Saturday, August 18, 2018

Samsung Proposes Very Low Power 12Gbps CIS Interface

MDPI Sensors publishes "A 12-Gb/s Stacked Dual-Channel Interface for CMOS Image Sensor Systems" paper by Sang-Hoon Kim, Hoon Shin, Youngkyun Jeong, June-Hee Lee, Jaehyuk Choi, and Jung-Hoon Chun from Sungkyunkwan University and Samsung, Korea.

"We propose a dual-channel interface architecture that allocates high and low transition-density bit streams to two separate channels. The transmitter utilizes the stacked drivers with charge-recycling to reduce the power consumption. The direct current (DC)-coupled receiver front-end circuits manage the common-mode level variations and compensate for the channel loss. The tracked oversampling clock and data recovery (CDR), which realizes fast lock acquisition below 1 baud period and low logic latency, is shared by the two channels. Fabricated in a 65-nm low-power complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, the dual-channel transceiver achieves 12-Gb/s data rate while the transmitter consumes 20.43 mW from a 1.2-V power supply."

Friday, August 17, 2018

Intel-Mobileye AV Platform Uses 12 Cameras and 6 LiDARs

Intel publishes a 1-pager on its autonomous vehicle platform:

"There are 12 cameras in a 360-degree configuration. Eight cameras support self-driving and four short-range cameras support near-field sensing for self-driving as well as self-parking. The camera is the highest resolution sensor (hundreds of millions of samples per second) and is the only sensor capable of detecting both shape (vehicles, pedestrians, etc.) and texture (road markings, traffic sign text, traffic light color, etc.). Advanced artificial intelligence and vision capabilities are able to build a full-sensing state from the cameras. This end-to-end capability is critical to achieve “true redundancy” in combination with other sensor types.

There are six total “sector” lidars; three in front and three in rear. Lidar sensors are useful in detecting objects by measuring reflected laser light pulses. Lidar, in combination with radar, is used by the system to provide a fully independent source of shape detection. It works in addition to the camera system. Given our camera-centric approach, lidar only needs to be used for very specific tasks, primarily long-distance ranging and road contour. Limiting the workload for lidar results in much lower cost compared to lidar-centric systems; it also provides easier manufacturing and volume at scale.
"

Is 3D-Capable Smartphone the Next Big Thing?

EETimes reporter Junko Yoshida publishes a 10 page-long article "Jury Still Out on 3D Sensing for Smartphones" mostly based on an interview with Pierre Cambou, Yole Developpement analyst. Few interesting quotes:

"The industry verdict on 3D sensing [inside smartphones] varies widely — from “why bother?” to “it’s the future.” While some interpret the lack of iPhone X competitors with full-blown 3D sensing technology as a lack of market interest, others disagree.

While Apple’s TrueDepth had by 2017 established the trend for 3D front-facing cameras, Yole acknowledged that the wave [for 3D sensing adoption] “has started on the conservative side in terms of volume.”

The 3D sensing argument took a positive turn when Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xioami, Oppo, and Vivo unveiled their plans for 3D sensing over the last few months. Although Cambou is sure about front-facing 3D, he remains skeptical of use cases for 3D in rear-facing cameras. Pointing out a lack of momentum for VR and AR, he explained that neither the augmented reality sales pitch nor augmented gaming are yet proven on the market.

Recent quarterly financial calls held by STMicroelectronics and ams revealed that “they are almost overly confident” that 3D sensing will go inside both the front and rear cameras of smartphones, observed Cambou.

So what percentage of smartphone cameras will have 3D cameras? What’s the penetration ratio? Yole predicts that a 1.4% penetration ratio in 2017 will grow to 55% in 2023.

Huawei... is making a big investment in digital photography, said Cambou. In comparing the size of active matrix (used for traditional photography), he calculated that Apple is devoting only 52 mm², while Samsung has committed to 91 mm² and Huawei 112 mm².
"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Gratings for 3D Sensing

Synopsys publishes a presentation on "Design of Gratings for 3D Depth Sensing" by Tung Yu Su, Richard Hu, and Morgan Lu, Cybernet System Taiwan.

