Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kodak CIS Business In Trouble

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle published few notes from today's Kodak Earnings Call. The company CEO Antonio Perez acknowledged that Kodak's new digital cameras announced this week do NOT use Kodak-designed CMOS chips. And Kodak likely will not put much money into that sensor business. Perez said, “It’s a tough time to make investments in a business with projections pretty poor for the next few years.”

But Kodak is not going to let sensors “die on the vine,” said its spokesman David Lanzillo. “We continue to see a lot of potential with the technology,” he said, adding that Kodak continues to look for business partners or other options for its sensor business.

Update: Seeking Alpha published Kodak Q2'2009 Earnings Call. Here is the quote related to the CIS business status:

Ulysses Janice - Buckman & Reed:

On another subject, CMOS, I saw your new video camera you announced. It’s using a 5-megapixel CMOS. I assume it’s your CMOS.

Antonio M. Perez:

No, it’s not ours, no. It’s not ours.

Ulysses Janice - Buckman & Reed:

Not yours?

Antonio M. Perez:

No.

Ulysses Janice - Buckman & Reed:

How is that project going?

Antonio M. Perez:

CMOS is one of the businesses that is in transformation. If you look at the industry, you know the industry is under distress, as you know. If you look at the comments of the large users, such as Nokia, you know, Motorola, Samsung and all the others, they all predict significant declines for next year so it is a tough time to make investments in the business, you know, whose projection is pretty poor for the next few years. So we are still looking for what is the best alternative for the shareholders as far as monetizing those assets.

Awaiba and Caeleste Collaborate

Awaiba and Caeleste announce a collaboration agreement to widen and leverage their design capabilities and IP platforms. In the scope of this agreement AWAIBA focuses on miniature sensors and packaging technologies for medical endoscopy, highspeed area and linescan applications and automotive high dynamic range imaging, whereas CAELESTE focuses on X-ray and other medical imaging applications, Space imaging (backside illuminated CMOS, hybrid image sensors), single photon imaging (APD, X-ray),distance ranging and time gating and certain scientific imaging niches.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In-Stat Image Sensors 2009 Report

Toady In-Stat announced an Image Sensor 2009 report. To me it appears identical to the one from almost 4 months ago, but here it is anyway:

CMOS image sensor unit shipments dominate over CCDs nearly 10 to 1 across all market segments, reports In-Stat. However, excluding the nearly 1.3 billion CMOS camera phone image sensors, CCDs remain strong contenders across several application segments including digital still cameras, camcorders and video surveillance.

CMOS image sensors have captured low cost applications, such as PC cameras and toys, while CCDs have remained the dominant image sensor in higher end cameras. However, by 2013 CMOS will have surpassed CCDs across virtually every segment, including still cameras, camcorders and security cameras. Other findings:
  • 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.
  • Embedded PC cameras will surpass digital still cameras to become the second-largest application for image sensors by 2011.
  • CMOS will make up 62% of security camera image sensors by 2013.

Nemotek Offers 0.6mm-Sized Package

Yahoo: Nemotek new WLP provides a chip scale package with only 400┬Ám as the minimum thickness. The die size is ultra-small at just 0.6mm, which fits up to 40,000 dies per wafer. This solution is based on Tessera WLP technology with TSV.

Production of Nemotek Technologie’s advanced WLP will take place in its 10,000sq.m facility. This facility includes a certified Class 10 clean room – the first in Africa located in the Rabat Technopolis Park, a hub for technology development in Morocco.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tessera Develops 3MP Wafer Level Optics with EDOF

Yahoo: Tessera announced it is developing one of the industry’s first 3MP wafer-level optics solutions that integrates extended depth of field (EDOF). Sampling of Tessera’s integrated 3MPix wafer-level optics technology is expected to start in Q4 2009.

