Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ultrafast Laser-Assisted Imaging

BBC News, Intersciences.org, UCLA Newsroom: Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a novel camera that captures images thousand times faster than any existing conventional camera. Dubbed Serial Time-Encoded Amplified imaging, or STEAM, the new imaging technique depends on carefully manipulating so-called "supercontinuum" laser pulses.

These pulses, less than a pico-second long, contain a broad range of colors. Two optical elements spread the pinprick laser pulses into an ordered two-dimensional array of colors. This "2-D rainbow" illuminates a sample. Part of the rainbow is reflected by the sample - depending on light and dark areas of the illuminated spot - and the reflections travel back along their initial path.

Because the spreading of the pulse's various colors is regular and ordered, the range of colors reflected contains detailed spatial information about the sample. The pulse then passes back through the dispersive optics and again becomes a pinprick of light, with the image tucked away within as a series of distributed colours.

However, that color spectrum is mixed up in an exceptionally short pulse of light that would be impossible to unpick in traditional electronics. The team then routes the pulse into a dispersive fibre - a fibre-optic cable that has a different speed limit for different colors of light. As a result, the red part of the spectrum races ahead of the blue part as the pulse travels along the fibre. Eventually, the red part and blue part separate in the fibre, arriving at very different times at the fibre's end.

All that remains is to detect the light as it pops out of the fibre with a standard photodiode and digitize it, assigning the parts of the pulse that arrive at different times to different points in two-dimensional space.

Now researchers are looking for a possible application for the fast camera. "The most demanding application for high-speed imaging involves fast events that are very rare, rogue events or the proverbial needle in the haystack — in other words, unusual events that carry important information," said Jalali, a professor of electrical engineering and principal investigator of the project.

Update: The original Nature Journal paper is here, for those who have a subscription.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Palm Pre Possibly Uses Aptina Sensor

After the speculations that Omnivision might be the winner of Palm Pre 3MP sensor design slot, iSuppli says in Business Week article that the 3MP camera is possibly supplied by Aptina. It is expected to cost $12.39 or about 9% of the total Palm Pre built cost, according to iSuppli.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

European Space Telescope Relies on e2v CCD

Electronics Weekly: The Corot orbiting space telescope has discovered the smallest terrestrial planet ever detected outside the Solar System. The planet, which is less than twice the size of Earth, was identified using an array of four e2v CCDs. The CCDs are FT matrices of 2048 x 4096 pixels working in visible light in the MPP (Multi Phase Pin) mode at temperature -40C. The 13.5┬Ám-sized pixels are back illuminated in improve QE in 370-950nm spectral range.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Security Sensor Market Review

As somebody posted in Omnivision Interview message, ASMag.com published a nice review of security sensor trends. Some interesting quotes:

“The aggregate surveillance image sensor market in 2008 is estimated to be close to 40 million sensors,” said Roy Karunakaran, Senior Product Marketing Manager of OmniVision Technologies, a provider of CMOS sensors. “Of these sensors, 30.5 percent are CMOS image sensors, while 69.5 percent are CCD.”

CCDs currently make up the majority of image sensors — dominated by Sony, Sharp and Panasonic — but some experts predict a shift. “According to estimates from Japanese market research firm TSR (Techno Systems Research), CMOS will see its market share near 45 percent by 2012,” Karunakaran said. “According to this same report, CCDs will remain stable but eventually see a decline in units by 2012.”


Micron, which was acquired by Altera, and Pixim are major CMOS players - this funny statement is said to belong to Junichi Matagawa, Japan/Asia Marketing, Digital Image Sensor Products, Worldwide Application Specific Products, Texas Instruments Japan. Somehow, I doubt he really said that.

PhaseOne-DALSA Sensor+ Technology

It escaped my attention at the time, but almost a year ago PhaseOne announced so called "Sensor+" solution used in its medium format digital backs, co-developed with DALSA. From the first sight it appeared nothing more than a regular pixel binning used in may other CCDs. Upon closer examination, the order the binned pixels in Sensor+ is different. The details of it are shown on p. 3 in PhaseOne white paper.

The traditional binning schemes transform centers of binned pixels in a way shown below:



PhaseOne says that the binned pixel centers movement causes problems in the final picture and proposes another way of doing it:



It's all clear with greens, but I wonder how PhaseOne rotates red and blue binned pixels. The net result is an improvement in binned picture quality:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nemotek Prepares for WLC Production

Yahoo: Nemotek has selected multiple lithography systems from SUSS. The deal includes a 200mm production mask aligner, coat, bake and develop systems. The systems have been selected for their image sensor wafer-level packaging (WLP) and wafer-level optics (WLO) services and were successfully installed at Nemotek’s facility in Rabat Technopolis Park, Morocco.

