Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tessera Axes Wafer Level Optics Activity

Seeking Alpha published Tessera Q3 2010 Earnings Call transcript. Some interesting quotes:

Hank Nothhaft, CEO:

"I want to discuss the Wafer-Level Optics portion of our Imaging and Optics business. We conducted an exhaustive evaluation over the past few months of various strategic options for our Wafer-Level Optics for camera modules technology. Our findings are that though Wafer-Level Optics remains a competitive technology solution, improvements in cost and manufacturability of alternative technologies has diminished the disruptive nature of Wafer-Level Optics to such an extent that pursuing a licensing strategy further would not generate results consistent with our expectations.

We concluded the best alternative was to cease further development of this technology and pursue a long-term vision of generating revenues through more Imaging and Optics product opportunities.

Kevin Vassily - Pacific Crest:

"...on the Wafer-Level Optics wind-down, I guess you can you at all quantify what level of contribution to that Imaging and Optics line on the royalty side was coming from this part of the business?"

Hank Nothhaft

"Yes, we have not reported any royalties in our Imaging and Optics business from Wafer-Level Optics."

Kevin Vassily - Pacific Crest:

"...what does that do to the opportunity for some of your other imaging technologies, is the market opportunity diminished at all, maybe you could just frame the lack of uptake of the Wafer-Level Optics side to the adoption of other technologies that you guys have in your portfolio?"

Hank Nothhaft:

"Pricing for lens technology in general, as it relates to the wireless market, has been very intense, and prices have come down very sharply. And so it diminished the value of a licensing model in that market. Also, glass and injected molded plastics have become much more competitive. And glass, traditional glass lenses in particular have become much more manufacturable and are able to be used in reflow environments. So I just want to make the point that we’re not saying that Wafer-Level Optics is not a competitive technology, because we believe that it is, but only in the sense if you were manufacturing those lenses and competing against the alternatives that I just mentioned.

...our skill set is really more in lens design, algorithm development and that sort of efforts, and so finally, we decided it did not make sense and did not play to our core competencies.

...our major growth opportunities for ...the next couple of years being in three major areas:

One is our extended depth of field.

...We created a very strong capability in our optical zoom. It's really a very disruptive technology, ...there has been tremendous interest in the market in the product. The pricing on that is several orders of magnitude higher than our accepted depth of field technology. does save on the cost side of the equation to the handset manufacturer. It represents maybe 20% of the cost of ...a mechanical zoom system.

we’re very pleased with our acquisition of Siimpel. ...We are very far along in completing development of the second-generation product, which is smaller, works quicker, faster. There is tremendous interest in the market in that product and we believe we'll have revenue coming from MEMS starting in the second half of next year.

Unidentified Analyst:

"...on the Wafer-Level Optics, are you able to sell that business to anybody?"

Hank Nothhaft:

"There's always the possibility something can happen in the future, but I'm certainly not anticipating that to occur at this point in time."

Hank Nothhaft on EDoF royalties:

"our ...EDOF technology continues to gain market adoption. ...our ...EDOF royalties nearly tripled in the third quarter of 2010 as compared to the third quarter of 2009."

EETimes also has an article on Tessera dropping Wafer Level Optics.

Microsoft is Buying Canesta

Canesta announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to have its products, technology, intellectual property, customer contracts, and other resources acquired by the Microsoft.

No details of the agreement have been disclosed. The acquisition is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

Canesta has about 70 employees and has raised approximately $70 million. It has 44 patents granted to date and dozens more on file. There is a nice company fact sheet here.

Canesta team complements 3DV team acquired by Microsoft in June 2009. This shows that Microsoft internal R&D efforts continue to be concentrated on ToF technology. So, it looks like it's going to be a nice competition between the internally designed ToF sensor and Primesense's structured light - active stereo approach.

Primesense won over 3DV in the first generation Kinect. Do the combined 3DV and Canesta efforts give them a win in the next turn? - only time can tell.

Updates: The Street says it got an email confirmation of the deal from Microsoft saying "Microsoft has long pursued a vision of natural user interface. Canesta has developed some interesting technology for sensing gestures that complements advances already underway at Microsoft."

NYT quotes Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, discussing the company’s plans to advance the gesture technology "well beyond video games".

Omnivision Sensors in Next-Gen iPad?

Barron's: OmniVision will supply image sensors for a second-generation Apple iPad that will launch in the first quarter of 2011, according to investment firm Detweiler Fenton.

Detweiler Fenton claims that the new iPad will ship with two cameras, a 5 MP camera and a VGA camera, and likely will support Apple’s FaceTime video chat software. Detweiler says that Apple will build 2.5 million units of the next iPad in calendar Q1, providing an incremental 5 million units of demand from Apple for Omnivision. He says that if you assume 23 million iPhones will be built in Q1 2011 - which includes more than 6 million for Verizon Wireless - Apple will account for nearly a third of OVTI’s chip demand, and most of its shipments of 5 MP sensors.

Friday, October 29, 2010

GIA: Latin America is the Fastest Growing Image Sensor Market

PR Web: World image sensors market is predicted to grow at an impressive CAGR of more than 9.0% to reach US$14.16 billion by the year 2015, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.

As stated by the report, Asia-Pacific is the largest regional market for image sensors. Latin America is the fastest growing regional market, surging at a CAGR of more than 11% over the analysis period. Growth in Latin American image sensors market can be particularly attributed to burgeoning economies such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, which have been generating significant demand for these sensors in application areas such as process, manufacturing, consumer electronics and biotechnology.

By product, CMOS image sensors market is the most prominent segment. Dislodged by the cannibalizing popularity of CMOS image sensors in consumer electronics and mobile applications, the world CCD image sensors market is projected to sail at a CAGR of more than 3.0% over the analysis period.

iSupply: CCDs Drop to Less than 10% of Image Sensor Market

According to iSupply press release, of the total 1.7 billion units forecast for the 2010 image sensor market, CCDs will account for a roughly 9.8% share, down from 11.4% in 2009. And while the decrease in unit share is slight, the trend appears to be irreversible, with CCD sensors to make up only 4.7 percent of the market by 2014.

In contrast, the CMOS image sensor market will expand its unit share of the market to 90.2 percent this year, up from 88.5 percent in 2009. The migration to CMOS from CCD will continue unabated for point-and-shoot cameras. By next year, the proportion of point-and-shoot models using CMOS will climb to 24 percent, up from 14 percent in 2009. The shift to CMOS among DSLR cameras is occurring even much faster: By 2014, fully 99 percent of DSLR models will be based on CMOS sensors.

Digitimes compiled a nice chart based on iSupply data:

Pixim Strengthens Marketing Team

Pixim added Craig Robinson and Joe Peery to its marketing team. Craig Robinson is Pixim's new director of business development, Latin America. Based in Miami, Robinson is responsible for the development and growth of the Latin American market. Joe Peery is a new global director of financial business development, focused on the banking/financial vertical market.

GBI Market Research

Market Research: GBI Research's market report "Optoelectronics Market to 2020 - Push for Energy Efficiency to Increase Demand for Image Sensors and LED Based Applications" gives few 2010 market predictions:

The sales revenue of image sensor devices is predicted to reach an unprecedented $8.3 billion at a Year on Year (YoY) growth rate of 29% in 2010, with demand for digital cameras, camera phones, and machine-vision systems recovering with the global economy. CMOS based devices held a revenue share of 61% revenue in 2010 while CCDs accounted for the remaining 39%.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Advantest Announces 64-DUT CMOS Sensor Tester

Business Wire: Advantest’s new T2000 CMOS image sensor test solution provides customers with 64-DUT parallel test capability, claimed to be the highest in the industry - 8x higher than the previous Advantest product.

The new T2000 CMOS image sensor test solution incorporates a test head configured with a large optical source, and a new CMOS image sensor test module, providing illumination to an area greater than 10x that of Advantest’s previous tester. At 208mm x 252mm, the area of the new test head permits great flexibility in layout creation and device test, enables customers add custom circuitry for their applications.

The tester's differential input supports serial data at 1.2Gbps speed per lane, 4 lanes x 4 channel or parallel data at 200M pixels/s, 16 bits x 4 channel. The image capture memory is 128M pixels x 2 banks, capable of storing continuous image data of up to 255 frames.

14M Kinect Modules to be Shipped in 2010

Digitimes: Taiwan-based optical lens maker Newmax Technology has become the only supplier of camera modules used in Microsoft Kinect. I believe Newmax makes webcam modules for Kinect, rather than the depth-mapping ones.

The company plans to ship as many as 14 million units of these modules in 2010, according to Digitimes' sources.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tessera Licenses Video Tools to Fujitsu

Business Wire: Fujitsu has licensed Tessera’s OptiML Video Tools hardware acceleration technology to enhance the video and imaging capabilities in its Milbeaut chipsets. The OptiML Video Tools combine image processing hardware and software in a single solution to maximize camera performance while reducing demands on system resources. The hardware acceleration is used for computationally intensive tasks, with the remainder of the image processing is carried out by the software.

Primesense Raised $50M on Valuation of $300M

VC Cafe: Primesense has raised a $50M round from French investment bank Lazard Group, based on a valuation of $300M. This unusually high valuation for an imaging company just starting its mass production reflects the perceived need in a good depth-sensing 3D technology.

Hamamatsu Develops MEMS-based Photomultiplier Tube

While this is not exactly image sensor news, but Hamamatsu Photonics announced a successful development of an ultra-compact, next-generation μPMT (Micro photomultiplier tube). The μPMT is the world’s first PMT to be fabricated through the use of semiconductor processes for MEMS devices. Its prototype is thinner than the smallest PMT that Hamamatsu currently offers. By comparison, the μPMT has only 1/7th the volume and 1/9th the weight. Due to this extremely small size, it is expected that μPMTs will contribute to the development of more compact instruments for medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and applications in many other fields.

The μPMT is designed for mass production. Promotion with samples of the uPMT is scheduled to start for research & development in January 2011.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CMOS Sensors for Astronomy Challenges and Opportunities

Richard Crisp published an undated "CMOS Imagers for Astronomy?" presentation talking about challenges in large area cooled CMOS sensor design. There are few things that I do not agree with in this presentation, but it's interesting read for sure. Here is one teaser slide:

PTC with All Noises Combined

The new article in the PTC series by Albert Theuwissen shows all noise combined and then extracted back from PTC, demonstrating how a complete characterization can be done or, at least, fixed, non-temporal components. Here are the concluding remarks from the article:

In summary, the following data could be extracted from the measurements (the value put into the simulator are shown between brackets) :

- PRNU 3.2 % (3.0 %),
- total FPN on pixel level : 2.09 DN (2.07 DN),
- row FPN : 0.53 DN (0.48 DN),
- column FPN : 1.91 DN (1.92 DN),
- pixel contribution to FPN : 0.64 DN (0.48 DN),
- saturation pixel FPN : 135 DN (140 DN),
- saturation row FPN : 12.2 DN (11.1 DN),
- saturation column FPN : 12.3 DN (12.8 DN),
- onset anti-blooming : 1819 DN (1960 DN),
- saturation level : 2818 DN (2800 DN).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Recent Patent Applications

There were two applications that caught my eye in the recent patent stream, for different reasons though.

Siliconfile applied for a patent US20100252718 for a 4T-4S pixel structure which simplifies bad pixel recovery work in case a group of 4 shared pixel fails. It does so by arranging the pixels in such a way that the distance between the pixels of the same color grows, as compared with the regular linear or square sharing:

I'm not sure about advantages of bad pixel correction, but this structure creates at least two problems:

  1. There are 4 different kinds of transfer gates, instead of one or two in the prior art. It's harder to optimize the process with more kinds of Tx gate.
  2. There are two different pixels for each color, like two Gr, two Gb, etc. differing by the corner where Tx gate is located. It creates a nightmare with shading and color crosstalk correction across the sensor area.

TSMC patent application US20100252870 talks about dual-depth STI usege, so that one STI is optimized for periphery circuits, while the other one is for pixel area. The STI in pixel region is made shallower than that in the periphery region to reduce dark current. I think TSMC would have a serious problem with prior art here:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anteryon Awarded by Toshiba

Anteryon WaferOptics BV was voted by Iwate Toshiba Electronics Co., Ltd as one of the four "Best Partners of First Half of 2010"

Nobuyoshi Takasu, President and Chief Executive Officer of Iwate Toshiba Electronics says to Anteryon: "You have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of our camera module business and your outstanding efforts in supplying camera module materials has made a significant contribution to the development of the our business."

This award essentially confirms that Toshiba is one of Anteryon customers, as first said by Yole Développement in its reverse engineering report few months ago.

NIT, PMD Compete for Vision Award

New Imaging Technologies' (NIT) Native WDR sensor and PMD's 3D sensor are the only image sensor companies in the Vision Award shortlist. The award is sponsored by Imaging and Machine Vision Europe, to be presented at the Vision Show in Stuttgart on November 9-11.

New Imaging Technologies (NIT) offers CMOS imaging sensors based upon a patented pixel technology, which provides intrinsic high dynamic range response of more than 120dB, no noticeable fixed pattern noise and operability without image artifacts to more than 90°C.

PMD sensors enable the real-time measurement of depth maps and grey-value images at lateral resolutions of up to 204 x 204 pixels based on ToF principle.

2011 Electronic Imaging Conference Program Published

SPIE Electronic Imaging 2011 Conference published its Advance Program. As every year, there is a nice image sensor paper collection:

In this paper the resolution is missing to do a meaningful comparison, but frame rate is impressive nevertheless:

A prototype high-speed CMOS image sensor with 10,000,000 burst-frame rate and 10,000 continuous-frame rate
Yasuhisa Tochigi, Katsuhiko Hanzawa, Yuri Kato, Nana Akahane, Rihito Kuroda, Shigetoshi Sugawa, Tohoku Univ. (Japan)

This paper looks like a nice cooperation between supplier and customer:

Comparison of objective metrics for image sensor crosstalk characterization
Sergey F. Prokushkin, Changmeng Liu, Aptina Imaging Corp. (United States); Henrik Eliasson, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB (Sweden)

This is another hot topic related to low-light sensitivity improvement:

Characterization of pixel crosstalk and impact of Bayer patterning by quantum efficiency measurement
Jérôme Vaillant, STMicroelectronics (France); Clemence Mornet, STMicroelectronics (France) and IMEP (France); Thomas Decroux, Didier Hérault, STMicroelectronics (France); Isabelle Schanen, IMEP (France).

EDoF matters:

Mobile phone imaging module with extended depth of focus based on axial irradiance equalization phase coding
Hsin-Yueh Sung, National Tsing Hua Univ. (Taiwan); Po-Chang Chen, Chuan-Chung Chang, Chir-Weei Chang, Industrial Technology Research Institute (Taiwan); Sidney S. Yang, National Tsing Hua Univ. (Taiwan); Horng Chang, Industrial Technology Research Institute (Taiwan)

Performance of extended depth of field systems and theoretical diffraction limit
Nicolas Bachelard, Frédéric Guichard, DxO Labs (France)

Intriguing title, is this something new or re-iteration of known ideas:

Implementation of a multispectral color imaging device without color filter array
Giacomo Langfelder, Antonio F. Longoni, Federico Zaraga, Politecnico di Milano (Italy)

HDR imaging is well represented too:

Dynamic range extension of a CMOS active pixel sensor by in-pixel charge mixing
Sung-Hyun Jo, Jae-Sung Kong, Jang-Kyoo Shin, Kyungpook National Univ. (Korea)

A novel 3D architecture for high dynamic range image sensor and on-chip data compression
Guezzi M. Fadoua, Lab. d’Electronique de Technologie de l’Information (France); Antoine Dupret, Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs en Electronique et Electrotechnique (France); Arnaud Peizerat, Lab. d’Electronique de Technologie de l’Information (France); Yves Blanchard, Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs en Electronique et Electrotechnique (France)

This one sounds like Foveon, but neither Foveon nor Sigma is in the authors list:

Optimizing quantum efficiency in a stacked CMOS sensor
Robert S. Hannebauer, Lumiense Photonics, Inc. (Canada); Sang-Keun Yoo, HanVision Co. Ltd (Korea); David L. Gilblom, Alexander D. Gilblom, Alternative Vision Corp. (United States)

Interest to photogate pixels seems never die:

Simulating enhanced photo carrier collection in the multifinger photogate active pixel sensors
Phanindra V. R. Kalyanam, Glenn H. Chapman, Ash M. Parameswaran, Simon Fraser Univ. (Canada).

e2v presents its big CCDs:

Detailed characterisation of a new large area CCD manufactured on high resistivity silicon

Reliability theme is presented too:

Aging effects on image sensors due to terrestrial cosmic radiation
Gayathri Gangadharan Nampoothiri, Albert Theuwissen, Technische Univ. Delft (Netherlands); Marc Horemans, Consultant (Belgium).

Tradeoffs in imager design parameters for sensor reliability
Glenn H. Chapman, Jenny Leung, Simon Fraser Univ. (Canada); Zahava Koren, Israel Koren, Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst (United States)

A rare article on quite common phenomenon:

Nonlinear time dependence of dark current in charge-coupled devices
Ralf Widenhorn, Justin Dunlap, Erik Bodegom, Portland State Univ. (United States), Mark S. Robbins, Pritesh Mistry, Paul Jorden, e2v technologies plc (United Kingdom).

Negative Tx gate bias becomes quite common, now Toshiba presents it:

Dark noise in a CMOS imager pixel with negative bias on transfer gate
Hirofumi Yamashita, Motohiro Maeda, Shogo Furuya, Takanori Yagami, Toshiba Materials Co., Ltd.

The following two sound like fun educational lectures:

Image sensor noise: you love it or you hate it!
Albert J. P. Theuwissen, Harvest Imaging (Belgium).

The early history of CCDs (Invited Paper)
Morley M. Blouke, Portland State Univ. (United States).

Italian single photon detection is here:

3D ranging with a single-photon imaging array
Simone Bellisai, Fabrizio Guerrieri, Politecnico di Milano (Italy); Simone Tisa, Micro Photon Devices S.r.l. (Italy); Franco Zappa, Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and Micro Photon Devices S.r.l. (Italy)

Monolithic single-photon detectors and time-to-digital converters for picoseconds time-of-flight ranging
Bojan Markovic, Politecnico di Milano (Italy); Simone Tisa, Micro Photon Devices S.r.l. (Italy); Alberto Tosi, Franco Zappa, Politecnico di Milano (Italy)

3D ToF cameras and sensors are well represented:

Harmonic distortion free distance estimation in ToF camera
Byongmin Kang, Seong-Jin Kim, Keechang Lee, James D. K. Kim, Chang-Yeong Kim, Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (Korea)

Low cost characterization of TOF range sensors resolution
Gabriele Guidi, Michele Russo, Grazia Magrassi, Monica Bordegoni, Politecnico di Milano (Italy).

Introducing the depth transfer curve for 3D capture system characterization
Kalin Atanassov, Vikas Ramachandra, Sergio R. Goma, Qualcomm Inc. (United States).

There many more interesting papers, just too many to post them all here. The conference is well worth attending.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Imaging Technologies Announces WDR Readout IC

TempSensorNews: New Imaging Technologies (NIT) announced NSC0803, a 320 x 256 pixels resolution multipurpose readout circuit operating in voltage sensing mode. When connected to a junction photodiode array, NSC0803 offers a true logarithmic response versus optical illumination without saturation with more than 120 dB true dynamic range.

The aricle also talks about NSC0905 - a 1024x1280 logarithmic sensor specially designed for high performance intensified night vision applications. It's based on 10.6um pixels with 70% fill factor.

Update: As mentioned in comments, there is a nice NIT channel on Youtube showing quite impressive videos. Here is one of them:

Friday, October 22, 2010

NoblePeak Reveals Its Achievements

As mentioned in comments to "NoblePeak is No More" post, ElectroIQ published a preview of the company paper on IEDM 2010. NoblePeak Vision will explain how they integrated a low-noise, high quantum-efficiency germanium photodiode into a 10μm-pitch VGA sensor.

One challenge in building quality Ge-on-Si diodes has been the high thermal budget associated with reducing Ge dislocation densities caused by the Ge/Si lattice mismatch of 4%. Using a high aspect (AR) ratio connection between the germanium and silicon, the NoblePeak process induces in-plane tension, which extends the absorption band edge of the germanium, helping the sensor to capture night glow at peaks of 1.3μm and 1.6μm. Based on a standard 0.18μm CMOS foundry flow, process details are shown below. The team packaged the imagers with a thermoelectric cooler (-80°C) and incorporated them into a compact camera. Packaged testing of devices revealed a pixel QE of 44% at 1.3μm at full VGA resolution and 32% at half resolution.

Ge diode integration flow. a) CMOS-to-contact formation; b) deposit Ge well dielectric, pattern Ge well and high AR Si seeding stem to form dual cavity; c) grow Si epi, CMP, form n and p regions in Ge by ion implant, deposit Ge interlayer dielectric; d) form Ge contact and stacked contact to CMOS, standard BEOL, microlens formation.

iSuppli Forecasts 1.7B Area Image Sensors in 2010

iSuppli: The market for area image sensors will rise from $5.8 billion and 1.5 billion units in 2009, to $6.7 billion and 1.7 billion units in 2010, resulting in an increase of 15.6% in total area image sensor revenues in 2010.

CMOS sensors have taken over the market holding a market share of 88.5 percent in 2009.

"The opportunities for CCD sensors will continue to dwindle in the coming years," says Pamela Tufegdzic, iSuppli analyst. "I see CCD sensor making up only 4.7 percent of the market by 2014. In 2010, CCDs will account for roughly 9.8 percent of the market. ... Are the days of CCDs finally behind us? It certainly appears so."

With the average resolution of both DSCs and mobile phone cameras predicted to grow, the small pixel race goes on:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

e2v Contracted to Fill 0.9 sq.m Area with CCDs

e2v has been awarded a contract to develop a CCD for the European Space Agency (ESA) PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) space science mission. The aim of PLATO is to search for transiting planets within our galaxy to understand the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life.

In order to achieve this aim the mission proposes to fly a satellite with a focal plane of up to 34 mini-telescopes, each containing 4 large area back illuminated CCDs to provide ultra high precision photometry. If successful, the satellite will have nearly 0.9 m2 of image sensors and will be by far the largest image sensor focal plane ever flown.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Omnivision and Xilinx Team Up on 360-deg View Applications

PR Newswire: Omnivision announced that its OV9715 automotive-grade megapixel sensor has been selected by Xilinx for its four camera, 360-degree surround view automotive reference design. "360-degree view systems, obstacle detection and many other advanced driver assistance applications requiring megapixel resolution sensors are gaining widespread acceptance in the automotive market," said Jeff Morin, senior technical product manager for North American automotive products at OmniVision. "This trend is reflected in projections from market research firm Techno Systems Research Co., Ltd., which indicate that megapixel sensors for the automotive market are expected to jump from 1.3 percent market share in 2010 to nearly 35 percent market share by 2014."

The 1/4-inch OV9715 uses a 3um OmniPixel3-HS pixel to achieve low light sensitivity of 3300 mV/lux-sec. The OV9715 is Automotive Electronics Council AEC-Q100 qualified and has completed the production parts approval process.

SiOnyx Completes Series B Financing Round

Xconomy, PR Newswire: SiOnyx is announcing a completion of $12.5M Series B financing round that includes new investors Crosslink Capital in San Francisco and Seattle-based Vulcan Capital, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture firm. Strategic partner Coherent, a laser company in Santa Clara, CA, also has signed on as a new investor in SiOnyx, and existing investors Polaris Venture Partners and Harris & Harris also participated in the round. The $12.5M represents the completion (and sum total) of the financing round that Xconomy first wrote about in June.

In 2007, the startup raised $11M in venture capital from Harris & Harris, Polaris, and RedShift Ventures. It also has raised an undisclosed amount of non-dilutive financing from government sources and partners, the company CEO Stephen Saylor says, which brings the company’s total funding to more than $35M.

Saylor explains that black silicon gives you performance in the dark comparable to what a conventional image sensor can do in daylight. That’s partly because the material is much better at absorbing photons in the near-infrared part of the spectrum than conventional silicon detectors.

We’re going where [others] are blind, and we enable you to see,” Saylor says. “There is no other way to deliver this kind of performance. We can get there quickly. We’re in foundries, standing on the shoulders of the cellphone industry.

Saylor plans to use the new money to build out his “execution team” and take care of the company’s early customers. He says SiOnyx will be hiring around the world—including in Asia and the company’s satellite office in Beaverton, OR—in areas including engineering, marketing, finance, and business development. The company has more than 20 employees now and expects to double in size within 18 months, Saylor says.

There’s a lot of semiconductor history that says it requires a ton of capital. What makes us unique is we don’t have a massive device design team. We’re not doing an incredibly complex [video] codec [chip] or next-generation processor. We’re using existing technology and enhancing it with our process,” Saylor says.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NASDAQ on Omnivision

NASDAQ , Seeking Alpha published an article on Omnivision, mainly concentrating on financial side. Some interesting quotes:

"According to data from Techno Systems Research, the CMOS sensor market is expected to double in five years to 2.6 billion units. ... [Omnivision] boasts an industry-leading 28 percent market share for all CMOS sensors. OmniVision dominates the smartphone market, accounting for nearly 50 percent of business in this space.

The company is also seeing market share gains across a diversified product line. Unit demand for notebook computer cameras and webcams is expected to grow more than 65 percent by 2013.

Additionally, unit demand for its entertainment device segment is expected to nearly quadruple by 2013 on the back of robust sales of MP3 music players equipped with cameras.

"[Omnivision is] exploring opportunities in India, the world's second fastest-growing emerging market. Gaining a foothold in the Indian market would provide OmniVision with another potential long-term growth opportunity."

Varioptic Gets New CEO

Varioptic announced the appointment of Hamid Farzaneh as CEO of the company. This is a key step in the company's plans to commercialize its broadly applicable liquid lens technology. Farzaneh brings an expertise in leading global high-growth technology start-ups as well as high volume business experience to Varioptic.

Prior to joining Varioptic, Farzaneh served as President & CEO for DisplayLink, EVP of Sales
and Business Development for Silicon Optix, COO and co-founder of Motion Sense, EVP and COO of Genesis Microchip. Hamid Farzaneh will be based in Silicon Valley and will globally lead Varioptic’s team located in Lyon, France, and in other sites worldwide.

EVG Nanoimprint Systems Used for Microlens Manufacturing

PR Newswire: EVG reports that its recently announced SMS-NIL nanoimprint lithography is used in industrial environments for CMOS image sensors and micro-lens molding.

EVG's Soft Molecular Scale Nanoimprint Lithography, or SMS-NIL, technology patterns ultra-high-resolution features down to 12.5 nm on EVG's proven UV-NIL systems. The technology uses soft polymeric working stamps to avoid damaging costly master stamps, resulting in significantly lower processing costs compared to other nano-patterning techniques.

Omnivision Announces 1MP Color HDR Sensor

PR Newswire: Omnivision announced 1280 x 800 resolution color HDR sensor, the OV10630. Aimed to wide field of view and multi-camera automotive applications, the 1/2.7-inch OV10630 is built on a 4.2um pixel OmniPixel3-HS platform, enabling low-light sensitivity of 3.5V/lux-sec.

A proprietary new HDR concept and processing technology delivers a dynamic range of 110dB in black-and-white, and more than 100dB in color while dramatically reducing or eliminating many typical HDR image sensor artifacts such as motion ghost artifacts and other unwanted effects. The OV10630 also employs auto dynamic range control to adjust to changing lightning and scene conditions.

The OV10630 has an active array of 1280 x 800 pixels, providing 720p HD video at 30fps. It supports a digital video parallel port, providing fully-processed, display-ready color HDR video output in 8- or 10-bit YUV format, or 18-bit combined RAW RGB output with complete user control over formatting and data transfer. Fully unprocessed RAW data is also available in two 10-bit format images. The sensor also incorporates a number of automotive-specific features to support system health, including a temperature sensor with automatic disabling capabilities.

The OV10630 is currently sampling and is undergoing AEC-Q100 qualification. It is scheduled to enter mass production in the second quarter of calendar 2011.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Omnivision VGA Sensor Inside Sony Eye

EETimes: UBM teardown of Sony Move revealed that the PlayStation Eye camera system is based around OV7725 60fps 6um pixel VGA sensor from Omnivision combined with a stand alone companion image processor, also from Omnivision. This is another high-profile design win for the company. Sony has reportedly sold about 1.5 million Move with Eye bundles in Europe, but sales in the U.S. are believed to be much lighter.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

IsInvariant Proposes New Sensor Technology

I was given a presentation from IsInvariant - a new start-up company proposing its own way to make sensors:

Value Proposition

IsInvariant™ is introducing a pixel preamplifier to increase dynamic range while decreasing power consumption, chip real-estate, and noise

Dynamic Range of Camera, Comparison of Systems

  • Ordinary Camera – 48 dB
  • High End Camera – 96 dB
  • Logarithmic Camera – 120dB
  • Humans – 80dB with biasing 200dB

Noise in Cameras

  • Logarithmic cameras suffer from high NEP (Noise Equivalent Power) that arises partly from biasing the pixel PN junction
  • Humans have the remarkable characteristic of being able to sense single photon events, as if the visual apparatus operates with no NEP

Ideal Camera Characteristics

  • Unbiased PN Junction
  • Logarithmic from one photon to ten billion photons per second
  • Insignificant power consumption

Pre-Amplifier in Image Sensor

Use of Pre-Amplifier

  • A PN junction converts photons into electron/hole pairs
  • A preamplifier converts pairs into usable measurements

An Ideal Pre-Amplifier

  • Converts input light intensity into logarithmic output signal
  • Covers theoretical 200 dB range without introducing or amplifying noise

Current Technology Limitations

Biasing of PN Junction

  • Johnson noise and consumption of DC current, reduces effective range
  • Dynamic ranges of pre-amplifiers bounded by absolute “noise floor” and “saturation”

Crux of Problem

  • Camera image planes fail to exploit full dynamic range of PN Junction sensors
  • Available preamplifiers force an artificial saturation
  • Johnson noise

IsInvariant's Solution:

IsInvariant Pre-Amplifier

  • Exploits full dynamic range of PN Junction
  • Enables low-noise transduction of the entire photosensor dynamic range
  • Consumes less power

Pending Patents

  • 20050036655 - Imaging system (Continuation in part)
  • 20050104632 - Geometric remapping with delay lines
  • 7796173 - Imaging system (Issued September 14, 2010)

Few performance slides:

The traces apparently relate to a pixel structure shown below:

