Thursday, August 16, 2018

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

SmartSense 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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sharp ToF SPAD-based Proximity Sensor

Sharp and Socle/Foxconn come up with ST-like SPAD ToF proximity sensor, the MTOF171000C0. Sharp also makes a similar ToF proximity device, the GP2AP01VT10F, with quite a detailed spec. Application guide is available on Github. The samples are supposed to be available in August 2018.

CMOSIS/Fillfactory Key Team Joins Gpixel

Gpixel: A team of CMOS image sensors industry veterans creates Gpixel NV. Gpixel NV is structured as a privately-held company and started operation on August 9th, 2018 providing turn-key solutions to industrial and professional markets ranging from sensor design, prototyping, characterization and packaging to qualification and volume production.

Gpixel NV founders are Tim Baeyens, Tim Blanchaert, Jan Bogaerts, Bart Ceulemans and Wim Wuyts. Together they have more than 75 person-years of relevant experience in CMOS imaging technology, development, operations and commercialization. Gpixel NV is set up with financial and operational backing of Gpixel Inc. (Gpixel Changchun Optotech), a CMOS sensor supplier based in Changchun, China, founded by Xinyang Wang in 2012.

Imaging and CMOS image sensors are ubiquitous today,” states Tim Baeyens, CEO of Gpixel NV. “Nevertheless, there is still a strong need for dedicated companies such as Gpixel to address high end markets like industrial and professional imaging. Through our wide industry network and strong collaboration with Gpixel Inc, we anticipate growing Gpixel rapidly to become one of the key players in solid state imaging.

Xinyang Wang, founder and CEO of Gpixel Inc. states, “I am very pleased to join forces with Gpixel NV to grow Gpixel to become a dominant player in our application areas. I am also convinced that the addition of Jan Bogaerts as Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and Wim Wuyts as Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) for Gpixel worldwide will foster our company’s innovation and global sales significantly.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Synaptics Rethinks its Under-Display Optical Fingerprint Business in Search for Better ROI

SeekingAlpha: Synaptics quarterly earnings call has interesting info on its optical under-display fingerprint sensor business:

"...we really take a big scrub on all of our products in the ROI and what provides the best investment going forward. And as we did that analysis, it was becoming clear ...that optical was going to be one of those boom and bust cycles. And to a certain degree, we lived through that with our capacitive solutions a few years back, and we did fantastic. But invariably, because it's somewhat of an optional solution and there's alternatives, it quickly went from a multi-dollar solution to a sub-$1 solution. And so, we enjoyed good money.

But if you look over the entire period, it wasn't the type of sticky highly differentiated business that we now seek as a company. And so, it would've taken additional investment or continued investment from our perspective. It somewhat hurts because we clearly were the innovators in the industry, and yes, we do see broader adoption of in-display fingerprint in the marketplace from a unit perspective and so on. But we can see the ASP erosion has begun, and there'll be multiple suppliers in it. Just from a long-term investment, we have better fish to fry right now. And so, it was purely an ROI decision.

...the revenues were fairly minimal. I'd say kind of in the sub $15 million to $20 million range is what's going away. We have bigger plans for it, as you saw at our Analyst Day, so we were expecting it to contribute about $100 million in fiscal 2019, and then more than that in fiscal 2020. But the actual impact year-over-year is fairly minimal at a Synaptics level.

...Now, that doesn't mean we're stopping. From the very beginning, when we went into this business, we said the ultimate solution was when fingerprint was truly integrated into the display. And eventually, when the market was right, we would have TDDI FP, so we're going to continue the investments in research in that particular area when we think the market might be ready, so you could have true in-display across the entire screen with multiple cost to the – minimal cost, excuse me, to the end user.
"

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ouster on LiDAR Specmanship

Ouster presentation at Autonomous Vehicle Sensors Conference held in Jan Jose, CA in June 2018 defines the requirements to LiDARs and proposes their realistic measurement conditions, so that different products and technologies can be compared:


Links to few other interesting presentations at the conference:

- LiDAR for ADAS and Autonomous Driving by Hamamatsu
- AEye iDAR
- Frequency-Modulated Automotive Lidar by Blackmore
- Road to Robots by Yole
- Sony Automotive Sensors
- Camera-based Active Real-Time Driver Monitoring Systems by Seeing Machines