I wonder if the EDOF is mainly needed to cover optics assembly tolerances, or there is enough enhancement to provide extended focus even after the misalignments take their toll.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pixart Presentation

Pixart is one of the very few profitable mass market image sensor businesses these days. A relatively recent presentation gives some insight about the company structure and expenses. The last quarter update is here.

Image Sensor Doc Stream Slowing Down

It looks like image sensor content in the web is slowing down with time. Google image sensor documents timeline clearly shows the trend:



CMOS image sensor trend also looks similar, with number of the new web documents appearing at about half the rate of 2006:



Does this mean the industry is maturing up and there are less news to report? Or people are busy working and not writing much?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pixelplus Reports Quarterly Results

Yahoo: Pixelplus reported Q1'09 results less than a month after it reported the previous quarter results. Last quarter the company sold roughly 4.9M image sensors in the first quarter of 2009. The revenue for Q1 2009 was about $2.6M. Gross margin was 26.5%.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Valuation of Aptina

Micron has published its 10-Q form with information on Aptina sale. The report says the following on the transaction:

"On July 10, 2009, the Company sold a 65% interest in Aptina Imaging Corporation (“Aptina”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Company and a significant component of its Imaging segment, to Riverwood Capital (“Riverwood”) and TPG Capital (“TPG”). Under the agreement, the Company received approximately $35 million in cash and retained a 35% minority stake in Aptina after Riverwood and TPG contributed significant debt-free capital to the independent, privately-held, company. The Company also retained all cash held by Aptina and its subsidiaries. The Company will account for its remaining interest in Aptina under the equity method. The Company’s Imaging segment will continue to manufacture products for Aptina under a wafer supply agreement and will provide services to Aptina. In the third quarter of 2009, the Company recorded a charge of $53 million, the estimated loss on the transaction, to write down certain Aptina intangible assets and property, plant and equipment to estimated fair values."

So, after the transaction Micron retains 35% of Aptina and got in exchange $35M. Assuming Aptina employees stock options are about 15%, Riverwood and TPG hold 50% of the new company and paid $35M for that. This means the total Aptina valuation is about $70M.

Another possibility is that employees stock options are accounted as a future dilution, so Riverwood and TPG paid $35M for 65% of Aptina stock. In that case the total valuation of Aptina would be $54M. In both cases it's much lower than Omnivision's valuation. Am I missing something?

Correction: After discussing it with a reg. accountant it's clear to me that without knowing the exact amount of cash taken from and given to Aptina there is no chance to calculate the company value, not even approximately.

Aptina's Xiangli Li Ph.D. Thesis is On-Line Again

Two and a half months ago there was a discussion about suddenly disappeared Ph.D. thesis by Xiangli Li from Aptina. Now it seems to be back on-line at the same location.

Aptina to Supply Sensors for Microsoft Xbox360

Digitimes reports that Aptina has won exclusive rights to supply 1.3MP sensors for a new version of the Xbox 360 console under Microsoft's Project Natal technology, and shipments of the new Xbox 360 are slated for the second half of 2010. Digitimes sources also say that Aptina plans to expand foundry capacity at its 8-inch wafer fab in Italy and, in addition, looks for a foundry partner.

Intertech-Pira Image Sensor Conference Program Published

Intertech-Pira Image Sensor Conference published its program. The mostly marketing conference is held in San Diego on October 14-15, 2009. There are Medical Imaging and Machine Vision pre-conferences a day before the main one starts.

The marketing portion includes Strategies Unlimited and Toshiba presentation:

The Image Sensor Market: Entering a New Phase
Dr Tom Hausken, Market Analyst, STRATEGIES UNLIMITED INC
  • The electronic imaging market is entering a 5th stage
  • From vacuum tubes and early CCD and CMOS sensors, to the success of lithography techniques that put CMOS at the forefront
  • What happens next? Steady growth gives way to cyclic behavior; attention turns from pixel count to other features
  • Highlights from our most recent and just-completed market forecast
Image Sensors: Toward the Next Generation of Applications
Shri Sundaram, Imaging & Communications Product Marketing, TOSHIBA AMERICA ELECTRONICS COMPONENTS INC
  • Image sensor market has experienced significant growth over the last 5-6 years (thanks to cellphone)
  • New uses of image sensors will spur the growth further
  • New opportunities for both product development as well as application development
A more technical part includes Ricoh and Hynix presentations:

Joint Digital-optical Imaging System Design: The New Frontier
Dr Kathrin Berkner, Senior Research Scientist,RICOH INNOVATIONS
  • Overview of the joint digital-optical design framework (JDOD)
  • Opportunities – smaller, cheaper, and improved performance
  • Challenges – design tools, hardware, manufacture and test
  • Examples – concepts, prototypes, products
  • Ricoh’s position in the global imaging market
Read Channel Architecture for Cmos Imagers
Dr Sang-Soo Lee, VP Research Center,HYNIX SEMICONDUCTOR AMERICA
  • Recent trends in pixel architectures
  • Analog read channel architectures
  • CIS chip architectures for different resolutions
Thanks to A.T. for sending me the link!

Fujifilm 3D Camera - Do We See DSC Sensor Market Doubling?

DPReview: With Fujifilm announcement of 3D camera, digital frame and printing machine, there is a chance of the new growth on somewhat stagnant compact DSC sensor market (if other companies support the new 3D ecosystem). Eventually, the new trend might penetrate camera phones as well.

Actually, the technology itself was announced almost a year ago at Photokina 2008. It mostly relies on known and proven solutions - I do not see anything revolutionary here. Still, putting all the pieces together and using Fuji marketing muscles might help to jump start the new market.

On the other hand, Fuji is quite conservative in its sales targets. It only expects to sell 100K 3D cameras in a year, as Reuters reports. May be $641 price tag is the reason for such a modest sales projection.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nice Course on Color

I've bumped into a nice SPIE course "Understanding Color" delivered by HP's Giordano Bruno Beretta.

Fast 8MP CCD from Kodak

Video/Imaging Design Line: The new Kodak KAI-08050 CCD provides 8MP resolution at up to 16fps speed. The sensor is intended for industrial and machine vision applications. The new sensor belongs to the 5.5um pixel family of interline transfer CCDs. Engineering grade samples of the KAI-08050 are currently available, with production availability planned for early Q3, 2009.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Heptagon Raised $22M

LEDs Magazine: Heptagon, the Finland-based developer of wafer-scale micro-optics, has raised over $22 million in new equity financing, mostly from a new syndicate led by GGV Capital. Heptagon has introduced several new products this year, including 2 and 3MP camera lenses.

Omnivision Introduces 3mm Thin VGA Sensor

Yahoo: Omnivision introduced 3mm thin OV7739 VGA video sensor, developed specifically to address the low-light sensitivity demands of notebook PC market. The 1/7.5 inch OV7739 delivers low light sensitivity of 3300 mV/(lux-sec). The OV7739 is capable of operating at 30fps in VGA resolution and 60fps in QVGA resolution. It provides full-frame, sub-sampled, windowed or scaled 8-bit/10-bit images in RAW RGB and YUV formats over parallel and MIPI interfaces.

The OV7739 is immediately available in volume production.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

David Orton Appointed CEO of Aptina

Aptina announced the appointment of David Orton to CEO as of August 5, 2009. David Orton succeeds Nicholas Brathwaite who has been the CEO since April 2008 and who will assume the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors for Aptina. Aptina is now independent and privately held following the sale by Micron Technology, Inc. of a majority interest to Riverwood Capital and TPG Capital on July 10, 2009. Micron has retained a 35% minority interest in Aptina.

Orton, 53, most recently served as CEO at venture-backed start up, DSM Solutions. Prior to that, Orton was Executive VP of Visual and Media Businesses for AMD following the company’s acquisition of ATI. Prior to this acquisition, Orton served as the president and CEO of ATI from 2000 to 2006. Prior to joining ATI, Orton was President and CEO at the high-performance 3-D graphics company, ArtX, which was acquired by ATI in 2000.

