Sunday, December 12, 2010

Small Cameras for Endoscopic Applications

BioPhotonics published an article on small cameras and their endoscopic applications. The overall endoscope market is growing at a modest 3% a year, said Teri Minor, a senior analyst at the technology market research firm Frost & Sullivan. But there are segments within it, such as the gastrointestinal one, that are growing much faster. “They have new technologies, like capsule endoscopy, which have growth rates through 2016 that could be as much as 18 or 19 percent a year,” she said.

Given Imaging second-generation pill-camera measures 11 x 26 mm and weighs <4 g. The camera snaps 35 pictures a second, and its wide field of view allows doctors to see twice the surface area of that seen with other capsules, said Given Imaging CEO Homi Shamir.

In September 2009 Medigus Ltd. of Omer, Israel announced a 1.2-mm video camera, claiming to have produced the smallest such device in the world. Medigus currently is working with medical device companies and academic teams around the globe to incorporate it into various devices. As the company's product development manager Ariel Smoliar noted, Medigus' sensor fits approximately 50,000 (220H X 224V) of 2.2um pixels into an area that measures 0.7 mm on a side. This is five times the number of fibers in a fiber bundle solution, making the small-area sensor effectively high resolution compared with that alternative.

Measuring only 1.2 mm in diameter and 5 mm in length, this CMOS camera for medical applications is as small as the point of a pen. Inside the camera cylinder are a sensor, four lenses and a miniature printed circuit board connected to a four-wire cable. The camera is designed to be used in disposable instruments.
Courtesy of Medigus Ltd.

The sensors for the Medigus camera are manufactured by TowerJazz. TowerJazz runs 8-in. wafers, which means there can be close to 50,000 half-square-millimeter sensors on each one. That multitude is part of what enables the sensors to be produced cheaply enough to render the camera disposable. The advantage of this approach is that it eliminates the need for sterilization between procedures, which can be expensive and a source of infection if not done properly.

The small size of these sensors – as compared with those in other applications – is not necessarily the result of going with a smaller pixel, said Avi Strum, TowerJazz VP and GM. The need to capture clear images in low light makes it difficult – if not impossible – to shrink the pixels much from the size of those used in devices such as cell phones.

Thanks to A.L. for sending me the link!


  1. what kind of lens used in this camera module?

  2. glass based objective

  3. Quite impressive and a great example of miniaturization ! How many bondpads/interconnects are used for this sensor ? The active area is about 0.5 mm x 0.5 mm, while the chip is about 0.7 mm each side.

  4. The imager is wire-bonded, 4 pads
    as you wrote, the most important feature was to
    maximize the active area

  5. is it a GRIN lens?

  6. I'm curious about the economics for this. 10 years ago, it was believed that the annual world market for these cameras was 100 million units. With 50,000 devices on a wafer and reasonable yields, this means maybe 2500 wafers a year or about 200 wafer starts per month, about 9 lots. Now the market looks much smaller because:

    a) These cameras produce images perhaps marginally better than those from flexible endoscopes but far worse than rigid endccope images now made by 3-chip HD cameras

    b) The lifetime of fiber bundles was estimated for marketing purposes to be about 1/10th of their typical useful life.

    so that the number of starts is probably below one lot per month for the whole world market. Can this support more than one supplier?

    The price per assembly was to be about $100 so that there would be little reimbursement resistance (even so, this is $10 billion/year). Figuring backward makes the sensors worth about $5 each. Now $200k yielded revenue per wafer is not too bad but if only 250 wafers are needed per year, then the annual revenue is about $50 million. Nice, but not the "next big thing". Is this sufficient revenue to keep vendors interested?

  7. @ economics comments

    Maybe this is a bit of naïve idealism, but I hope there would and think there should be room for small companies working on small-market solutions.

    To me, $50 million in annual revenue seems quite large, definitely enough to support a healthy workforce at a small company plus some foundry jobs. Probably as a turn-key product with known, stable demand and pricing it would interest any foundry. Cultivating excellent design-fab-sales relationships and a focus on quality would be useful getting there, which they certainly know already.

    Anyway, I wish them success with this.

  8. I enjoyed the last two posts. I guess the IP barrier to entry is low, give or take Caltech and Micron and others. Tower used to be, and probably still is, a foundry that does not turn up its nose at smaller lot run projects. I am not sure about the numbers but perhaps they are off by a factor of 10 (100M units/yr x $5) just in Dave's post, but maybe he derated the demand by 10x? Anyway divided by a few players, it is still a nice niche one-product market. Besides, who would want to sell just the sensor? You sell the whole thing ($100 each) and now we are talking about real money.

  9. I did derate by 10x but I see I pretty well hid that calculation. The drop is from the two reasons I listed - only flexible endoscopes can benefit and their lifetime is much longer than marketeers assumed in their old presentations.

    I hope it succeeds, too.

  10. This kind of miniaturization can surely find other applications ...

  11. @ CDM, The foundry doesn't care about this business because it is too small. The larger $ numbers posted come from large margin at the assembly. The foundry doesn't participate in that. You don't place foundry jobs when you are pushing a few lots a month.

  12. @ David

    Just a clarification...

    The camera appears to be aimed at single-use disposable endoscopes rather than as part of a re-usable endoscope.

    If it can beat the amortized costs of a reusable flexible endoscope, equipment and labor for sterilization and handling, and back-end costs of infections caused by S&H errors or failures, it can take the whole flexible endoscope segment, and annual volume would potentially be the total number of procedures (maybe much greater than 10 million?).


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