TSMC Keeps Investing in CMOS Process Development

EETimes UK reports that TSMC is developing a new CMOS image sensor process for 2-, 5-, and 8MP designs, despite it already has a new 0.11um process.

TSMC also develops 3D process extensions. By June, it will ready its 300mm fab for TSV applications.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CULV Sensor Trade-Offs

Digitimes' sources are critical of Asustek decision to adopt a 1.3MP sensor for its consumer ultra-low voltage (CULV) notebook to be launched in the second half of 2009, because the thickness of 1.3MP module, compared with a VGA one, is likely to hinder sales of CULV notebooks, marketed for their slimness. Acer and HP have adopted VGA sensor for their CULV notebooks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Omnivision Announces AutoVision Sensors

Yahoo: Omnivision unveiled its AutoVision solutions for usage in driver assistance applications such as back-up camera and blind spot detection systems. The ultra-compact 1/4" OV7960 and OV7962 deliver responsivity of 12V/lux-sec in what is claimed to be "the world's smallest automotive qualified package - up to 50% smaller than competing CMOS devices". The 62-pin CSP package size is 6.67 mm x 7.12 mm x 0.71 mm.

The OV7960 is optimized for interlaced NTSC/PAL signal formats to directly interface with in-car LCD screens or devices with 75 Ohm loading, while the OV7962 is optimized for digital progressive and analog applications. Both versions operate across a wide-temperature range, from -40 degrees C to 105 degrees C meeting AEC-Q100, grade-2 requirements.

Samples are immediately available with volume production planned for the third quarter of calendar 2009. According to TSR, the percentage of new vehicles with integrated cameras is projected to increase from ~20% in 2008 to nearly 70% in 2012.

Tessera EDoF Solution Extended to 14MP

Yahoo: Tessera announced that is has extended its OptiML Focus and OptiML UFL image enhancement solutions to support resolutions up to 14MP. The OptiML Focus solution enables all objects from 30cm to infinity to be in focus at once, and the OptiML UFL solution increases the amount of available light as much as 250%, without degrading the field depth or other performance factors.

OptiML Focus and OptiML UFL image enhancement solutions for 5 to 14MP are available for licensing now.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zacks Believes in Omnivision

Zacks Investment Research is "reasonably confident about [Omnivision's] strong comeback in the post-recession period." Zacks is a little concerned about the level of inventory, and believes that Omnivision could have a hard time bringing it down. OmniVision's market share is 30% of the total image sensor market, according to Zacks.

Aptina Shows Global Shutter Advantages

Engineering TV features Aptina's promotional video showing global shutter advantages over rolling shutter. The demo is carefully designed to make this advantage most evident.

Automotive Sensors Market to Grow

Digitimes: The number of image sensors used in each automobile will jump to eight or even ten in the next five years from one currently, Digitimes sources estimate.

One image sensor will monitor the rear view, one more in the front and two at the sides will aid driving and several interior sensors will monitor the behavior of the drivers or passengers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

E2V on Low Light Imaging

Advanced Imaging Magazine published E2V's popular article on low-light image sensor basics, such as 3T vs 4T, BSI vs FSI, rolling shutter vs global shutter and electron multiplication CCDs. The article is illustrated by e2v sensors data.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Omnivision's COO Interview

Tech-On published a first part of its interview with James He, COO of OmniVision. James releases mostly historical information, saying less about the present and future. Still, there are few interesting slides there. Omnivision's supply chain slide shows how many people, companies and interests are involved in Omnivision sensors production. Another slide shows 2008 market shares, with Omnivision's being the biggest one:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Image Sensors on VLSI Circuits Symposium

This year VLSI Circuits Symposium has an image sensor session to be held on June 17 in Kyoto, Japan. The session features a couple of papers on very low voltage and low power sensors and also TI-sponsored research papers on WRGB and HDR sensors:

A Color-Independent Saturation, Linear Response, Wide Dynamic Range CMOS Image Sensor With Retinal Rod-and Cone-Like Color Pixels
S. Kawada, S. Sakai, N. Akahane, K. Mizobuchi and S. Sugawa
Tohoku University and Texas Instruments, Japan

A CMOS image sensor densely and uniformly placed the retinal rod- and cones-like WRGB pixels with lateral overflow integration capacitors having the different sizes in each color has been demonstrated. A 1/3.3-inch, 4.2-um effective pitch, 1280(H) x 480(V) checker-pattern pixels CMOS image sensor was fabricated and has achieved color-independent saturation and about twice the effective sensitivity compared with conventional Bayer-RGB color filter image sensor made at the same time.

