Friday, January 06, 2006

Planet82 Demos 0.1Lux Image Sensor

Market Wire: Planet82 makes the first U.S. demonstration of its innovative and highly sensitive image sensor, Single Carrier Modulation Photo Detector (SMPD). Planet82 claims its sensor is 2,000 times more sensitive to light than other image sensors. In a contradictory note ExtremeNano tells it's 1000 times more sensitive. It allows taking clear images even when the light level is less than 1 lux (or up to 0.1 lux).

SMPD technology is licensed to Planet82 by Korea Electronics Technology Institute (KETI) in 2003 (other source names ETRI (Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute) as the original patent owner). Planet82 CTO, Dr. Hoon Kim, is director of the Nano Scale Quantum Devices Research Center at KETI at the same time.

To make that high sensitivity possible, Planet82 applied the principles of quantum mechanics to produce thousands of electrons out of one photon. There is an unusual claim of minimized aperture ratio - quite the opposite of what other companies are trying. The sensor uses standard CMOS process.

Planet82 expects SMPD image sensor will firstly be available in CCTVs, camera phones and vehicle rear-view sensors in Q1/Q2 2006.

The company web site presents a little more info:

The sensors resolution is VGA/1MP, pixel pitch is 4um (quite large in today's standards). Aperture ratio is 1.87% - very small, I'm wondering how they integrate it with a compact lens.

A picture from the company web site shows the aperture ration is very small indeed (link):

Update: The CES demo sample chip is B&W, made in TSMC 0.35um process with no microlens. The company plans to have a color chip within 3-4 months.

Update: ABCnews-PCWorld: "Really Low-Light Photography: Planet82's SMPD sensor chip could make digital cameras more sensitive to light than the naked eye. In very low light, the chip produced an image of objects that I could barely see; a camera with a CCD chip was unable to capture an image. The image was black and white, though company representatives say color support is on the way soon. If this chip proves capable of delivering high enough resolution and low noise, you may never use your flash again. —Eric Butterfield"

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