Panasonic Long-Range ToF Sensor Article

Nikkei publishes an article on Panasonic 250m-range ToF solution, first presented 2 months ago.

"Panasonic Corp developed a range image sensor that can take an image of a 10cm object located 250m away in the dark. [there is no info on the range and resolution in a bright sunlight - ISW]


In the field of autonomous driving, the company considers that the sensor can supplement the functions of existing sensors because the new sensor (1) supports a longer distance than LiDAR (light detection and ranging), which enables to obtain range images, and (2) can take images in the complete dark unlike CMOS image sensors.

Panasonic expects to start to ship samples in fiscal 2019 and begin volume production in fiscal 2021.

...the new sensor uses a principle similar to the principle of flash-type LiDAR. In other words, near-infrared-light pulse (wavelength: 940nm, output: 1,200W, pulse width: 10ns, GaAs-based laser device in the case of the prototype) is applied to the entire imaging area.

With the prototype, near-infrared pulse is emitted with a cycle of 167μs to measure distance for each distance range. Based on a calculation conducted by Panasonic, when the viewing angle of the prototype is set at 20°, the number of photons coming from a distance of more than 100m away and entering one pixel is 1 or less. Therefore, in the case of a distance from which the number of incoming photons becomes 1 or less, measurement is carried out several times for the same distance range.
"

ToF APD sensor with 260,000 11.2μm2 pixels

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

SmartSens Raises 10s of Millions Dollar in a New Financing Round

SmartSens reports that it has closed a new investment round of "tens of millions of dollars". The lead investor is the National Core Industry Investment Fund (Big Fund), the Beijing Core Dynamic Energy Investment Fund, and venture capital institutions such as Lenovo Venture Capital Group.

Li Sheng, COO of SmartSens, said: “SmartSens has successfully completed a new round of financing, which reflects the recognition of the capital market. This recognition is not only derived from the achievements of SmartSens in the past, but also from the deep technical accumulation of SmartSens and becoming a global Leading high-performance image sensor supplier's grand vision."

SmartSens and IBM have reached an IP cooperation agreement in July 2018 - SmartSens will receive a total of 14 categories of more than 40 CMOS image sensor related patents. The patents involved are mainly basic technology patents, covering pixel design, semiconductor processing and manufacturing, and chip packaging.

"CIS is a key area for the future development of the semiconductor industry. Under the background of the government's support for local chip companies, the development prospects of SmartSens are undoubtedly worth looking forward to," Core Dynamics Investment Director Manager Wang Jiaheng said. "Core kinetic energy investment will.. continue to help SmartSens's technological innovation and market operation level, and make SmartSens a unicorn enterprise in China's semiconductor industry."

Wang Guangxi, Managing Director of Lenovo Ventures, said: "In the era of smart Internet, with the rise of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and edge computing, the importance of image recognition has become more prominent. CIS chips are key components in the field of image recognition. Machine vision, intelligent transportation, autonomous driving, AR/VR and other fields are widely used, and it is a model application of technology innovation and industry integration. We are very optimistic about the development prospects of SmartSens, and are willing to help SmartSens through Lenovo's deep scientific resources and industrial advantages. Become a force that cannot be ignored in the CIS market."

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DR Extension for SPAD Arrays

OSA Optics Express publishes a paper "Dynamic range extension for photon counting arrays" by Ivan Michel Antolovic, Claudio Bruschini, and Edoardo Charbon from TU Delft and EPFL.

"In this paper, we present a thorough analysis, which can actually be applied to any photon counting detector, on how to extend the SPAD dynamic range by exploiting the nonlinear photon response at high count rates and for different recharge mechanisms. We applied passive, active event-driven and clock-driven (i.e. clocked, following quanta image sensor response) recharge directly to the SPADs. The photon response, photon count standard deviation, signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range were measured and compared to models. Measurements were performed with a CMOS SPAD array targeted for image scanning microscopy, featuring best-in-class 11 V excess bias, 55% peak photon detection probability at 520 nm and >40% from 440 to 640 nm. The array features an extremely low median dark count rate below 0.05 cps/μm2 at 9 V of excess bias and 0°C. We show that active event-driven recharge provides ×75 dynamic range extension and offers novel ways for high dynamic range imaging. When compared to the clock-driven recharge and the quanta image sensor approach, the dynamic range is extended by a factor of ×12.7-26.4. Additionally, for the first time, we evaluate the influence of clock-driven recharge on the SPAD afterpulsing."

Quanergy Troubles

Bloomberg reports about troubling signs at OPA-based LiDAR developer Quanergy that "has raised $160 million to date at a peak valuation of more than $1.5 billion."

"Quanergy has struggled to deliver products along the timelines it has set out for itself, and has shipped devices that don’t work as well as advertised. Numerous employees have left over the last 18 months, including several at key positions. But Quanergy’s biggest challenge is that its autonomous car business hasn’t developed the way it thought it would.

Quanergy has stopped talking about an IPO and has been pursuing new investments in recent months. It has had talks about finding a buyer, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Quanergy backers Samsung Ventures and Sensata Technologies Holding Plc, an auto sensor maker, have expressed disillusionment with the startup, according to people familiar with those firms.

Bloomberg also spoke to a half-dozen former employees, all of whom asked to remain anonymous, most of them citing the fear of retaliation. They said execution was a consistent problem at Quanergy. Several former employees described Eldada [the CEO] as a combustible and intimidating presence, stymying debate about product development and seeing any disagreement as intolerable dissent.

One former employee said he never saw a single device come off the line at Quanergy that met all of its stated specifications, an allegation the company denies.
"

The company CEO Louay Eldada publishes "Statement from Quanergy on Bloomberg Story" mostly denying Bloomberg analysis and conclusions.

MIT Time-Folded Optics Said to Offer New Possibilities

Optics.org: MIT Media Lab researches propose a new optics for fast cameras, say it adds new capabilities:

Monday, August 13, 2018

SmartSens Article Translation

SmartSens representative, The Hoffman Agency, kindly sent me a more correct translation of the company's article "Let China no longer miss the era of CIS." This comes to replace the half-broken Google translation in my previous post.

"Due to the late start and weak infrastructure of the semiconductor industry in China, the Chinese development of commercial CCD chips was completely buried and behind. The market used to be basically monopolized by Japanese manufacturers such as Sony, Panasonic and Sharp. Therefore, China completely missed the CCD era. With the rise of CIS, how to break the technology and market monopoly by Japanese and European manufacturers in the image sensor field has become the biggest challenge for the Chinese semiconductor industry.

Soon after graduating from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with his doctorate, Dr. Xu Chen went to Silicon Valley in the United States to pursue his own engineer dream. He joined the world's first company that launched commercial CIS chips, and engaged in the research and development of pixel components, the most important component in CIS development. During this time, Dr. Xu and his team developed and applied for nearly 30 patents. Since then, Dr. Xu has been engaged in technology research and development at leading CIS companies.

With the rise of Sony in the CIS field, the "Silicon Valley Power" has gradually declined, and "Asian Power" has risen to the front stage. It was at this time that Dr. Xu Chen first developed the idea of creating a Chinese brand to challenge the Japanese and European CIS giants.

In 2011, opportunities arose as China accelerated development in its tech industry. The central government introduced a series of policies designed to attract overseas talents, including the “Thousand Talents Plan.” Local governments also launched various policies to support the homecoming of oversea talents. It is at this prime time that Dr. Xu Chen returned to his motherland with his own visions, beliefs and core CIS innovations.

To Dr. Xu, successful Silicon Valley companies often share such characteristics: tech- and market-savvy founders, cohesive and go-getting teams, generous and people-oriented benefits, and compatible and diverse cultures. Not only has SmartSens, a company founded in China, inherited the Silicon Valley spirits from Dr. Xu Chen, but it continues to absorb globally educated talents to create a "Chinese core" in the CIS field. Founded on quality products and technological innovations, SmartSens is breaking the monopoly of Japanese and European manufacturers and leading China in the CIS era.
"

SmartSens founder Xu Chen