A CMOS Image Sensor With 2.5-e– Random Noise and 110-ke– Full Well Capacity Using Column Source Follower Readout Circuits
T. Kohara, W. Lee, N. Akahane, K. Mizobuchi and S. Sugawa
Tohoku University and Texas Instruments, Japan

A low noise CMOS image sensor without degradation of saturation performance has been developed by using column amplifiers of the gains of about 1.0 in a lateral overflow integration capacitor technology. The 1/4-inch, 4.5-um pitch, 800(H) x 600(V) pixels CMOS image sensor fabricated by a 0.18-um 2P3M technology has achieved fully linear response, 0.98 column readout gain, 100-uV/e- conversion gain, 2.5-e- random noise, 110,000-e- full well capacity and 93-dB dynamic range in one exposure.

Fast Sensors at Vision Research

Webwire: Vision Research announced a very fast 4MP camera capable of 1,400fps speed at its full-resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. The Phantom v640 camera incorporates a custom-designed CMOS sensor with improved QE of 60% (peak). The camera will be available with either a color or monochrome CMOS sensor. The color sensor is rated at ISO 1,000 and the monochrome sensor is rated at ISO 4,000. The Phantom v640 also incorporates Vision Research’s Extreme Dynamic Range (EDR) technology. EDR allows users to capture two different exposures within one single frame.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Samsung Sensors in HTC Smartphones

Digitimes reports that the proportion of Samsung image sensors used in HTC handsets is expected to reach 50% with a more competitive pricing at the end of 2009 amid sales of HTC's 5MP smartphones. Currently 60-70% of HTC's handsets use Aptina's products, according to Digitimes' sources.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

3DV Layoffs

Globes: 3D imaging technology vendor 3DV Systems is laying off most of its staff towards the sale of the company's activity to Microsoft. Its controlling shareholder announced that it had signed an MOU with Microsoft for the sale of its 43% stake in 3DV at company value of $34M.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Electronic Design Talks about Image Sensor Breakthroughs

Electronic Design reviews recent reports about new developments in image sensors. Nothing is new there, but it's nice to see everything in one article. In an inset the article says that CCDs continue to deliver better performance than CMOS sensors, a claim that many would disagree with.

Micron's Image Sensor Fab is in Earthquake Area

EETimes reports that Micron's Avezzano fab in Abruzzo region 60 miles east of Rome is close to the area stricked by a powerful earthquake. This fab is responsible for the image sensor production by Aptina. The plant was originally constructed by TI but was subsequently taken over by Micron. If the fab is damaged, we might see Aptina sales plummeting this quarter, unless Boise fabs take the load.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Tessera Licenses Wafer Level Optics to QTech

Yahoo: Tessera announced that China-based Qtech has licensed Tessera’s OptiML wafer-level optics (WLO). The combination of Tessera’s OptiML WLO and the previously licensed SHELLCASE wafer-level packaging will enable Qtech to manufacture low-cost, reflowable VGA cameras for mobile and notebook applications.

In-Stat on Image Sensor Market

In-Stat announced a new report on image sensor market. Its main conclusions are:

  • Camera phones comprised nearly 81% of area-array image sensor shipments in 2008, a share that is expected to shrink only slightly through 2013.
  • embedded PC cameras will surpass digital still cameras to become the second-largest application for image sensors by 2011
  • CMOS sensors dominated image sensor shipments in 2008, with more than an 87% share.
  • By 2013, CCD is expected to comprise less than 4% of the total area image sensor market.
  • CMOS will make up 62% of security camera image sensors by 2013.
  • While CMOS is gaining in digital still cameras, it will not surpass CCDs until 2013.

Worldwide unit shipments of image sensors in camera phones continue to rise, mostly as a result of the continuing penetration of dual-camera phones in Asian markets. These phones utilize both a traditional point-and-shoot camera, as well as a second, inward-facing camera for two-way video communication or videoconferencing.

In-Stat also gives the market growth projection till 2013:

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Omnivision Regains Market Share in China

Digitimes: Omnivision has adopted more aggressive pricing for its 1.3MP sensors, regaining part of its lost market share in the China market from SETi. OmniVision has also started ramping up output at TSMC, according to Digitimes' sources.