Advantages of IsInvariant's Solution

  • Dynamic range increases over current preamplifiers (from 120 dB to 200 dB)
  • Power requirements will decrease (no DC current)
  • VLSI masking complexity will decrease (no OpAmp)
  • Chip die size will decrease (small silicon footprint)
  • No camera flash needed (no bias-related noise floor)
  • Time-to-market is driven by manufacturer remasking (no retooling needed)

Friday, October 15, 2010

IISW 2011 Call For Paper Posted

2011 International Image Sensor Workshop (IISW) Call For Paper has been posted. The deadline for receipt of abstracts is January 17, 2011. The Workshop will be held at Hakodate-Onuma Prince Hotel, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, June 8-11, 2011.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

RTS Noise in Pixels Explored

The new part in Albert Theuwissen's PTC series covers RTS noise in pixels and how it affects PTC. The conclusion is simple: "the presence of the RTS pixels has no major influence on the PTC curve. All parameters extracted are very similar to a simulation without RTS pixels. To detect the characteristics of the RTS pixels, other tools than the PTC need to be applied."

Monday, October 11, 2010

IMEC Starts 3SIS Project

IMEC initiated an ambitious Flemish 3SIS Strategic Basic Research (SBO) project with aim to come up with a 3D integrated CMOS imager consisting of vertically integrated optical/detector/analog/digital processing tiers.

With respect to process technology the project will focus on:
  1. 3D integration technology with through-silicon vias, allowing a separation of the photodetectors on the one hand and the pixel read-out electronics on the other hand into 2 separate layers.
  2. Technologies for more sensitive pixels
  3. Pixel sensitivity for wavelengths outside the visual light spectrum.
  4. Microlenses that are optimized for NIR and UV as well as visual light and that offer additional functionalities
Thanks to P.R. for sending me the link!

e2v Sensor to Map the Geometry of the Dark Universe

e2v has been awarded a contract to develop a new CCD for the ESA Euclid space science mission. The aim of the mission is to map and survey the shapes of galaxies to investigate the geometry of the dark universe through weak gravitational lensing.

Weak gravitational lensing requires extremely high image quality to measure the true distortions by gravity. e2v’s image sensors will form the visible focal plane array in the Euclid space telescope. The CCDs will be large area back illuminated devices optimised for 550-920nm. The devices will be manufactured for close-buttability to minimise dead area in the focal plane and reduce the telescope size, mass and cost.

Another good news message from e2v says that its facility in Grenoble, France has responded to increased demand within the line scan camera business by increasing its temporary workforce and implementing new shift patterns that better utilise equipment which has led to greatly increased productivity.

Positive trends within the machine vision industry have led to significant increased demand for e2v’s camera products that have been introduced over the last two years. The temporary operators and test lines are already up and running and have already doubled e2v’s production capacity.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

TSMC Enjoys Strong CMOS Sensor Sales

Taipei Times: TSMC is said to have strong image sensor sales in Q3:

We believe the strength in September, or the third quarter, was mainly from CDMA, wireless, CMOS image sensor and handset names,” said Roland Shu, a semiconductor analyst with Citigroup, in his report. Yesterday TSMC surprised many analysts when reported record high monthly September sales, bringing its third-quarter revenue slightly above the company’s forecast.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Hynix Announced 2MP ShellUT-Packaged Sensor

Hynix Sept. 2010 Newsletter has an announcement of 1/5-inch 2M ShellUT-packaged sensor for mobile phone and notebook PC camera applications. The sensor is based on 1.75um pixel and has an integrated ISP. Its frame rate is 15fps at full resolution.

According to the newsletter, the mass production of the imager has started in August, while the system validation has been completed in Spetember 2010.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sony Introduces 1.12um BSI Pixels, New Sensors, Modules

Sony announced the commercialization of two new "Exmor R" BSI sensors: 1.12um-based 16.4MP IMX081PQ and 1.4um-based 8.1MP IMX105PQ, both specifically designed for mobile phones.

The most interesting one, IMX081PQ, is presented as the world's first type 1/2.8-inch BSI sensor which realizes 16.41MP effective resolution, and adopts unit pixel size of 1.12μm. Sony says to implement "a unique formation of photo diodes optimally designed for fine pixel structure to realize a CMOS image sensor with high resolution, high sensitivity and low noise". The picture below shows the resolution improvement:

The second sensor, IMX105PQ, is a type 1/3.2-inch BSI sensor which realizes 8.13MP effective resolution and adopts a unit pixel size of 1.4μm. The 20Lux illumination comparison picture is below (using the newly announced camera module):

Furthermore, Sony will commercialize IU081F and IU105F2 AF camera-modules which include the two new sensors. IU081F is said to be the industry's smallest and thinnest AF module (W10.5 X D10.5 X H7.9mm) and is equipped with the 16.41MP sensor. IU105F2 adopts the 8.13MP sensor, and is said to belong in the industry's smallest and thinnest size class (W8.5 X D8.5 X H5.67mm):

The table gives a few spec details foe the new sensors and modules:

Model NameIMX081PQIMX105PQ
Number of effective pixels4672(H)×3512(V)
16.41M pixels
8.13M pixels
Image sizeDiagonal 6.5mm (Type1/2.8)
square pixel
Diagonal 5.76mm (Type 1/3.2)
square pixel
Unit cell size1.12μm□1.4μm□
1/2 sub sampling30fps30fps
1/8 sub sampling120fps120fps
HD mode1080-30P / 720-60P1080-30P / 720-30P
Sensitivity205 digit (10Bit)310 digit (10Bit)
Saturation signal820 digit (10Bit)1023 digit (10Bit)
Power supplyAnalog2.7 +0.2/-0.1V2.7 +0.2/-0.1V
Digital1.2 ±0.1V1.2 ±0.1V
Interface1.8 ±0.1V1.8 ±0.1V
Major function3-wire serial communication, I2C, serial data output, supports flexible input clock
OutputMIPI 4,2,1 LaneMIPI 2,1 Lane

Camera modules data:

Model NameIU081F (16.4MP)IU105F2 (8.1MP)
Module size*210.5(W)×10.5(D)×7.9(H)mm8.5(W)×8.5(D)× 5.67(H)mm
AF actuatorVoice coil motor
Lens construction4 groups 4 elements (Plastic)
Focal length (35mm conversion)28mm
Camera outputMIPI (4 Lane)MIPI (2 Lane)

The samples availability and prices are given below:

Model NameShipment date (Plan)Sample price
Type 1/2.8 16.41 effective megapixels
back-illuminated CMOS image sensor
January, 20112,500 JPY
Type 1/3.2 8.13 effective megapixels
back-illuminated CMOS image sensor
April, 20111,500 JPY
Type 1/2.8 16.41 effective megapixels
Lens module "IU081F"
March, 201112,000 JPY
Type 1/3.2 8.13 effective megapixels
Lens module "IU105F2"
April, 20118,000 JPY

At the end of 2010, Sony plans to start the mass production of BSI sensors, including those for mobile phones announced today, at Sony Semiconductor Kyushu Corporation's Kumamoto Technology Center, on 300mm wafer lines. Sony already announced on Sept. 1, 2010 the investment of approximately 40 billion yen in Kumamoto Technology Center to increase production capacity for CMOS image sensors.

Sony Semiconductor Kyushu Corporation's Kumamoto Technology Center

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Interview with Foveon Executives

DPReview published an interview with Sigma COO Kazuto Yamaki, Foveon VP for Technology and Operations, Shri Ramaswami and its VP for Strategic Marketing, Rudy Guttosch talking about challenges on new 15.4x3 MP sensor design. The new sensor will be at the heart of the Sigma new SD1 DSLR, which is due in early 2011.

Other than talking about the new sensor design, the article also mentions Foveon's past project of a sensor for mobile phone.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Sony is Accused of Infringing L-3 Communications Patents

Bloomberg: Sony was sued by a unit of U.S. defense contractor L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and accused of infringing two patents for image sensors, 5,541,654 and 5,452,004, which were issued in September 1995 and July 1996, respectively.

L-3 asked for a jury trial, unspecified damages and a permanent injunction against infringing products, in an Aug. 27 lawsuit in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. The New York-based company’s “extensive patent portfolio protects L-3’s considerable investment in its research-and- development efforts,” and Sony should pay license fees, L-3 said in court papers.

To me the both patents look similar and quite generic:

#5,541,654 Focal plane array imaging device with random access architecture


An imaging device includes an array of plural imaging elements each of which is responsive to incident light flux to provide an output signal. Each of the imaging elements includes provision for conducting a variable time integration of incident light flux, and alternatively, also for selecting a time interval during which each of the imaging elements simultaneously conducts such a time integration of incident light flux (i.e., takes a snap shot of an image scene). The imaging device includes provision for random access of each image element or group of image elements in the array so that output signals indicative of all or of only selected parts of an imaged scene can be processed for their image information, if desired. The other parts of an imaged scene may not be considered or may be considered for their image information at a lower sampling rate than the selected parts of the scene so that image information about the selected parts of the image scene can be accessed at a much higher rate than is conventionally possible. A variable gain feature allows selective canceling of fixed-pattern noise, interference, or unwanted image information. An anti-blooming feature prevents charge from an excessively bright image source from cascading across the array. Also, a control cache memory allows control commands to be fed to the device at a high rate and to be implemented at a slower rate on a first-in, first-out basis.

#5,452,004 Focal plane array imaging device with random access architecture


An imaging device includes an array of plural imaging elements each of which is responsive to incident light flux to provide an output signal. Each of the imaging elements includes provision for conducting a variable time integration of incident light flux, and alternatively, also for selecting a time interval during which each of the imaging elements simultaneously conducts such a time integration of incident light flux (i.e., takes a snap shot of an image scene). The imaging device includes provision for random access of each image element or group of image elements in the array so that output signals indicative of all or of only selected parts of an imaged scene can be processed for their image information, if desired. The other parts of an imaged scene may not be considered or may be considered for their image information at a lower sampling rate than the selected parts of the scene so that image information about the selected parts of the image scene can be accessed at a much higher rate than is conventionally possible. A variable gain feature allows selective canceling of fixed-pattern noise, interference, or unwanted image information. An anti-blooming feature prevents charge from an excessively bright image source from cascading across the array. Also, a control cache memory allows control commands to be fed to the device at a high rate and to be implemented at a slower rate on a first-in, first-out basis.

Thanks to J.S. for sending me the link.