Prior to joining ArtX, Orton served in a number of senior management roles at SGI. His experience also includes graphics and semiconductor work for GE and Bell Laboratories. Orton holds several patents in graphics and computer architecture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Albert Theuwissen's Blog

Albert Theuwissen just started his blog at Harvest Imaging site. The first post is devoted to Image Sensors Workshop, where Albert was the General Chair. Some interesting questions about the Workshop are asked and answered. I hope the future posts will be no less interesting!

Google Phototech Slides On-Line

As Image Sensors Blogger from Japan noticed, Dick Lyon put most of Google Photographic Technology lectures with pdf slides on-line. The lectures have high educational value and slides are much faster to go through than videos.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pixel Scan Quantum Efficiency Spectra Reshaping

Pixel Scan company was founded by Professor Orly Yadid-Pecht from Israeli Ben-Gurion University. The company proposes Quantum Efficiency Spectra Reshaping (QESR) technology that enhances CIS performance. The QESR hardware block takes sensor's output and does some magic in Bayer domain that relies on "Patented Technology that Reshapes Image Sensor’s QE Spectra, while reducing its Inherent Color CrossTalk (CTK)
The signal is “rearranged” such that the photocarriers captured by the "wrong" pixels are "restored" to the pixel they initially originated from without signal loss and additive noise.
"



The net result of QESR algorithm is 10% low-light sensitivity improvement and more:



The company's poster is here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Eric Fossum Got IEEE Andrew Grove Award

It just got to my attention that Eric Fossum received 2009 IEEE Andrew Grove Award "For significant contributions to the invention, development, and commercialization of CMOS image sensors". Congratulations Eric!

Friday, July 10, 2009

MIT Creates Flexible Camera

MIT Review, PhysOrg.com report that the MIT led by Associate Professor Yoel Fink of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) proposed a camera made of the flexible fiber with embedded sensors. The demonstration prototype is made of 36-by-36 grid of fibers. Each polymer fiber embeds eight sensors, as pictured below. The fiber sensors are connected to electrodes. When light hits the sensors it creates an electrical current. The intensity of this current from the fibers is input into algorithms, running on an attached computer, that create the image of an object placed near the sheet of fiber.

Thanks to S.S. for the link.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Samsung To Ramp Up 8" CIS Wafer Production

Digitimes sends conflicting signals about Samsung production plans. Now the paper tells that Samsung revealed plans to ramp up the output of 8-inch wafer fabs by 3,000-5,000 a month from August through December in order to meet increasing demand for high-end image sensors in response to the growing demand for high-end multimedia handsets. Samsung total capacity for the segment is estimated at 15,000-20,000 wafers by the end of this year.

From Black Silicon to Pink Silicon

MIT Technology Review reports that Harvard University researchers who first discovered black silicon are now studying a modified form of the material that has no cones but exhibits the same unique optoelectronic properties. One of black silicon's key characteristics is a forest of microscopic cones that form on its surface and give the material its black color. But the cones that cover the surface of black silicon, which are created during the high-intensity, short-pulse femtosecond laser restructuring of silicon, can cause problems - for example, by foiling bulk fabrication attempts.

SiOnyx company was founded to turn black silicon's potential into commercial devices, including high-sensitivity image sensors based on photoconductive gain. While the company's process doesn't use completely flat silicon, the SiOnyx researchers cut down the cone height from microns to about 200 nanometers to help the fabrication process and have recently demonstrated the prototype sensors.

Harvard University Prof. Mazur's lab has now added a new twist to the black-silicon production process, taking advantage of the absorption and high-gain properties of black silicon but keeping the material completely flat. That could help overcome fabrication challenges and allow for more detailed study of the material. The new material is nicknamed pink silicon.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Image Sensor Creativity Award: Call for Nominations

Reading the comments questioning the merits of Kodak paper that won Walter Kosonocky Award, I thought about making an open vote on the best creative image sensor idea published in the last 2 years, starting from summer 2007 (what is called summer in the northern hemisphere). The type of publications is not limited - it can be IEEE/SPIE journals or conferences papers, IISW 2007 or 2009 presentations, patent applications, university theses, white papers, web articles or whatever else which has legible technical description of the idea. Self-nominations are welcomed too and should not be ashamed of.

Since the nomination and voting process is completely open, I hope there would be no complaints on merits and criteria.

I plan to collect the nominations after a week and put them into a poll list using Blogger vote gadget, something like on the picture below:



Multiple choices will be allowed, so if someone hesitates between two or three candidates, she/he can vote for all. One thing I worry of is that big organizations like Omnivision or Aptina can promote their papers over smaller players, such as Siliconfile or CMOSIS. My hope is that purely technical considerations would prevail over corporate solidarity.

OK, let's start. I will post my candidates in the comments below.

Ominivision Announces Automotive HD Imager

Yahoo: Omnivision introduced 1MP 30fps image sensor tailored for advanced automotive imaging applications. The new OV9715 sensor features a zero degree micro lens shift and 1280 x 800 pixel array for advanced forward-looking and extreme wide angle field of view vision applications, such as 360 degree bird's eye view and parking assistance systems.

The 1/4 inch OV9715 delivers low light performance of 3300 mV/(lux-sec). The OV9715 is currently sampling with volume production slated for the second half of calendar 2009. AEC-Q100 qualification and PPAP are expected to be completed by Q3'09.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Samsung Shifts CIS Capacity to Memory?

Digitimes published rumors that due to improved forecast for DRAM and NAND flash in Q3 2009, Samsung has shifted its production capacity from image sensors to memory products and thus will temporarily suspend supply of image sensors to users outside the Samsung Group in the Q3. However, Samsung's Taiwan distributors say that a supply suspension is unlikely. But in case a shortage does occur in the third quarter, the distributors have asked customers not to place extra orders for the Q3. Digitimes also gives the following table of sensor's manufacturing bases:

Leading CIS manufacturers: Capacity arrangement

Vendor

Capacity arrangement

Capacity suppliers

Products

Samsung

Two 8-inch fabs, one 12-inch fab

Samsung

VGA, 1.3M, 2M, 3M, 5M, 8M, 10M

OmniVision

Three 8-inch fabs, one 12-inch fab

Powerchip, TSMC

VGA, 1.3M, 3M, 5M

Aptina

One 8-inch fab

Micron

VGA, 2M, 5M, 8M

Monday, July 06, 2009

Kodak Paper Won Walter Kosonocky Award

Kodak ISSCC 2008 paper won Walter Kosonocky Award For Significant Advancement in Solid-State Image Sensors. The paper is titled:

Low Crosstalk and Low Dark Current CMOS Image Sensor Technology Using a Hole-Based Detector.
Eric Stevens, Hung Doan, Jeffery Kyan, Gang Shi, Jian Wu, Hirofumi Komori, Hiroaki Fujita, Christopher Parks, Cristian Tivarus
Proc. ISSCC, pp.59-61 San Francisco, California USA February 2008.

Congratulations to the whole Kodak team!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Micron HD Sensor Inside Flip UltraHD

EEtimes presented Portelligent reverse engineering of hugely successful (for a camcorder) Flip UltraHD. Pure Digital, the company behind this camcorder was recently acquired by Cisco. The sensor is said to be Micron 1/4.5 inch HD CMOS sensor with 2.2um pixels. Portelligent assumes it's 1.6MP MT9M002 with 12b ADC that was announced in March 2009.

3D "Censors" Coming Soon

San Jose Mercury News made this funny "Censors" typo when talking about oncoming applications for new 3D sensors. The article is mainly based on the interview with Jim Spare, Canesta's CEO. Spare says that the company has developed a 3D sensor that's built on just one CMOS chip - opening up a host of price sensitive applications.

Spare expects Canesta's first 3-D chips to be used in industrial devices - such as cameras that count prescription pills - later this year. Consumer gadgets using the sensors should hit the market next year.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sony High Full Well CCD and Omnivision BSI Papers Review

A nice Image Sensor blog from Japan reviews papers from IISW 2009.

Sony paper is named "High-saturation output 1.55-um-square pixel IT-CCD with metal wiring line structure in a pixel". What I was able to understand from Google translation, Sony used low temperature process to minimize diffusion and get more abrupt junction and increase the photodiode capacitance in small pixels.

Omnivision's paper is titled "The Mass Production of BSI CMOS Image Sensors: Performance Results". Google translation gives the following performance numbers for the pixels, as far as I can understand:

  • 1.4um and 1.75um pixels BSI mass produced using bulk P-epi/P-sub
  • 2-shared pixel design
  • 110nm (FEOL) & 90nm (BEOL) process (1.4um pixel is 90nm/90nm)
  • QE (R / Gb / Gr / B): 1.4um = 43.8/53.5/53.6/51.6%, 1.75um = 53.0/60.1/60.2/60.4
  • Full Well: 1.4um = 4,500 e, 1.75um = 6,500 e
  • SNR10: 1.4 um = 110Lux, 1.75um = 60Lux
  • Both pixels have the read noise of 1-2e
  • No Image Lag
  • Dark Current is 22 ~ 27e / s @ 50C (80e/sec @ 60C)

Honestly, I was disappointed to see relatively low QE despite all the added process complexity. I doubt that switch to BSI is justifiable with these QE numbers. Obviously, QE is not the whole story, one needs to look at color crosstalk too. I'd guess the crosstalk is rather low, otherwise SNR10 of 110Lux would not be achieved.

Smartphone Sensor Suppliers

Digitimes published a nice table summarizing the suppliers for few high-profile smartphones:

Smartphone Image Sensor Suppliers

Vendor

Smartphone model

Megapixel Count

Supplier

HTC

Hero

5

Aptina, Samsung

Apple

iPhone 3GS

3

OmniVision, ST

LG

Viewty Smart

8

Aptina, Samsung

Samsung

Omnia

5

Samsung, Aptina


Talking about HTC Hero, Digitimes say that Aptina supplies 60%, while Samsung - 40% of the phone sensors. Aptina will supply more than 50% sensors for HTC handsets in the second half of 2009, and the rest will be shared by Samsung and ST, the sources indicated.

Nemotek Article

Semiconductor International published an article about Nemotek wafer level packaging capabilities. The claim is that Nemotek has established a relationship with most of the big players in the industry and is confident that it will become a major supplier of wafer-level cameras.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Organic Photodiodes Improving

EETimes: Researchers from Siemens Corporate Technology (CT) have developed a cost-effective production process for organic large-area photo diodes: Instead of the usual method of casting or doctor blading, they succeeded in spraying the material.

The Siemens researchers claim their spraying method generates active semiconductor of a rather good quality. They say that the diodes feature very low dark current and also a very high efficiency of 75%. In addition, the lifetime can be expected at six years, and the speed is high enough to use the diodes in computer tomography applications. The image lag, another relevant parameter for these applications, is significantly better than with available photo detectors made of amorphous silicon.

The prototype introduced by the Siemens researchers features 256 x 256 pixels, but since the process scales well, it is said to be possible to produce diode arrays with more than 1000 x 1000 pixels.

Meanwhile, Fujifilm researchers present their organic sensor paper on Technical Group on Information Sensing Technologies (IST) meeting on July 24, 2009 in Japan. Their paper is titled:

"CMOS Image Sensor with a Thin Overlaid Panchromatic Organic Photoconductive Layer as the Best Candidate for Sensors with Reduced Pixel Size."