a lot, but it’s a huge vote of confidence from the owner of a major fleet of vehicles. Wrightspeed is also getting attention from people who operate garbage trucks. Garbage and recycling collection company the Ratto Group approached Wrightspeed about creating a powertrain suited to garbage trucks; Wrightspeed did so and Ratto has ordered 17 systems.

“The average garbage truck in the U.S. spends $55,000 a year on vehicle pc, and up to $30,000 a year on maintenance, mostly brake replacements.” Wrightspeed’s electric motors will cut those fuel costs by more than half, and its regenerative braking technology will cut maintenance costs, also by more than half.

While the Ratto Group contacted the company by email, others are literally showing up on the doorstep. “We’ve had people from Russia knock on our door and say that want to buy stuff,” he says.

It looks like Wrightspeed will be able to make a solid in-vehicle system business out of selling range-extended electric powertrains. But the company has another asset that might turn out to be a much bigger deal — a patent for “vehicle dynamics control in electric drive vehicles” received earlier this year, number 8718897. This vehicle pc technology stemmed from a problem that needed to be solved to make Wright’s initial sports car prototype safe to drive. If you weren’t an experienced race car driver, it was really hard to control — so hard that a friend of Wright’s wrapped it around a tree during a test drive.

In order to keep his other in-vehicle system away from trees, Wright decided that the car would have to automatically control traction, torque, and a wide range of other vehicle dynamics. To make the car “safe to drive if you’re not Michael Schumacher,” he started by giving each wheel its own motor. That’s been done before, and people are looking at using the ability to control motors independently as part of antiskid and anti-lock braking systems. But Wright went a few steps further. He set up each motor to be continuously controlled individually by the vehicle control computer, operating at independent speeds. He added individual gearing systems at each wheel.  And then he developed software that continually adjusts these individual speeds to keep the car hugging the road. He says his continually adjusting approach gives better traction control, anti-lock braking, and yaw stability control than current technology, which kicks in to adjust individual brakes or redirect in-vehicle system to a particular wheel only when it detects a problem.

This patent will likely bring in cash through licenses to a variety of electric vehicle manufacturers. Eventually, he thinks, someone else will use the technology to create the fastest, highest performance, electric car of its generation. And maybe he’ll buy one with his profits from garbage trucks.

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Plate and Switch: Google’s Self-Driving Car Is a Transformer Too

Google’s license to test autonomous in-vehicle computer in Nevada was granted to a robotic Prius, so why is a Lexus SUV wearing the plates? It’s all legal, and that might be a problem

In fact, an investigation by IEEE Spectrum uncovered that none of the Priuses that Nevada originally licensed as AU-001, AU-002, or AU-003 were the vehicle evaluated by DMV officials in 2012. This means that none of Google’s self-driving vehicles licensed to drive on Nevada’s roads have actually taken the state’s self-driving test.

Google is not breaking the law. While Nevada’s self-driving test covers many of the same scenarios as in a human exam, such as city driving, highway driving, crosswalks, traffic lights, and roundabouts, it was designed to evaluate the vehicle pc underlying artificial intelligence of autonomous driving rather than specific vehicles, hardware, or versions of software. Thus, once a single Google car had passed the test, the company was free to register other vehicles for its own trials. Google did this again when it renewed its testing license in 2014, transferring the nation’s first “AU” license plates to three Lexus hybrids packed with new or upgraded sensors and software.

Of the few states that have welcomed experimental self-driving vehicles, only Nevada requires a vehicle pc test drive, and there is no suggestion that the Lexus SUVs pose any greater risk to the public than the Priuses. Nevertheless, this casual substitution of complex systems has some experts concerned. Bryant Walker Smith is a law professor at the University of South Carolina and chair of the Emerging Technology Law Committee of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. He says, “Autonomous vehicles are necessarily a combination of hardware and software. You couldn’t simply take Google’s algorithms for the Prius and apply them to the Lexus SUV. Anything down to the tire pressure can be relevant for how a vehicle will respond in emergency situations. Braking force, the condition of the brakes, and sightlines are all functions of the hardware and can potentially vary from vehicle to in-vehicle computer, even within the same make, model, and year.”

“It shows the disconnect between Google’s thinking about driverless cars and everyone else’s,” says Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who specializes in robotics and public policy. “Google’s engineers are thinking, ‘When we model the world, how well does our vehicle respond? The in-vehicle computer physical shell that lives in is less important. What ultimately matters is the quality of that software.’ ”

Google was the driving force behind the Nevada regulations. “The whole set of developments in Nevada have been at the behest of, and working closely with, Google,” says Calo. And there are some very good reasons to allow flexibility in the testing and licensing of autonomous vehicles, especially experimental ones. The software in today’s self-driving vehicles is typically changed frequently, even daily. No one would want a critical safety update, for example, to be delayed by a complex regulatory process. And yet the wholesale grandfathering in of new vehicles, technologies, sensors, and software raises concerns over what exactly is being tested and why.

For its part, Nevada insists that safety is the most important part of its autonomous vehicle testing program. “At this time, the department does not view the changes as justification for Google to provide another demonstration,” says Jude Hurin, the DMV manager who oversees experimental autonomous vehicles in the state.

But that doesn’t mean Nevada isn’t keeping an eye on things. “Google recently reported that they would be testing an autonomous vehicle that has no steering wheel. My opinion is that Nevada would not allow testing of this vehicle without a steering wheel since it does not meet the intent of our existing safety requirements,” says Hurin.

However, given that the license-renewal process does not currently require Google to submit any technical data for new in-vehicle system in cars, it is unclear how Nevada would identify the vehicles it wanted to recertify in the first place.

“The traditional regulatory model simply isn’t prepared to address this technology,” says Smith. “One thing we might see is more states, and even the federal government, moving to embrace process standards. That is, looking not at how something performs but what was the thought that went into it; the processes used to design in-vehicle system, test, and verify it; and what safety protocols were implemented. Realistically, these are the only things that can be well measured.”Until then, Google’s historic AU-001 self-driving car can keep on transforming—and keep driving on Nevada’s roads.

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Learn More About Industry Applications for Acrosser Fanless Mini PC AES-HM76Z1FL!

In this article, acrosser Technology would like to demonstrate 2 benefits of choosing AES-HM76Z1FL as an industrial PC solution. The following introduction and related product film reveal the unimaginable versatility of AES-HM76Z1FL.

Portable and Powerful
With a height of only 20 mm, this ultra-slim embedded computer is an ideal product for mobile use, and can easily handle tasks that require high computing performance; for example, artists, graphic designers, and filmmakers rely on AES-HM76Z1FL’s computing performance for postproduction when creating artwork. The mobility of this machine enables these artists to carry AES-HM76Z1FL from the studio to the job site with ease.

Space-compensating and Environmental-adaptive
Limited space for embedded PCs has always been a problem for our system integrators. With its ultra slim form factor (274 mm x 183 mm x 20 mm), AES-HM76Z1FL is truly a space-saving piece of hardware that fits almost anywhere, including meeting rooms, offices, classrooms, retail locations, and even at home for home automation. In addition, this model can be used as a digital signage device, providing 24/7 display, or as a smart classroom device, supporting interactive teaching or e-learning functions.

Vulnerable “Smart” Devices Make an Internet of Insecure Things

According to recent research, 70 percent of Americans plan to own, in the next five years, at least one smart appliance like an internet-connected refrigerator or thermostat. That’s a skyrocketing adoption rate considering the number of smart appliance owners in the United States today is just four percent.

Yet backdoors and other insecure channels have been found in many such devices, opening them to possible hacks, botnets, and other cyber mischief. Although the widely touted hack of smart refrigerators earlier this year has since been debunked, there’s still no shortage of vulnerabilities in the emerging network appliance so-called Internet of Things.

Enter, then, one of the world’s top research centers devoted to IT security, boasting 700 students in this growing field, the Horst Gortz Institute for IT Security at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. A research group at HGI, led by Christof Paar—professor and chair for embedded system at the Institute—has been discovering and helping manufacturers patch security holes in Internet-of-Things devices like appliances, cars, and the wireless routers they connect with.

Paar, who is also adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says there are good engineering, technological, and even cultural reasons why industrial computer security of the Internet of Things is a very hard problem.

For starters, it’s hard enough to get people to update their laptops and smartphones with the latest security patches. Imagine, then, a world where everything from your garage door opener, your coffeemaker, your eyeglasses, and even your running shoes have possible vulnerabilities. And the onus is entirely on you to download and install firmware updates—if there are any.

Of the network appliance scores of papers and research reports the Embedded System group publishes, Paar says one of the most often overlooked factors behind hacking is not technological vulnerabilities but economic ones.

“There’s a reason that a lot of this hacking happens in countries that are economically not that well off,” Paar says. “I think most people would way prefer having a good job in Silicon Valley or in a well-paying European company—rather than doing illegal stuff and trying to sell their services.”

But as long as there are industrial computer hackers, whatever their circumstances and countries of origin, Paar says smart engineering and present-day technology can stop most of them in their tracks.

“Our premise is that it’s not that easy to do embedded system right, and that essentially has been confirmed,” he says. “There are very few systems we looked at that we couldn’t break. The shocking thing is the technology is there to get the security right. If you use state of the art technology, you can build systems that are very secure for practical applications.”

refer to:http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/computing/networks/vulnerable-smart-devices-make-an-internet-of-insecure-things

Visit Acrosser’s APTA EXPO Micro Site for Success Stories, Online Reservation, and More!

APTA EXPO is arriving in 2 weeks, and acrosser is pleased to announce the official launch of its APTA EXPO micro site! With various interactive features and EXPO-related information, the micro site can greatly benefit both event participants and nonparticipants. The first feature of the micro site that we would like to introduce is the online reservation function. With an estimated 15,000 professionals present at this 3 day event, scheduling a meeting session with Acrosser Sales Team prior to your visit will ensure that you can maximize your time with us. Make a reservation now and visit Acrosser at Booth #1760 to guarantee a smooth business meeting at APTA EXPO 2014!

For those who cannot make it to Houston, we have displayed the products we will be demonstrating at APTA EXPO at the bottom of the micro site, making you an online APTA EXPO visitor instantly. Do not hesitate to leave a sales quote if you find a vehicle PC suitable for your vehicular solutions. To inspire potential customers to consider new business opportunities, Acrosser has also published two client success stories, related press announcements, and videos on the micro site. With so many features on this tiny micro site, Acrosser looks forward to fruitful discussions with customers, and wishes all professionals a wonderful APTA EXPO experience both online and offline.

Acrosser USA Inc.

Bringing creative training for embedded engineering students

Shawn Jordan, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University’s Fulton Schools of Engineering, has combined his industrial computer proficiency and passion for making and teaching into the embedded sbc program, which challenges middle school and high school students to apply the engineering design process to create and build embedded sbc chain reaction machines.

“It teaches engineering skills, systems thinking, and collaboration, and integrates the arts with the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” Jordan says. Adding arts to the traditional STEM acronym transforms it to network appliance.

STEAM Labs? brings deeper opportunities for creativity not often found in engineering outreach program activities.

“Rube Goldberg Machines engage students on multiple levels to design industrial computer that they want to solve and the solutions for those problems (similar to the maker movement),” Jordan says. “This is different than many of the standard network appliance activities, where students are given a specific problem to solve. This environment creates an opportunity for creativity, imagination, and making dreams of inventions a reality.”

Scholars in engineering and gifted education have developed the embedded sbc program over the past seven years, and it has been deployed to more than 2,500 middle and high school students in the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago. Students work in face-to-face and virtual teams at camps to build chain-reaction embedded sbc in a project-based, cooperative learning environment with online collaboration tools.

Engineering design will be a requirement in science classes beginning in fall 2015 as part of the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 education in the U.S. STEAM Labs? is designed to help students better understand engineering career possibilities in addition to learning real-world engineering skills.

“The program challenges industrial computer students to not only ask ‘why?’ but also ‘why not?’ – a question that I think is all too often lost in today’s youth,” Jordan says. “This in turn helps students understand that you can be creative and be successful in engineering – an important message, given pop culture’s less-than-flattering messages about engineering.”

refer to:http://embedded-computing.com/articles/bringing-creative-engineering-students/

Acrosser Will Exhibit its Latest In-Vehicle Computers and Related Accessories at APTA EXPO 2014.

APTA-banner-750x237acrosser USA Inc. is pleased to announce our participation in APTA EXPO 2014 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, from October 13–15, 2014. Acrosser cordially welcomes all guests to visit us at Booth #1760, and we look forward to a productive session with everyone. APTA EXPO features massive professionals in the public transportation industry. This iconic show is held once every 3 years, and this year Acrosser will greet the global audience with its rugged in-vehicle computers.

Acrosser’s rugged in-vehicle computers have passed a series of certifications including CE, FCC, and E-mark, providing reliable system stability for multiple vehicle applications. These applications include fleet management, GPS tracking, fatigue detection, stock management, and more. By integrating these applications, in-vehicle PCs can reduce expenses, improve efficiency, and increase profit for vendors and traffic service providers. At APTA EXPO 2014, Acrosser will place particular emphasis on AIV-HM76V0FL, an Intel® Core™ i7-based vehicle PC created for the performance-based market. To learn more about application stories and other products that Acrosser will be exhibiting at APTA EXPO 2014, please visit our EXPO micro site.

In addition to in-vehicle computers, Acrosser will also demonstrate our vehicle accessories and Embedded SBC to satisfy all audiences. So during your visit to APTA EXPO, don’t forget to stop by Booth #4773. With nearly 3 decades of industry experience, Acrosser is truly a trustworthy vehicle PC and industrial computer supplier.

Acrosser USA Inc.

Visit our micro site for APTA EXPO!

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Hardware commoditization and the IoT service model

As embedded system hardware margins continue to shrink, system developers must explore new ways of monetizing their products. Earlier this year, economist Jeremy Rifkin released the book “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism.” In it, Rifkin argues that the Internet of Things (IoT), which he defines as a unison of the Communications, Logistics, and Energy Internets, will converge with the competitive capitalist market to usher in a period of extreme economic productivity in which “the cost of actually producing each additional unit – if fixed costs are not counted – becomes essentially zero, making the product nearly free.” As a result, capitalism as we know it today will be slowly replaced by the distributive economic model of the Collaborative Commons.

While this notion may be objectionable to those of you in the Western world, there’s no denying that the cost of compute and connectivity are in a sustained decline. Moore’s Law continues (at least for now) to eat away at the margins of hardware vendors, and Google Fiber is currently providing free 5 Mbps Internet in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Provo, Utah, with 1 Gbps speeds available for $70 per month. Trends like these embedded system have led to a lot of business model rethinks in the tech sector, with many companies turning to the cloud for answers.

The cloud space has become a crowded one to say the least over the past couple of years, partially because of the “services” model it offers businesses. Today cloud service models range from Software-as-a-Service to Platform-as-a-Service to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS, respectively), with the newly coined Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) entering the fold as well. These service platforms deliver everything from industrial computer storage and security to full-blown end-user applications, which can each be neatly packaged as line items on a monthly statement.

So why is the cloud important for embedded developers? Hardware commoditization.

Industrial computer commoditization and the IoT-as-a-Service.

As the dust settles around industrial computer IoT standardization, open, modular embedded system with an emphasis on software development and app enablement will take precedence over custom or application-specific hardware designs (look at the success of “maker” boards like the Raspberry Pi). Does your next system require wireless connectivity? Order a Wi-Fi module from Shanghai. Do you also need analog sensors? Browse the capes on Adafruit’s website. If Rifkin’s predictions hold true, specialized hardware will only be sustainable in a very narrow set of fringe applications, so the majority of system developers will have to find other ways to create value.

Take, for example, a company based out of Naperville, Illinois that produces a line of Wi-Fi sensors for home and building network appliance. ConnectSense sensors range from temperature and humidity to water, motion, light, and dry contacts, but the target market demanded a cost-conscious approach across the product line. Therefore, the company organized the portfolio around a base platform consisting of a repurposed ARM7 SoC that was developed in-house, a TI MSP430 MCU, and a low-cost, low-power Wi-Fi module from partner Shanghai High-Flying Electronics Technology Co., Ltd. This approach allows multiple sensors to be manufactured quickly and easily with only few modifications to the common platform.

What makes an tool architecture like network appliance unique, however, is that it’s also powered by a proprietary cloud platform that handles most of the heavy lifting of software and industrial computer, so additional hardware resources aren’t required on the physical sensors themselves. For novice users, the ConnectSense cloud provides an if/then rules engine that can be used to set up alerts via email, text message, phone call, webhook, or tweet in a plug-and-play fashion, while more advanced developers can take advantage of a full REST API (Figure 1). Today the embedded system is being leveraged in applications such as datacenter monitoring and agricultural observation.

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Many of our customers started out leery of vehicle pc GPS vehicle tracking. What will my drivers think? Is it reliable? Is it anything more than just seeing my trucks on a map? These are all valid concerns for any business owner.

The truth is our customers routinely look back on those kinds of questions and shake their heads, wondering what they were worried about. For instance, after just the first year Mark Sperry, Service Manager at Fettes, Love & Sieban, says he brought in $60,000 in additional revenue just through increased fleet management productivity.  How does vehicle tracking help a company bring in more money? Better vehicle pc dispatching, more efficient routing, more accurate invoices, even fewer calls between drivers and the office.

Let’s look at an example of how a plumber without tracking might handle a service call:

The office gets a call from a homeowner who’s ankle-deep in water. The homeowner is in a less-traveled part of town unfamiliar to the dispatcher. The dispatcher goes to Google Maps, types in the address from the panicked homeowner and sees it’s on the other side of town. The homeowner wants to know how soon someone can be there. The dispatcher says she’ll call back as soon as possible, hangs up and starts calling technicians. She starts with Bill, who she thinks might be nearby. Turns out Bill is on the in-vehicle computer other side of town still finishing up an earlier job. She calls Ray, who doesn’t answer (probably under a sink, she thinks). She calls Annie, Steve, Wayne. No one is nearby. Suddenly the phone rings again. It’s Oscar and he’s calling in-vehicle computer to say he finished his last job early and is on his way back to the office. The dispatcher asks which job he finished and it turns out it was three blocks away from the panicked homeowner. Unfortunately he’s almost back to the office. “Turn around Oscar! Go back north to 1615 Elm Terrace! There’s a broken pipe!” Oscar grumbles and turns around. The dispatcher calls the panicked homeowner to say someone’s on the way. Unfortunately the homeowner, who wasn’t about to stand around waiting, has already called a competitor who’s on the fleet management way.

Now let’s look at how the same plumber with GPS tracking handles the call:

The office gets a call from a homeowner who’s ankle-deep in water. The fleet management is in a less-traveled part of town unfamiliar to the dispatcher. The dispatcher pulls up their GPS tracking software and sees not only where the client is, but that one of her technicians; Oscar is on the move three blocks away. She sends Oscar directions directly to his Garmin GPS unit and he’s there in minutes, helping the homeowner.

The lesson? You probably just earned a customer for life, thanks to GPS vehicle tracking.

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Embedded HMIs evolve to match consumer tech expectations in the factory

Industrial computer and cameras and Their Technical Features,” the 6th annual camera survey published by FRAMOS, takes a look at the opinions of 15 international camera manufacturers and 43 end users of machine vision cameras, and what it might mean for network appliance and its future.

Those industrial computer manufacturers surveyed indicate that the applications for which users purchased their cameras varies. According to the survey,  automation in production, quality assurance, and measuring technology each accounted for 22%, while automation in logistics automation (17%), and transport measurement (16%), came in just behind them.  On the other hand, end users indicate that 25% purchased cameras for use in automation in production, while 22% planned to use the cameras for quality assurance. In addition, 17% intended on using the cameras for logistics automation, 11% in measurement technology, and 7% for embedded computer traffic measurement. In terms of pricing, networks users indicated via their answers that paying for a high-quality camera was worth it to them. Forty percent of users surveyed indicated that they purchased industrial computer with cameras between €1,000 and €3,000 while 30% purchased cameras between €650 and $1,000.

When it comes to industrial computer and networks image sensors, users identified Sony as the “leader of the pack,”while Aptina and Truesense were just behind. (Both of which were recently acquired by ON automation and industrial Semiconductor.) CMOSIS and embedded computer saw a considerable rise in popularity since last year, as both embedded computer companies released CMOS sensors with global shutter technology.

Nearly 71% of embedded computer manufacturers said that they believe CCD sensors will continue to have a share of 60% of the market in two years, while users believe CMOS and CCD will be on par by that time. Survey author Dr.-Ing. Ronald Muller, Head of Product Marketing FRAMOS suggested that this could be because CMOS sensors are less expensive than CCD,  and that CCD industrial market leader Sony has been ramping up its efforts for CMOS sensors in industrial network appliance.

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