OmniVision is expected to also adjust the price of its VGA products soon, the sources noted.

Pixelplus Management Cleared in Court

Yahoo: Pixelplus announced that, on March 19, 2009, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval of the settlement of the previously-disclosed consolidated shareholder class action lawsuit commenced against the Company and certain of its current and former officers and directors in April 2006. All claims against the Company and its current and former officers and directors have been dismissed with prejudice and without any admission of liability or wrongdoing.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Aptina's Sales, Margins Down

Barron's: Aptina's image sensor sales were down 54% for the quarter ended on March, 5, 2009, due to a sharp drop in units relating to weakening consumer demand. Gross margins of imaging products fell to 2%, from 29% in the previous quarter.

Seeking Alpha's Earnings Call transcript adds little information on that:

Ronald C. Foster, CFO:

Imaging revenues were down 53% from quarter-to-quarter, primarily due to weakness in the mobile phone market.
...
Imaging gross margins were down as we experienced a slow down in unit sales and production, driving up per unit costs. Imaging gross margins did, however, remain positive at 2.8%.

Omnivision to Supply 3MP and 5MP Sensors to Apple

Digitimes quotes a rumor that the next generation iPhone will feature 3.2MP sensor from Omnivision. Same rumor also says that Omnivision was also selected as a supplier for 5MP Apple product to appear later in 2009, which might be iPhone or the much-rumored Apple MID.

Update, April 15: Wired quotes another Digitimes article and analyst response on it, seems to confirm that Omnivision supplies 3MP sensor the next generation iPhone.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Smalcamera Technology Acquired by Melexis

Yahoo: Sensata was the latest owner of Smallcamera technology, acquired from Cypress. It had announced the intention to sell its Vision business in December 2008. Today Sensata and Melexis announced the signing of an agreement to sell Sensata's Vision business to Melexis. The transaction is expected to close by the end of April.

The Vision business provides CMOS imagers and imaging modules to automotive advanced driver assistance systems for customers such as Bosch and Delphi.

Melexis Chief Executive Officer Rudi DeWinter states, "The wide dynamic range camera technology from Sensata's Vision business is complementary to our current imaging sensors and fits very well with the trend of increasing use of vision products to enhance safety in cars."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Omnivision Announces Security Sensor

Yahoo: Omnivision unveiled its latest OV7960 SoC solution for CCTV applications. The OV7960 features the light sensitivity of 12V/lux-sec. Featuring 6 x 6um OmniPixel3-HS pixel, the OV7960 provides the full functionality of a single-chip digital/analog NTSC/PAL sensor. The OV7960 operates at 30fps in VGA mode, 50fps in PAL mode and 60 fps in NTSC mode and has an active array size of 768 x 576 to support both PAL and NTSC outputs.

The OV7960 incorporates image processing functions, including exposure control, gain control, white balance, lens correction and defective pixel correction to provide full-frame images. For storage purposes, the OV7960 includes 16 bytes of OTP memory. The OV7960 features automatic exposure/gain with 16 zone control, horizontal and vertical windowing capability, aperture/gamma correction, external frame sync capability.

The OV7960 is immediately available for customer sampling with volume production slated for the second half of calendar 2009.

Toshiba Simplifies Image Tuning

PRNewswire: Toshiba announced the availability of the new ImaTuning image sensor calibration tool, currently available free to Toshiba image sensor customers. ImaTuning is a hardware and software platform that runs on a PC and lets customers tune their Toshiba image sensor to match the performance needs of their target application, primarily digital cameras in mobile phones.

Toshiba Adds More 1.75um-based Products

Yahoo: Toshiba announced two new 1.75um pixel based products. The 8MP 1/2.5" format sensor (part number ET8ER4-AS) is intended for use in high-end camera phones that offer auto-focus or optical zoom capabilities.

The 2MP 1/5" format chip scale camera module (CSCM) uses TSV technology to allow mounting and assembly of camera components in the chip wafer during manufacturing to reduce the module's size by as much as 64 percent in comparison to other camera modules. It features an integrated image signal processing function to give the CSCMs more digital still capture-type functionality.

Engineering samples of the 8MP image sensor are available now, with mass production scheduled to begin in Q2 2009. It is sample priced at $20 each. The 1/5-inch format 2MP CSCM will be in mass production in Q2 2009 and is sample priced at $10 each.

Update: There is a nice picture showing the new camera module design: