Thursday, December 31, 2009

SUSS Discusses Wafer-Level Camera Manufacturing

December 2009 issue of German "Optik & Photonik" journal features Suss article on wafer-level camera manufacturing. According to the company, an estimated 80 million WLC modules have been delivered in 2009. The article goes in great lengths talking about background history behind the new micro-optics ideas, with natural emphasis on Suss contribution to the history.

The article also covers microlens imprint lithography (SMILE), where a liquid polymer is dispensed on the wafer and the lenses are imprinted by using a transparent stamp or mold and UV-light for curing. Master lens arrays consisting of aspherical microlenses with profile deviation below 50nm (rms) and surface roughness below 2nm (rms) were demonstrated on full 8" wafer scale by Suss MicroOptics. Recently Kaleido Technology, Denmark, presented a first 8" diamond milled lens master in brass, providing spherical, aspherical and free-form lenses with better than 2um lateral position accuracy.

The wafer-scale master wafers are then transferred into a soft stamp, usually made of Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) by casting. The PDMS layer serves as a stamp imprinting the shape on the microlens material. This material is not named by the article, other than saying that it's often kept in secret by the companies and now can be sourced from DELO, Germany and Asahi Kasei, Japan.

Another article from Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering talks about milling to produce wafer level optics, either directly or as a master for replication.

iSuppli Q4 2009 Market Report

iSuppli published its Q4 2009 Image Sensors report. The market for area image sensors is predicted to decline from $7.4B and 1.4B units in 2008, to $6.0B and 1.3B units in 2009, resulting in a decrease of 15.5% in total area image sensor revenues in 2009.

DSCs remain the major application for CCDs, while mobile handsets use CMOS for mostly cost-sensitive reasons. Videoconferencing represents the second largest market application for CMOS sensors in terms of unit shipments, due to their inclusion in PC notebooks.

Mobile handsets are expected to remain the dominant application for CMOS sensors in the next five years as come 2013, 50 percent of total CMOS image sensor revenue will come from the mobile handset market, up from 43 percent in 2009. In terms of units, mobile handsets will account for approximately 78 percent of total CMOS image sensor units in 2009 and will occupy a similar amount five years from now.

ISuppli also presents a resolution trends chart:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Albert Theuwisen Reviews Year 2009

Albert Theuwissen published a review of 2009 and expectations from 2010 in Harvest Imaging blog:

"I heard from various industrial sources that CCD fabs as well as CMOS fabs are completely filled with image sensor wafers. Apparently the future for imaging looks bright.
Looking back to 2009, it was a difficult year for many of us in the imaging business.

ENG - Image Sensor Company from Japan

It came to my attention that is another small Japan-based company dealing with image sensor design - ENG. The name stands for "Exploitation of Next Generation". Although the company has started in 1992 and was active in different areas over the years, its only products these days are image sensors and related activities. The main differentiation of ENG sensors is high DR, up to 120db. All listed sensors are based on 7.65um pixels and have VGA resolution with 12b ADC.

With Brookman and Rosnes, ENG is the third small company in Japan dealing with CMOS sensor design.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anteryon Mulls IPO in Q3 2010, Het Financieele Dagblad and another article from Het Financieele Dagblad quote Dutch newspaper Financial Telegraaf saying that Anteryon considers IPO on the Amsterdam stock exchange (a part of Euronext exchange) or, less probably, on NASDAQ. Anteryon manufactures wafer-scale optics for Nokia, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and Motorola camera phones.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hynix Introduces VGA Sensor in ShellUT CSP Package

October Hynix newsletter presents a new VGA sensor in NeoPac CSP package from OptoPac. Hynix dubbed this package ShellUT. The sensor is based on 2.25um pixels, has 100mW typical power consumption and is supposed to go into mass production in Dec. 2009. It also has "anti-shake" feature to use in camera phones with G-sensor.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Rumors

The rumors below are not confirmed and should be treated as such. Although I made some efforts to cross-check some of them, it does not guarantee their validity.
  1. Tower is preparing BSI image sensor process. If successful, Tower would become the second foundry, after TSMC, offering BSI process. So far BSI access was limited to big IDMs and selected TSMC customer club. Through Tower many more companies can start talking BSI.

  2. DxO Labs is in talks to sale the company (see August Rumors). Aptina is one of the potential buyers. Google is another one. Given the difference between Aptina and Google resources, I guess it's unlikely that Aptina's bid wins.

    Now the interesting question is why Google needs DxO? My speculation is that DxO algorithms might be either integrated into Picasa or used to add nice camera features to Android platform.
  3. Meanwhile, Aptina and Finland-based Heptagon are considering a joint project on wafer-level camera development. Heptagon has close relationships with Nokia, so this project might give Aptina a leg up on winning the designs at Nokia.
  4.  Sharp is considering to switch its new CMOS sensors development to TSMC. If this happens, TSMC CIS market share would not be solely based on Omnivision's one.

  5. SETi got big design win in Samsung handsets. With this win SETi starts its market expansion beyond China.

Toshiba Names CIS as One of the Top Priorities

Tech-On: Shozo Saito, Toshiba Semiconductor President, defines CMOS image sensors as one of the top priorities for its System IC Operation. Among the other priorities are analog, imagery and wireless chips. Saito also says that Toshiba currently hold the second-largest share worldwide in CMOS sensors - I guess it could be based on price, rather than unit volumes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Caeleste, e2v, SensL Papers at CNES CMOS Detector Workship 2009

Caeleste published two new papers presented at the CNES CMOS Detector Workshop held on Dec 8-9 in Toulouse.

The first presentation covers e2v and Caeleste collaborative work on high-speed BSI sensor with large 24um 4T pixels. The sensor is manufactured by Tower in 0.18um process. The final product array size is 1680x1680 and it can be read out at 1000fps speed. The article talks about a smaller size prototype. 5.5um thick BSI substrate allows 90-95% peak QE.

The second presentation describes SensL, Caeleste and Vrije University of Brussels work on high speed SPAD photon counting array suitable for ToF sensing. The hybrid imager resolution is 128x2. The pixel size is 100x100um. With a nice analog time interpolation the sensor was able to achieve 154ps RMS time resolution or a little worse than 2cm range resolution. Each pixel has 479(!) transistors, including 15-bit time counter:

Micron Reports 13% Drop in CIS Foundry Revenues

Seeking Alpha published Micron's quarterly conference call for the quarter ended on Dec. 3, 2009 (first quarter in Micron's 2010 fiscal year).

Ron Foster, Micron CFO, said few words about the image sensor foundry business:

"Sales in memory products increased 38%, while sales of image sensors decreased 13%. Imaging revenue was $108 million in the first quarter and represented 6% of the Micron consolidated net sales. Recall of the first quarter results reflect our manufacturing services, including wafer fabrication to Aptina, following a spin off of that business in the fourth quarter. As I mentioned previously, we continue to account for our ownership interest in Aptina under the equity method of accounting."

TowerJazz Got General Dynamics and USAF ROIC Contract

Yahoo: TowerJazz announced its USA Aerospace and Defense Division has been awarded a contract by General Dynamics to support the MATES (MAnufacturing TEchnology Support) program within the U.S. Air Force for large-die read-out-integrated-circuit (ROIC) production.

The two year program with General Dynamics will focus on 0.18-micron large-die, stitched ROICs. In the 0.18-micron node, TowerJazz is making available to its ROIC customers a wide range of features from its commercial technology including high density capacitors (up to 5.6fF/um2), 1.8, 3.3, and 5V FETs, native devices, bipolar devices, resistors with near-zero temperature coefficients and a wide array of metal options. TowerJazz also provides cryogenic models for its devices to use in cooled ROIC designs.

Omnivision Won 5MP Slot in Next Generation iPhone

Digitimes: According to Digitimes sources, OmniVision has secured 5MP sensor orders for the next-generation iPhone, which will hit shelves sometime during the second half of 2010. Omnivision's iPhone sales are expected to grow to 40-45M units in 2010 from 20-21M (estimated) this year, according to the same sources. Including iPods, Omnivision's estimated total shipments to Apple are about 65M units in 2009.

OmniVision also supplies 3MP sensors for the current iPhone 3GS model. Aptina 2MP sensors were used in the previous generation iPhone 3G.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Phase Profilometry for 3D Sensing

The open access Sensors Journal published an article on mathematics behind one of the techniques of the structured light 3D sensing (some call this approach active stereo, yet others call it triangulation):

A 3D Sensor Based on a Profilometrical Approach

Jesús Carlos Pedraza-Ortega, Efren Efren Gorrostieta-Hurtado, Manuel Delgado-Rosas, Sandra L. Canchola-Magdaleno, Juan Manuel Ramos-Arreguin, Marco A. Aceves Fernandez and Artemio Sotomayor-Olmedo

Facultad de Informatica, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, Av. de las Ciencias S/N, Juriquilla, C.P. 76230, Queretaro, Mexico

Abstract: An improved method which considers the use of Fourier and wavelet transform based analysis to infer and extract 3D information from an object by fringe projection on it is presented. This method requires a single image which contains a sinusoidal white light fringe pattern projected on it, and this pattern has a known spatial frequency and its information is used to avoid any discontinuities in the fringes with high frequency. Several computer simulations and experiments have been carried out to verify the analysis. The comparison between numerical simulations and experiments has proved the validity of this proposed method.

This article belongs to the special issue on Image Sensors. I'm not sure how this special issue is defined, as it has articles published a year ago, as well as quite recent ones - probably something to do with innovative open access publishing scheme. Another article belonging to this special issue is one mentioned a month ago on double exposure skimming HDR challenges.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Image Sensors for Kids

Wired: Those of us who'd like to see our kids continuing our imaging carriers, should look at Bigshot educational camera kit. The kit was created by Shree Nayar and a group of undergraduate and graduate students at the Computer Vision Lab at Columbia University.

Bigshot web site has quite a complete tutorial on all aspects of image sensor operation, showing Micron's 4T-shared pixel as an example (if you move the mouse over the picture).

Tessera and Future Image at 6Sight Future of Imaging 2009

Below are some materials from 6Sight Future of Imaging Conference held on November 10-12, 2009 in Monterey, Calif.

Tony Henning, senior analyst from Future Image Inc., presented predictions on mobile imaging directions, including the camera-phone resolution trends:

Tessera presented its wafer level camera technology with sample pictures at 3MP resolution. The company claims that its technology is embedded in 2 out of 3 digital still cameras (I guess they mean Fotonation's image enhancing SW).

Update: The official conference web site is here. Videos of presentations and presentations in pdf form can be downloaded here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

FPN and Temporal Noise Effects on PTC

Albert Teuwissen continues his tutorial series on PTC as a tool for analyzing sensor imperfection. This part discusses FPN and temporal noises, such as 1/f, pixel thermal noise and kT/C residues.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

IEEE Spectrum Revisits CCD Nobel Controversion

December issue of IEEE Spectrum revisits the controversial story of CCD invention:

It's easy to see why the Nobel committee went with Boyle and Smith. The CCD is synonymous with its only practical application: imaging. And according to many authoritative sources, Boyle and Smith invented the CCD. But had the Nobel nominators looked one step down the chain of invention, things might have been different.

Carlo Séquin, now a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, says: "If the fundamental concept was the charge-transfer principle, then that goes to Boyle and Smith, and maybe Gene Gordon." If it's the invention of a practical CCD imager, "credit would go to Mike Tompsett, and possibly Gilbert Amelio," he says. (Amelio led commercial CCD development at Fairchild Semiconductor.)

There are also references to Smith, Boyle and Gordon versions of the CCD invention story.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pixart Optical Touch Panel Sales Up

Digitimes reports that Pixart's sales from its optical touch panel solutions for all-in-one PCs and notebooks will account for 5-10% of its total revenues in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to the paper sources.

Acer, HP, Lenovo and China-based Founder Technology have adopted Pixart's optical touch panels for their all-in-one PCs, and in 2010 they are expected to deliver a total of 6-7M optical touch panel modules from Quanta, Pixart's partner in optical touch development, the sources said. In addition, the Pixart solutions are being validated by Dell, which is likely to use them in its all-in-one PCs and notebooks next year, the sources added.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Omnivision Sensors in Blackberry Storm and Curve

EETAsia publishes reverse engineering article about Blackberry Storm revealing that it uses Omnivision's 3MP OV3647 packaged in 7mm x 7mm x 5mm module. The article also mentions that Blackberry Curve uses Omnivision sensor too - this time OV2640.

Omnivision Market Shares

Thanks to R.F. for pointing me to September Omnivision shareholders presentation with TSR-based market shares:

Update: There is also TSR projection of the total CMOS sensor market growth:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aptina and eASIC Announce HD Video Reference Design

Yahoo: Aptina and eASIC announced the immediate availability of a H.264 HD reference design that is capable of supporting up to 720p/30fps rates. The design uses Aptina’s 2MP 1/3-inch MT9D131 SoC image sensor with eASIC’s eDV9200 low cost HD H.264 CODEC. The reference design enables video capture, H.264 compression and decompression, streaming of compressed AV streams through SPI or USB2.0, storage of compressed video and audio on a Secure Digital (SD) storage card, and decompression and playback on to LCD display or through a DVI interface.

The eDVR92-based H.264 HD reference design is available now from eASIC. Pricing for the eDVR9200 CODEC IC starts at $4.95 in high volume.

Anteryon Wafer Level Optics Status

Anteryon published its wafer level optics status report at MEMSLand - a Dutch government-sponsored packaging program. Anteryon-based wafer level cameras can be found in Nokia 2330 phones. The slides below show Anteryon process flow and tolerances:

Broadcom Multimedia Processor Supports 1080p Video, 20MP Photo

Yahoo: Broadcom announced BCM2763 VideoCore IV multimedia processor supporting 1080p HD video and up to 20MP digital camera and photo image processing with advanced features such as multiple shots per second, image stabilization, face and smile detection and panorama mode. Broadcom uses 40nm process to achieve 490mW power for 1080p camcorder H.264 High Profile encoding and 160 mW for 1080p playback.

The BCM2763 is currently sampling to early access customers. Handsets utilizing the multimedia processor are expected to reach the market in 2011.

MIT Gesture Recognition Team Mulls Image Sensor in LCD Screen

Wired: The latest MIT gesture recognition system uses an array of optical sensors that are arranged right behind a grid of liquid crystals. The sensors can capture the image of a finger when it is pressed against the screen. But as the finger moves away the image gets blurred.

By displacing the layer of optical sensors slightly relative to the liquid crystals array, the researchers can modulate the light reaching the sensors and use it capture depth information, among other things.

In this case, the liquid crystals serve as a lens and help generate a black-and-white pattern that lets light through to the sensors. That pattern alternates rapidly with whatever the image that the LCD is displaying, so the viewer doesn’t notice the pattern.

The pattern also allows the system to decode the images better, capturing the same depth information that a pinhole array would, but doing it much more quickly, say the MIT researchers.

MIT researchers haven’t been able to get LCDs with built-in optical sensors to test, though they say companies such as Sharp and Planar have plans to produce them soon.

For now, doctoral candidate Matthew Hirsch and his colleagues at MIT have mocked up a display in the lab to run their experiments. The mockup uses a camera that is placed some distance from the screen to record the images that pass through the blocks of black-and-white squares. MIT will present the idea at the Siggraph conference on Dec. 19.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nemotek Added Test Capabilities

EETimes: Morocco-based Tessera licensee Nemotek announced in-house WLC test capabilities. The tests are performed in Class 10 clean room and include the module leakage currents, depth, resolution, distortion, signal-to-noise ratio and color accuracy.

Sony 0.9um Pixel Presentation at IEDM 2009

Image sensor blog from Japan puts together few words about Sony presentation at IEDM 2009 titled "0.9um Pitch Pixel CMOS Image Sensor Design Methodology".

As far as I was able to understand, Sony built 0.9um, 1.12um, 1.4um and 1.75um pixels using 0.18um FEOL and 65um copper BEOL process. All the pixels are FSI, rather than BSI. The pixels design was based on simulation results optimizing microlens shape, stack hight and metal opening.

1.1um pixel performance was considered OK. 0.9um pixel QE was unacceptably low. The article also mentions SNR10 being of order of 100Lux, not clear for what pixel size.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Surveillance Sensor Market to Go Down

In-Stat predicts that image sensor revenue across all surveillance cameras will decline from over $700M in 2008 to $435M in 2013.

Overall semiconductor revenue for the video surveillance equipment will be relatively flat between 2009 and 2013, as lower average selling prices (ASPs) offset unit shipment growth. The video encoder/image processors will be the dominant semiconductor segment as it shifts from MPEG-4 part 2 to H.264.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Optrima Forms 3D Technology Alliances

This is a news from about a month ago, I missed it at the time. There appears to be a 3D imaging alliance between Belgim-based Optrima, Melexis, Softkinetic and the US Texas Instruments.

Optrima is a Vrije University of Brussels spin-off pursuing 3D TOF hardware, including 3D TOF sensors, cameras and platforms. Optrima was founded in April 2009. It appears there is an alliance between Melexis and Optrima on automotive 3D sensors. The two companies presented 3D TOF embedded camera for automotive applications at 2009 International Automotive Electronic Congress on November 17-18 in Paris.

On the gesture recognition front Optrima formed a joint venture with Softkinetic, a provider of software for gesture recognition. Softkinetic-Optrima venture offers two ToF cameras together with SDK.

The newly formed JV announced a collaboration with TI to design, develop and market joint 3D imaging solutions for the television, personal computers, digital signage, health & fitness, industrial, robotics, automotive, security and many others markets.

Recently Softkinetic also announced support for Panasonic 3D cameras - an indication that Panasonic is getting serious about ToF sensors. “The new 3D Image Sensor is the result of years of development and improvements at Panasonic that led to our background light suppression technology. Panasonic’s sensor has very competitive specifications, and is perfectly fit for all the out-of-home digital applications,” said Mr. Yuji Takada, General Manager, Research & Development Center at Panasonic Electric Works.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Albert Theuwissen Reviews CMOS Detector Workshop in Toulouse

Albert Theuwissen published an excellent review of CMOS Detector Workshop in Toulouse held on December 8-9, 2009. (The workshop program is here.)

Omnivision High Full Well Photodiode

Omnivision patent application US20090302358 discloses a technique to increase the photodiode full well capacity in 4T pixel. The proposal is to reduce a transfer gate sidewall spacer closest to the photodiode, as shown on the figure below:

One may ask how this increases the full well of photodiode? Here is the explanation:

In the conventional process for fabricating a CIS, after the gate layer has been formed, the PD region is implanted next to the gate of the transfer transistor. After the PD region is implanted, but before the sidewall spacers of the transfer transistors are formed, the pinning layer is implanted. This order of fabrication provides pinning under the sidewall spacers, which helps to reduce dark current and white pixels. However, the thermal processing for sidewall spacer formation also causes the P type dopants of the pinning layer to diffuse, resulting in a less abrupt p-n junction and therefore a lower full-well-capacity.

In the Omnivision's proposal the abrupt junction of pinning layer is achieved by reordering the implanting pinning layer step to be after formation of sidewall spacers. To compensate for process reordering, thinned sidewall spacer is thinned relative to regular sidewall spacer. Sometimes the thinned sidewall spacer could be entirely removed.

Aptina 1.4um Pixel Reverse Engineered

Chipworks continues to churn out 1.4um pixel generation reports. After Omnivision BSI report, there is Aptina's turn. MT9P111 5MP 1.4µm pixel SoC report is ready. One can see various blocks areas on the picture below:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pixart to Apply Its Optical Touchscreen to Smartphones

Digitimes reports that Pixart plans to step into the market of optical finger navigation (OFN) solutions for smartphones. OFN is expected to be widely adopted by international handset vendors to control smartphone screens in 2010. Pixart will face strong competition from Avago and ST, according to Digitimes sources.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rosnes Comes with Products

It came to my attention that Kyoto, Japan-based image sensor start-up Rosnes come up with many products. The camera module products are in a pdf catalog in English, while image sensor chip list is in Japanese. Rosnes sensors appear to be based on 1.75um and 3um pixels with resolution range spanning from VGA to 5MP, some with integrated ISP - quite a lot of products for a less than 3 year old company! The company also offers custom design and IP services.

The company information page says that Rosnes was established in January 2007. Takumi Yamaguchi, Rosnes' President, reportedly came from Panasonic. The company investors are Daiwa SMBC Capital, Nissei Capital, and NTT Finance.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Image Sensors in Brazil

Albert Theuwissen gives a nice overview of image sensor activity in Brazil in his blog:

At this moment the overall semiconductor activities in Brazil are continuously growing, but there is still very limited work going on in the field of imagers. A few start-up companies are doing quite nice work, but they do not (yet) reach the level of the companies present in North America, Europe or the Far East.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Organic SWIR Sensors

Electron and Holes blogger spotted an interesting Laser Focus article on SWIR image sensor made of organic materials. The pixels are based on hybrid diodes with colloidal lead sulfide (PbS) quantum dots. A ternary composite of electron- and hole-conducting organic semiconductor blended with the colloidal QDs to yield highly sensitive SWIR photodiodes.

The devices achieved external quantum efficiencies (EQEs) of up to 51%. With glass-encapsulated hybrid diodes and operating at room temperature, the 256x256 pixel imager is sensitive up to 1.9 µm. Its pixel pitch is 154um. The whole work was done by Siemens, Germany.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Aptina to Expand China Market Presence

Digitimes: Aptina is gearing up to tap China's white-box handset market with new VGA sensors, according to Digitimes' sources. The company has introduced the VGA CIS A390, which has relatively lower efficiency compared to its A380 or A360 but a more competitive price (the products under these names can not be found on the company's web site). Aptina recently made sample shipments to customers in China, Digitimes' sources indicated.

Aptina used to only take orders for high-end handset products provided by first-tier vendors, but now it decided to go to the lower tiers. On the Chinese market it will compete primarily with Omnivision and SETi.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Quanta to Equip 70% of its PCs by Pixart's Touchscreen in 2010

Digitimes: Quanta optical touchscreen-based all-in-one PCs are estimated to account for more than 70% of the company's four million total shipments in 2010, according to Digitimes sources. According to the earlier Digitimes' report, Pixart is Quanta Computer's sole supplier of sensors for optical touch screens.

Currently, Quanta ships about 150,000-200,000 touchscreen-based all-in-one PCs every month.

Omnivision Quarterly Earnings Call

Seeking Alpha published transcript of Omnivision's quarterly earnings call for the quarter ended on Oct. 31, 2009. The company's revenues reached $183 million representing sequential growth of 74% over the previous quarter. Gross margin also improved to 24% for the last quarter from 22.4% in the previous one. Omnivision's cash and short term investments at quarter end increased to $354 million.

Some interesting quotes form the call:

Shaw Hong, CEO:

...we are actively designing our second generation Omni BSI 2 pixel technologies while our competitors are still trying to deliver their first generation technology.

Ray Cisneros, VP Sales:

In the [recent] quarter we shipped approximately 145 million units at an average selling price of $1.27. This compares with approximately 75 million units shipped in the [previous] quarter at an average selling price of $1.40. Sequential revenue growth was driven by our strong position in the Smart Phone handset market, mainstream handset market and notebook market. The sequential decline in ASP is the result of an exceptionally strong demand in the mainstream handset market that drove a revenue mix shift towards lower resolution products.

...we secured significant inroads into the Japanese market for digital video camera application using our 8 megapixel BSI product... Our 5 megapixel BSI products have also secured multiple design wins in the digital still camera market and shipments began in the third quarter.

Q&A session:

Quinn Bolton – Needham & Company:

...Shaw in your closing remarks said that the CameraCube and Omni BSI were now shipping to multiple Tier One’s. Can you give us a sense of when you think those revenues will become material contributors to revenue?

Ray Cisneros:

We are extremely excited about the traction we have in design wins with customers buying our CameraCube. It is tangible. It is material, albeit a very small percentage right now. The way it is working out to be, most of these cameras are backing into the secondary camera application and handsets so therefore the actual mass or volume of this particular camera is not as large as the primary camera. Going forward we expect to transition this technology into primary camera applications but that has yet to be plans laid out or openly discussed yet so we are still very excited about this whole trend.

Yair Reiner – Oppenheimer:

Shifting over to China, you mentioned some strategy for dealing with more competition in China before. Can you talk a little bit about what some of those strategies might be?

Ray Cisneros:

As Bruce mentioned in his script there is the launch of our new VGA 7675. It is I would say the best, bar none, balance between cost and performance. The other strategy we have been talking about here is the CameraCube for secondary camera applications. Going forward there are other strategies we need to take into action as we go forward because the China market as we mentioned we feel has expanded because of its infrastructure and readiness to basically change business models globally.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pixelplus Reports Q3 2009 Results

Yahoo: Pixelplus revenue for the third quarter of fiscal 2009 was 3.6 billion Korean won (US$3.0 million), compared to 4.4 billion Korean won (US$3.8 million) in the second quarter of fiscal 2009, and 4.5 billion Korean won (US$3.8 million) in the third quarter of fiscal 2008.

The Company sold roughly 2.5 million image sensors in the third quarter of 2009, which represented a decrease of about 2.2 million from its sale of around 4.7 million units in the second quarter of 2009. Gross margin for the third quarter of fiscal 2009 was 32.2%, compared to 21.0% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009.

Caeleste Image Sensor Dictionary

Caeleste' redesigned web site has image sensor dictionary - quite complete one, including some hard to find stuff, like:
  • Difference between PRNU and PRND
  • What is "Wonderbra Image Sensor"
  • "Anna Karenina Effect" on the CMOS sensor market
  • "Cheerleader Effect" in CMOS sensors
  • "Horror Vacui" in sensor designer's lives
  • and many more
Recently Caeleste also added a mirror site with .eu extension.

ST to Offer Low-Cost 5MP Products in 2010

Digitimes reports that STMicro plans to introduce low-cost 5MP AF and EDoF image sensors targeting high-end smartphones in Q1 or Q2 of 2010, according to the company. The AF driver is integrated on the sensor, saving $0.30 for an external driver for AF module - most of ST competitors so so as well.

Most of ST CIS production has migrated to a 65nm process, and the company has begun 45nm tape-out, the company added.

ST lost its market positions in 2008 due to lagging in 2- and 3-MP product development, according to Digitimes sources. The company has spent almost two years designing new products and advancing its manufacturing process to lower production costs in order to enter the low-cost handset market in 2010, the sources indicated.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saint-Gobain Unveils Wafer-Level Planar Optics

I-Micronews: French company Saint-Gobain has developed a new technology to manufacture arrays of gradient index planar lenses in glass at the wafer scale. The optical function of a gradient index lens is provided by the gradual distribution of the refractive index inside the glass. The resulting optical element is perfectly flat. This might be convenient for integrating several optical elements in the lens of wafer-scale cameras.

At the current development stage, 1000 optical elements can be fabricated at 8" wafer. The goal is to reach 5000 gradient index lenses per 8" glass wafer in the near future.

e2v Opens Centre for Electronic Imaging at The Open University’s Milton Keynes Campus

On November 16, 2009 e2v opened Centre for Electronic Imaging (CEI) at The Open University’s Milton Keynes campus. CEI is a collaboration between The Open University and e2v, providing knowledge exchange between the UK technology industry and the academic world. The collaboration will see The Open University and e2v investing £3m in the UK knowledge economy over five years in new research activity through the e2v CEI.

More ISSCC 2010 Presentations

There are few more interesting presentations at ISSCC 2010. One of them is Sony plenary paper:

Challenges of Image-Sensor Development

Tomoyuki Suzuki, Senior Vice-President, Sony, Atsugi, Kanagawa, Japan

...Recently, a 10M pixel CMOS image sensor with high image quality, providing more than 70dB dynamic range, and high-speed read-out of 576M pixels/s (10M pixels at 50 frames/s) has been developed. This sensor can also be operated in a 6M pixel mode at 60 frames/s with a 16:9 aspect
ratio. This imager has been realized using two important technologies: the column ADC, and the back-illuminated structure.

...In the future, the performance of the digital camera is expected to improve tremendously with the evolution of the CMOS image sensor. There are many “key milestones” in this evolution, such as “3D”, “4K×2K”, “global shutter”, and so on.

Forum 4, page 73 is entirely devoted to high-speed imaging technologies (there is a mistake in forum name on the Advanced Program contents page):

Johannes Solhusvik, Aptina Imaging, Oslo, Norway

High-Speed CMOS Pixel Physics and Electronics
Boyd Fowler, Fairchild Imaging, Milpitas, CA

High-Speed Imaging with CCDs
Jan Bosiers, DALSA, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

High-Speed CMOS Image Sensor Architectures
Guy Meynants, CMOSIS, Antwerp, Belgium

Column Readout Circuit Design for High-Speed Low-Noise Imaging
Shoji Kawahito, Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu, Japan

3D Range Image Capture Technologies
Makoto Ikeda, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

High-Speed Digital Image Processing
Levy Gerzberg, Zoran, Sunnyvale, CA

Vision Chip and its Applications to Human Interface, Inspection, Bio/Medical Industry, and Robotics
Masatoshi Ishikawa, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

High-Speed Analog Interfaces for Imagers
Katsu Nakamura, Analog Devices, Wilmington, MA

High-Speed Digital Interfaces for Imagers
Jean Dassonville, Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, CA

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dual Integration HDR Mode Non-Linearity Discussion

Electrons and Holes blog referred to an interesting paper from the open-access Sensors magazine discussing the issue of non-linearity in dual-integration HDR mode. This non-linearity is often omitted from the HDR principle explanation, although it can greatly affect the final image quality.

Non-Linearity in Wide Dynamic Range CMOS Image Sensors Utilizing a Partial Charge Transfer Technique

Suhaidi Shafie (1), Shoji Kawahito (2), Izhal Abdul Halin (1) and Wan Zuha Wan Hasan (2)

(1) Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
(2) Research Institute of Electronics, Shizuoka University, 3-5-1 Johoku, Nakaku, Hamamatsu 432-8011, Japan

The non-linearity is caused by two factors, namely the current diffusion, which has an exponential relation with the potential barrier, and the initial condition of photodiodes in which it shows that the error in the high illumination region increases as the ratio of the long to the short accumulation time raises. Moreover, the increment of the saturation level of photodiodes also increases the error in the high illumination region.

To make the analysis more complete, I'd like to see the influence of pixel to pixel mismatches on this non-linearity and see whether these mismatches make the non-linearity less visible in the final picture. The paper relies on Link Research' SPECTRA simulator - a good demo of the simulator capabilities.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Image Sensors at ISSCC 2010

ISSCC published its Advance 2010 Program with 9-paper session devoted entirely to image sensors. All papers appear quite interesting this year.

Sony brings its 1.75um BSI pixels to perfection with huge full well, high sensitivity, low noise, and very fast, presented in the paper:

A 1/2.3-inch 10.3Mpixel 50 frame/s Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensor

H. Wakabayashi, K. Yamaguchi, M. Okano, S. Kuramochi, O. Kumagai, S. Sakane1, M. Ito, M. Hatano, M. Kikuchi, Y. Yamagata, T. Shikanai, K. Koseki, K. Mabuchi, Y. Maruyama, K. Akiyama, E. Miyata, T. Honda, M. Ohashi, T. Nomoto
Sony, Atsugi, Japan
Sony Semiconductor, Nagasaki, Japan

A 1/2.3-inch 10.3Mpixel 50frame/s CMOS image sensor fabricated using a 0.13μm 1P4M CMOS process with back-illumination technology achieves sensitivity of 9890e-/lux·s, random noise of 1.7e- and saturation of 8850e-. The sensor integrates a 10b/12b analog-to-digital converter, an internal PLL and a 10b serial LVDS interface to enable a data-rate up to 576MHz.

Panasonic presents a new idea for its 4K2K sensor. I'm unable to grasp their idea, but it sounds quite different from the most sensor's timing. I hope they explain it better in the paper:

A 2.2/3-inch 4Kx2K CMOS Image Sensor Based on Dual Resolution and Exposure Technique

T. Azuma, T. Imagawa, S. Ugawa, Y. Okada, H. Komobuchi, M. Ishii, S. Kasuga, Y. Kato
Panasonic, Kyoto, Japan
Panasonic, Takatsuki, Japan

A 2.2/3-Inch 4K2K dual resolution and exposure CMOS imager uses motion information to improve the sensitivity by 4 times in comparison to a conventional sensor. The green pixels are read out once every four frames for high sensitivity. Both the red and blue pixels are read out each frame, binned for 2×2 and used for motion compensation.

Toyota and Shizuoka University present a sensor for spatial optical communication. Its hard to say what is special about their system, as some already deployed products have much better speed and range. I hope the paper answers on this:

A CMOS Image Sensor for 10Mb/s 70m-Range LED-Based Spatial Optical Communication

S. Itoh, I. Takai, M. Z. Sarker, M. Hamai, K. Yasutomi, M. Andoh, S. Kawahito

Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu, Japan
Toyota Central R&D Labs, Aichi, Japan

A CMOS image sensor for spatial optical communication is presented. A two-transistor optical communication cell with a depleted photodiode and lateral charge overflow drain improves the light pulse response. A weighed summation of 9-point parallel analog outputs and pulse equalizing technique greatly enhance the bit-rate and communication distance up to 10Mb/s and 70m, respectively.

Samsung and Yonsei University present fast low noise sensor with sigma-delta column-parallel ADC:

A 2.1Mpixel 120frame/s CMOS Image Sensor with Column-Parallel ΔΣ ADC Architecture

Y. Chae, J. Cheon, S. Lim, D. Lee, M. Kwon, K. Yoo, W. Jung, D-H. Lee, S. Ham, G. Han
Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea
Samsung Electronics, Yongin, Korea

A 2.1Mpixel 120frame/s CMOS image sensor with column-parallel ΔΣ ADCs is realized in a 0.13μm CMOS process. Column-parallel ΔΣ ADC architectures improve the conversion speed while reducing the random noise level as well. Inverter-based SC circuits maximize the power efficiency. This sensor achieves a measured noise floor of 1.9e-, while dissipating 180mW.

Another interesting paper from Samsung touts "Pseudo-Multiple Sampling" to achieve very low noise:

A 1.1e- Temporal Noise 1/3.2-inch 8Mpixel CMOS Image Sensor using Pseudo-Multiple Sampling

Y. Lim, K. Koh, K. Kim, H. Yang, J. Kim, Y. Jeong, S. Lee, H. Lee, S-H. Lim, Y. Han, J. Kim,
J. Yun, S. Ham, Y-T. Lee
Samsung Electronics, Yongin, Korea

A pseudo-multiple sampling technique for a low-noise CIS is implemented using a conventional column-parallel single-slope ADC structure with no additional circuitry. It is applied to a 1/3.2-inch 8Mpixel CIS. Measurement results show the technique effectively reduces dark temporal noise from 1.6e- to 1.2e- in 10b ADC mode, and from 1.8e- to 1.1e- in 12b ADC mode.

Shuzuoka University presentas HDR sensor with global shutter:

A 2.7e- Temporal Noise 99.7% Shutter Efficiency 92dB Dynamic Range CMOS Image Sensor with Dual Global Shutter Pixels

K. Yasutomi, S. Itoh, S. Kawahito
Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu, Japan

A dual global shutter CIS with pinned storage diode and floating diffusion memory enables a low noise level of 2.7e- and wide dynamic range of 92dB. Dual doping pinned diodes with a shielding structure attain a high shutter efficiency of 99.7%.

Austrian Institute of Technology presents even wider DR sensor:

A QVGA 143dB Dynamic Range Asynchronous Address-Event PWM Dynamic Image Sensor with Lossless Pixel-Level Video Compression

C. Posch, D. Matolin, R. Wohlgenannt
Austrian Institute of Technology, Vienna, Austria

A 0.18μm CIS contains a QVGA array of autonomous pixels that individually detect illumination changes and communicate new gray levels that are PWM encoded after each detected change, ideally realizing optimal lossless pixel-level video compression. Readout is frame-free 18b parallel AER. SNR of >56dB and intra-scene DRs of 143dB static and 125dB at 30fps equivalent have been achieved.

14MP CIS Orders from Japan to Grow

Digitimes reports that Aptina and OmniVision are expected to enjoy growing orders from Japan during 2010, as Japanese camera makers enhancing their hybrid camera offering. Mainly 14MP sensors are to be used in these hybrid cameras. It's not clear why Digitimes has not included Samsung 14MP product in its speculations.

Mediatek Adopts EDoF for 3G Camera-Phones

Digitimes reports that Mediatek adopts EDoF-enabled sensors for its Chinese-market 3G handset IC solutions since the first half of 2009. EDoF image sensors are expected to become more popular in the global handset market in 2010 because EDoF module prices are about US$3 lower than AF modules, according to Digitimes' sources.

Digitimes sources think that EDoF image sensors will be the first choice for cameraphones with 3MP or higher resolutions in the future, and 8MP cameraphones will become the mainstream in 2-3 years from now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Albert Theuwissen on TED Special Issue on Image Sensors

Albert Theuwissen published his impressions from November's IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices Special Issue on Image Sensors, along with memories from the previous special issues.

Friday, November 20, 2009

PMD Got Frost & Sullivan European Enabling Technology Award

Yahoo: The Frost & Sullivan '2009 European Real-Time 3D Imaging Enabling Technology Innovation Award' is presented to PMDTechnologies GmbH (PMDTec). "Photonic mixer device (PMD) technology developed by PMDTechnologies GmbH has opened up opportunities to develop three-dimensional imaging devices that are low cost, complex and robust," notes Frost & Sullivan.

IFM Electronics GmbH, specializing in the industrial automation sensing, has included in its product offerings the 3D camera developed in cooperation with PMDTechnologies and provides this solution to about 80,000 customers worldwide. In co-operation with Audi and Volkswagen, PMDTechnologies is already in the pre-fabrication stage of 3D sensors for automotive applications. Moreover, with other partners, the company is also developing solutions for medical, security & surveillance, and gaming application areas.

Currently, PMDTechnologies is working on 0.18-micron CMOS technology integration. Such an approach would lead to the creation of even smaller 3D imaging devices which could be available at lower cost. The company envisions such a camera for below $30 soon. Such performance at this price point has not been achieved using other 3D approaches, e.g. fringe projection based 3D vision systems, so far [Questionable claim - ISW].

Aptina Plans Production in Japan, Taiwan

Digitimes quotes Aptina CEO David Orton saying that Aptina plans to use Micron's 8-inch fab in Japan as its image sensor production site due to too many short lead-time orders from clients. Monthly capacity at the 8-inch fab in Japan is about 40,000 wafers, about the same as its 8-inch fab in Italy. The two 8-inch fabs will migrate to a 90nm process in the future, said Orton.

Greg Helton, president and managing director of Aptina Japan, noted that building closer relationships with customers is one of the reasons for using the fab in Japan since customers Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic are all Japan-based.

Aptina will also consider using fabs in Taiwan for manufacturing some of its CIS products in the future, Orton added.

Live Lens Expands Sensor's DR

Australian TV has a piece about LiveLens, a patented ‘active’ electro-optical filter providing a WDR solution for cameras. The LiveLens combines liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) technology with image sensor, where the liquid crystal controls its local transparency based on the local illumination level at the sensor plane. A picture from the company site explains the idea:

Live Technologies, the company behind LiveLens idea, has manufactured an 1MP prototype sensor on X-FAB. Then the liquid crystal assembly was done at Liquid Crystal Institute Advanced Materials Department, Kent State University, Ohio. Now the company demos WDR imaging results on its web site. The company has US patent 5,953,082 on its technology.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aptina Picks Silicon Frontline Parasitics Extractor

Yahoo: Silicon Frontline Technology, an EDA company in the post-layout verification market, announced today that Aptina is using Silicon Frontline's F3D (Fast 3D) software for post-layout verification and for fast 3D extraction to improve Aptina's image sensor design accuracy and manufacturing quality.

By using Silicon Frontline's F3D software, Aptina's designers are optimizing floating diffusion capacitance, inter-pixel coupling, color-filter effects, impact of metal fill and signal channel mismatch.

Want to Earn $50 for Your Image Sensor Knowledge?

Electronic Design Magazine conducts Image Sensor Quiz, sponsored by Toshiba. All the participants are eligible to win one of six $50 Amazon certificate, so hurry up!

To me this looks like Toshiba likes to collect the contact details of people involved in image sensor activity. (Toshiba employees are not eligible for the gift certificate, naturally.)

Thanks to N. E. for letting me know.

Raytheon Licenses Ziptronix 3D Interconnect Technology

Military and Aerospace Electronics: Raytheon Vision Systems is licensing the Ziptronix direct bond interconnect (DBI) technology in focal plane array technology for air, space and terrestrial image sensor applications. Ziptronix DBI technology provides 3D integration of multilayer CMOS structures within the focal plane.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pixim Announces New Design Wins

Yahoo: Pixim announced that major security equipment manufacturers Cisco, GE Security, Siemens Building Technologies, Rainbow, Clinton Electronics, deView, Wren, Digimerge and Innotech are adding new Pixim-powered cameras to their line up.

Hynix and SETi First Public High-Profile Design Wins

Digitimes reports that Omnivision lost VGA sensor slot in HP low-priced notebooks to Hynix and SETi. This appears to be the first publicly announced high-profile design wins for the two Korean companies. They won by undercutting Omnivision's price, according to Digitimes' sources.

Samsung also won Asustek design slots over Omnivision, based on lower pricing. However, Samsung sensors are reported to be in short supply, so Asustek got back to Omnivision. Lower pricing could help Omnivision to regain lost design slots, according to Digitimes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bryce Bayer Got UK Royal Photographic Society Progress Award

Yahoo: Retired Kodak research scientist Bryce Bayer, whose invention of a color filter array enabled digital imaging sensors to capture color, is honored by the Royal Photographic Society with its Progress Award at a ceremony in London.

Bayer invented the color filter array that bears his name (the Bayer filter), which is incorporated into nearly every digital camera and camera phone on the market today. Described in U.S. Patent 3,971,065, “Color Imaging Array,” filed in 1975, color filters are arranged in a checkerboard pattern to best match how people perceive images, and provide a highly detailed color image.

Sony Announces 3.3MP Sensor for Industrial Applications

Sony announced 2.5um pixel based fast frame rate sensor family for industrial applications. The new 3.27MP 1/2.8-inch IMX036LQR/LLR CMOS sensor family has color and B&W sensor versions. Sony uses “Exmor” brand for them which is a name for CMOS sensor with high-speed processing, low noise and low power column-parallel A/D conversion.

The sensors provide HD Video in 1080p format at 60fps speed at 10b ADC resolution or 30fps at 12b. At full 3.27MP resolution mode the sensors deliver 60fps rate at 10b or 15fps at 12b. 2x2 and 3x3 addition modes are supported. No power consumption number is given.

Monday, November 16, 2009

e2v Layoffs

Le Figaro (in French) reported that e2v announced its intention to eliminate 221 jobs, or nearly 50% of its workforce at its site in Saint-Egrève, near Grenoble. Bought in 2006 from Atmel, San Egrève site manufactures semiconductors for medical imaging, equipment and aircraft and employs 462 people. "The activity of semiconductors remains strong but we have suffered several setbacks including the dental medical imaging," the HR Director Philippe Fourcade Prat said. According to the union CFE-CGC and CFDT, the layoffs are mainly affecting the technicians of the company.

The planned layoffs and restructuring information has been circulating for few weeks already. UK Business Weekly reported that in the last 12 months, in particular since December 2008, e2v has seen a progressive weakening in demand across some of its commercial and industrial market sectors and in its medical market sector. Sales for the six months ended 30 September 2009 was down on the previous year at £96m (H1 2008/9: £107m) and pretax profit dropped to £2.6m (H1 2008/9: £3.1m).

e2v, which has some 1,700 staff, has already reduced headcount by over 130 staff in the last six months, reduced hours in the UK and USA, extended summer closure of the facility in Grenoble, France and closed its long range ‘Biosensors’ program in June 2009, just 10 months after its relaunch.

Having also decided to suspend its acquisition program and not pay an interim dividend for the 2009/10 year, e2v will also completely restructure its French operation and close down its Lincoln, UK manufacturing site.

In Grenoble, France, the company intends to refocus the operations associated with the imaging devices division around a fabless CMOS business model, complementing activity to the CCD-focused imaging operations in the UK.

In Lincoln, UK, where e2v has 160 employees, the company will close manufacturing activities and consolidate them at other UK sites, though the company says it is eager to keep key engineering and design jobs going and may create an engineering center in the city. Further restructuring may also take place at its Chelmsford, UK headquarters.

Thanks to T.B. for the information!

Delft University Sensors and Imaging Symposium

Delft University holds Sensors and Imaging: A VLSI Design Perspective Symposium on December 7, 2009. Some notable papers to be presented are:

Orly Yadid-Pecht
University of Calgary, Canada
"Advances in a CMOS Image Sensor based miniature fluorsence Detection System for Biosensing Applications"

Albert Theuwissen
Faculty of EEMCS, TU Delft
"State-of-the-art and future perspectives of Back-Side Illumination"

David Stoppa
Fondazione Bruno Kessler FBK-IRST, Italy
"Pixel Architectures for Time-Resolved Imaging Applications"

Robert Henderson
University of Edinburgh, U.K.
"A 32x32 Parallel Time-correlated Single Photon Counting Array in 130nm CMOS Technology"

Thanks to A.T. for sending me the info.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Image Sensor Content at Electronic Imaging Conference

The annual Electronic Imaging Conference to be held on January 17-21 in San Jose has many image sensor related papers. Just to name a few out of many:

Fairchild Imaging presents its sCMOS sensor:

Wide dynamic range low light level CMOS Iimage sensor (Invited Paper)
Authors: Boyd A. Fowler, Xinqiao Liu, Stephen W. Mims, Janusz Balicki, Wang Li, Hung Do, Paul Vu, Fairchild Imaging

In this paper we present a CMOS image sensor technology suitable for the next generation of scientific cameras. We describe a 5.5Mpixel device based on this technology. The sensor features 5T pixels with pinned photodiodes on a 6.5um pitch. Each pixel also includes an integrated micro-lens. The 5T pixel architecture enables both rolling and global shutter operation. The measured peak quantum efficiency of the sensor is greater than 60% at 550nm, and the read noise is less than 1.5e- RMS at room temperature. The linear full well capacity is greater than 35ke-, the dark current is less than 3.8pA/cm2 at 20°C, and the MTF at 77 lp/mm is 0.4 at 600nm. The sensor also achieves an intra-scene linear dynamic range of greater than 87dB (23000:1) at room temperature.

This sensor has on-chip dual column level amplifiers and 11 bit single slope analog to digital converters (ADC) for high speed readout and wide optical dynamic range. The dual column level amplifier/ADC pairs have independent gain settings, and the final image is reconstructed by combining pixel readings from both the high and low gain readout channels to achieve a wide intra-scene dynamic range. The bandwidths of the column level amplifiers are programmable to optimize the sensor read noise for the selected sensor frame rate. The sensor can be readout in either rolling shutter or global shutter mode. The sensor can operate up to a line rate of 9us or a frame rate of 100Hz. The high speed digital readout electronics allow pixels to be scanned out at up to 290MHz.

Eliminating crosstalk in vertically integrated CMOS image sensors
Authors: Orit Skorka, Tyler Lucas, Dileepan Joseph, Univ. of Alberta (Canada)

Image sensors can benefit from 3D IC fabrication methods because photodetectors and electronic circuits may be fabricated using significantly different processes. When fabricating the tier that contains the photodetectors, it is desirable to avoid pixel level patterning of the light sensitive semiconductor. But without a physical border between adjacent photodetectors, lateral currents may flow between neighboring devices, which is called ''crosstalk''. These currents degrade the image quality because photo-generated charge carriers are sometimes collected in the ''wrong'' pixels. In this work, we present a method to reduce crosstalk in unpatterned photodetectors for vertically-integrated (VI) CMOS image sensors. Through feedback control of the electric potential at vertical interconnects, the crosstalk becomes negligible under normal imaging conditions. By maintaining a vertical electric field throughout the photodetector of sufficient uniformity and magnitude, lateral currents due to drift and diffusion are buried in the read noise. We illustrate the general method using the specific example of a VI-CMOS image sensor fabricated by flip-chip bonding a glass die with photodetectors to a CMOS die with active pixel sensor (APS) circuits. We present a logarithmic APS design with feedback control, which can be used to maintain an appropriate and suitably constant potential at the flip chip bonds. Simulation results are shown for a 0.18um CMOS process.

Kodak presents its W-RGB filter integrated onto CCD:

Improved sensitivity high-definition interline CCD using the Kodak TRUESENSE color filter pattern
Authors: James A. DiBella, Eastman Kodak Co. (United States); Marco Andreghetti, Kodak Japan Ltd. (Japan); Amy Enge, Eastman Kodak Co (United States); Doug A. Carpenter, Eastman Kodak Co. (United States); William Chen, Kodak (China) Ltd. (China)

NHK updates its organic photodiode state of the art:

Stacked color image sensor using wavelength-selective organic photoconductive films with zinc-oxide thin film transistors as a signal readout circuit
Author(s): Hokuto Seo, Satoshi Aihara, NHK Science & Technical Research Labs. (Japan); Masakazu Namba, Toshihisa Watabe, Hiroshi Ohtake, Misao Kubota, Norifumi Egami, NHK Science & Technology Research Labs. (Japan); Takahiro Hiramatsu, Tokiyoshi Matsuda, Mamoru Furuta, Hiroshi Nitta, Takashi Hirao, Kochi Univ. of Technology (Japan)

Our group has been developing a new type of image sensor overlaid with three organic photoconductive films, which are individually sensitive to only one of the primary color components (blue (B), green (G), or red (R) light), with the aim of developing a compact, high resolution color camera without the color separation optical systems used in current color cameras.
In this paper, we firstly revealed the unique characteristics of organic photoconductive films. Only choosing organic materials can tune photoconductive properties of the film, especially excellent wavelength selectivities which are good enough to divide the incident light into three primary colors. High-resolution of the organic photoconductive film sufficient for high-definition TV was also confirmed by shooting experiment using a camera tube. Secondly, as a step toward our goal, we fabricated a stacked organic image sensor with G- and R-sensitive organic photoconductive films, each of which had a readout circuit of zinc oxide (ZnO)- thin film transistor (TFT), and demonstrated the image pickup at a TV frame rate. A color image with a resolution corresponding to the pixel number of ZnO-TFT was obtained from the stacked image sensor, clearly indicating that color separation can be achieved using vertically stacked organic films.

Edoardo Charbon's group presents experimental results from its "Gigavision" sensor (the one that appears to be similar to Eric Fossum Digital Jot idea):

On pixel detection threshold in the gigavision camera
Author(s): Feng Yang, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland); Luciano Sbaiz, Google Zurich (Switzerland); Edoardo Charbon, Technische Univ. Delft (Netherlands); Sabine Süsstrunk, Martin Vetterli, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (France)

Recently, we have proposed a new image device called gigavision camera whose most important characteristic is that pixels have binary response. The response function of a gigavision sensor is non-linear and similar to a logarithmic function, which makes the camera suitable for high dynamic range imaging. One important parameter in the gigavision camera is the threshold for generating binary pixels. Threshold T relates to the number of photo-electrons necessary for the pixel output to switch from "0" to "1". In this paper, a theoretical analysis of the influence of threshold in the gigavision camera is studied. If the threshold in the gigavision sensor is large, there will be a "dead zone" in the response function of a gigavision sensor. A method of adding artificial light is proposed to solve the "dead zone" problem. Through theoretical analysis and experimental results based on synthesized images, we show that for high light intensity, the gigavision camera with a large threshold and added light works better than one with unity threshold. Experimental results with a prototype camera based on a single photon avalanche diodes (SPAD) camera are also shown.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don Scansen Presentation On-Line

Don Scansen has published a version of his IntertechPira Image Sensors 2009 presentation on his SemiconDr site. Quite interesting market intelligence and analysis info! For example, this is the market share pie for 2008 (I suppose there should be "two-thirds" in the right hand side statement):

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tessera Wins I3A VISION 2020 Award

Yahoo: I3A (International Imaging Industry Association) announced the winners of its new awards program, the VISION 2020 Imaging Innovation Awards.

Tessera won the Silver Award for its demonstrator of a wireless “smart” camera module in a toy. The demonstrator includes a VGA wafer-level camera that integrates the company’s wafer-level optics and image sensor packaging, face and smile detection technologies. Combined, these technologies enable the toy to detect multiple faces and provide appropriate responses, from making happy sounds when a new face appears, to laughing when a face smiles.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dexela Launches Sensitive Large Area X-Ray Imagers

Dexela introduces a family of large area flat panel CMOS X-ray detectors based on an innovative CMOS sensor design that combines fast speed and superior image quality.

The Dexela detector family’s main components are: CMOS image sensor, scintillator (structured CsI or Gadox), control electronics, readout electronics and communications with the workstation.

The Dexela CMOS image sensor consists of a photodiode array with a pixel size of 75µm. The sensor has very low dark current and read noise, with high linearity and consistency of response. A range of models is offered with the model number based on the active area: 1207 (115mm x 65mm), 1512 (145mm x 115mm), 2315 (230mm x 145mm), 2321 (230mm x 210mm), 2923 (290mm x 230mm), and 2923MAM (290mm x 230mm). The detector is capable of multi-resolution readout with dynamically adjustable binning at 1x2, 2x2, 1x4, 2x4 and 4x4. For the largest model in the range, the frame rate ranges from 26fps at full resolution (75µm) to 86fps binned 4x4 (300µm pixel pitch) over the whole active area of 29cm x 23cm.

The high fill factor, efficiency and low noise of the sensor combine to produce a high DQE of 0.70 at a skin dose of only 280µGy. This results in lower patient dose and said to be superior in image quality when compared to TFT-based detectors with significantly lower DQE.

Previously Dexela told that its X-ray image sensors are the largest commercially avaliable ones and are composed of tiled CMOS dice.

Aptina Announces 14MP 1.4um Pixel-Based Sensor

Yahoo: Aptina launched MT9F001 - 14MP, 1.4um-pixel based sensor. The new sensor is able to capture 1080p/60fps HD video using four-lane HiSPi (High Speed Serial Pixel Interface) serial data interface.

Aptina A-Pix technology is claimed to overcome the challenge of effective photon collection in the photodiodes that small pixels present when using conventional FSI approach. The result achieved with Aptina’s technology is said to be BSI-equivalent in terms of sensitivity, but with less crosstalk for lower noise and more accurate color reproduction.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Keith Fife Multi-Aperture Papers Published

There are few more Keith Fife papers on multi-aperture imaging published on Keith's Stanford University page. One of them is "Design and Characterization of Submicron CCDs in CMOS" paper and presentation slides on IISW 2009. Also, Keith's PhD Thesis "Devices for Integrated Multi-Aperture Imaging" from June 2009 is now on-line.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bloom, Offsets and PTC

Albert Theuwissen's excellent PTC tutorial now covers bloom and DC offset influence on PTC curve. Very nice reading!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pixim Won Homeland Security Award

Pixim's Digital Pixel System Technology won Best All Digital Technology from GSN: Government Security News during the 1st Annual Homeland Security Awards Ceremony.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cypress Announces Sensors in Space

Business Wire: Cypress announced three of its state-of-the-art CMOS Image Sensors for space applications are on-board the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Proba-2 Satellite, which was launched on November 2. Cypress’s new HAS2 image sensor, specially designed for high accuracy star tracking, is implemented on a new Star Tracker developed by SELEX Galileo of Italy. The HAS2 image sensor is also being used in an extreme-ultraviolet telescope scientific experiment for solar corona observation. Additionally, Cypress’s STAR-250 image sensor is used on a new Digital Sun Sensor developed by TNO of the Netherlands. Both the HAS2 and STAR-250 devices were developed for the ESA by Cypress’s Image Sensor Business Unit in Belgium.

HAS2 image sensor has an array of 1024 x 1024 active pixels (18 µm) and supports on-chip Non-Destructive Readout and multiple windowing. STAR-250 sensor was originally developed for an optical inter satellite link. Currently it is mainly used for sun sensor applications. The device has an array of 512 x 512 pixels (25 µm).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cypress Announces 1.3MP Sensor for Machine Vision

Yahoo: Cypress announced 1.3MP VITA 1300 sensor combining a pipelined and triggered global shutter with a frame rate of 150fps. The 1/2-inch sensor is based on 4.8um pixels. It has four 10-bit LVDS outputs with a programmable offset and gain amplifier for each channel of the LVDS outputs. Each channel runs at a 620Mbps. An alternative data output is available through a single 10-bit parallel CMOS data output, operating at 62Msps. Extended optical dynamic range can be achieved by setting multiple slopes.

Samples of the VITA 1300 image sensor are expected to be available in February 2010, with production devices expected in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Aptina Announces WDR Sensor for Surveillance

FinanzNachrichten, Business Wire: Aptina announced MT9M033 surveillance image sensor combining wide dynamic range and HD. The new 1.2MP sensor is capable to run at 720p/60fps for HD video. There is no word on pixel size or any other pixel performance information. From the PR it's not clear how WDR mode is implemented.

The MT9M033 is sampling this quarter. Production is in Q1 2010.

Sharp Image Sensor Sales to Improve

Sharp announced that its CCD/CMOS sensors sales for the last 6 months ended on Sep. 30 have declined by 7.4% vs same period a year ago. However, the company is pretty optimistic about its yearly results, predicting 10.5% growth. The image sensor sales are expected to reach 90B Yen in its fiscal year ending on March 31, 2010 (see the bottom of the last page in the company report).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kodak Combines W-RGB Filter with CCD

DCViews: The first public demonstration of CCD-based Kodak Truesense technology integration will be shown at Kodak's exhibit at the Vision 2009 trade show held November 3 - 5 in Stuttgart, Germany. The demonstration is based on the currently available 1080p format KAI-02150 Image Sensor combined with TRUESENSE Color Filter Pattern adding panchromatic, or “clear“ pixels to the red, green, and blue elements that form the image sensor array. Kodak claims a 2x to 4x increase in light sensitivity (from one to two photographic stops) compared to a standard Bayer color sensor.

Update: Here is the official Kodak PR.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Omnivision Improves Its VGA Sensor

Yahoo: Omnivision introduced its OV7675 VGA sensor to deliver optimized performance at a competitive cost for the high-volume OEMs developing mobile handsets for Indian and Chinese markets.

The 1/9-inch OV7675 uses 2.5um OmniPixel3-HS pixel with sensitivity of 1800 mV/lux-sec, significantly reduced noise and improved color reproduction. The OV7675 SOC sensor offers the full functionality of a complete VGA (640x480) camera, and is capable of operating at 30fps in full resolution. Its small form factor offers easy design integration for 6.5 mm x 6.5 mm drop-in replacement of VGA modules in existing handset designs.

The OV7675 comes in OmniVision's lead-free CSP3 packaging and is currently shipping in high volume quantities.

Panavision Sues Omnivision, Aptina, Canon

I missed this news item at the time, so thanks to R.C. for bringing this to my attention:

From OVTI 10-Q form, July 2009:

On March 6, 2009, Panavision Imaging, LLC, or Panavision, filed a complaint against [OVTI] alleging patent infringement in the District Court for the Central District of California. The case is entitled Panavision Imaging, LLC v. OmniVision Technologies, Inc., Canon U.S.A., Inc., Micron Technology, Inc. and Aptina Imaging Corporation, Case No. CV09-1577. In its complaint, Panavision asserts that we make, have made, use, sell and/or import products that infringe U.S. Patent Nos. 6,818,877 (“Pre-charging a Wide Analog Bus for CMOS Image Sensors”), 6,633,029 (“Video Bus for High Speed Multi-resolution Imagers and Method Thereof”) and 7,057,150 (“Solid State Imager with Reduced Number of Transistors per Pixel”). The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages, fees and expenses and injunctive relief against us. We expect to vigorously defend ourselves against Panavision’s allegations. The Court has scheduled a claim construction hearing for December 10, 2009.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Intertech-Pira Image Sensors 2009 Presentations On-Line

Here used to be a link to the presentations from the recent Intertech-Pira Image Sensors 2009 conference (San Diego Oct. 13-16). A lot of interesting stuff!

[Update: The links have been removed at request from the originator. This link was supposed to be only for attendees of the conference, not for the general public.]

On the technical side, Don Scansen shows Chipworks reverse engineering picture of Omnivision BSI packaging scheme:

There is one more Chipworks BSI sensor picture, apparently of Sony ClearVid camcorder sensor:

Don also presents many other observations, some of them quite paradoxical. One of the graphs shows that Microsoft has filed about 10 patent applications on BSI technology. Personally, I have not seen any of them.

Another interesting presentation comes from DxO Labs on camera module self calibration. It presents very nice features but no word is said about the price to implement them in silicon - an important omission. Also, Gr/Gb imbalance section excessively downplays the alternative approaches to the problem.

On the marketing side, there is an interesting presentation by Sanyo on digital camera market, product trends and adoption rates. Toshiba presentation mainly talks about the market consolidation trend. The Strategies Unlimited presentation disappointed me a bit, as its many data labels from the charts are removed - looks like a teaser for the paid reports.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Toshiba Announces Its First BSI Sensor

Toshiba announces its first BSI sensor. The 1/2.3-inch 14.6MP sensor is targeted to DSC and camera phones with video capability. The sensor is based on 1.4um pixels. Its video frame rate is 60fps at 1080p and 720p formats.

BSI approach is said to boost "light sensitivity and absorption by 40% compared to existing Toshiba products". Given already excellent QE numbers of Toshiba FSI sensors, I wonder how they can be improved by so much.

Sampling of the new sensor will begin in December and mass production will follow from the third quarter of 2010 (July—September). The new sensor will be produced at Toshiba's Oita Operations 300mm wafer lines deploying 65nm process technology. Initial production will be at a volume of 500,000 sensors a month.

Toshiba will continue to develop BSI products as a mainstream technology. CMOS image sensors are a focus product of Toshiba's System LSI business. Until now, their main application has been in mobile phones. With the new BSI sensors, Toshiba plans to expand their applications to include digital cameras.

Camera Module Calibration

Embedded: Toshiba team talks about importance of having a convenient GUI interface to camera module calibration. It appears that the article is supposed to promote Toshiba's ImaTuning tool, even though it's not called by name.

Nanya Enters CIS Production?

Digitimes reports that Nanya has been in talks with Aptina, Himax, Omnivision and Pixart for the possible release of foundry orders. Nanya is looking to maximize the utilization of its two 8-inch fabs by manufacturing image sensors.

Digitimes reminds that Powerchip and ProMOS have both stepped into CIS production at 8-inch fabs, both not very successful. ProMOS has been rumored to cease its image sensor activities, while Powerchip reportedly produces a small fraction of Omnivision products.

Omnivision Sensors in Tight Supply

Digitimes: OmniVision has notified its customers to expect limited supply of its image sensors due to strong iPhone 3GS demand for the end-year holiday season, according to Digitimes' sources. Tight supply is not expected to ease until late November 2009.

Apple has increased Q4 orders for the iPhone 3GS to its Taiwan-based manufacturing partners Foxconn and Primax by 17-20%, noted the sources. Notebook vendors are gearing up to introduce new models following the launch of Windows 7 which will also tighten the supply of CIS, the sources added.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Canesta Raises $16M, Quanta Joins Investment Round

Yahoo, VentureBeat: Canesta announced it has raised $16M in additional capitalization. Joining returning investors Carlyle Growth Partners, Hotung Venture Group, and Venrock are two new strategic investors – Quanta Computer, the world’s largest manufacturer of notebook computers, and SMSC, a mixed-signal ICs vendor.

“The emergence of 3-D ‘natural’ interfaces in PCs – such as ‘touchless’ gesture controls – as well as other immersive applications, has been inevitable,” commented Jim Spare president and CEO of Canesta. “The implied endorsement and strong interest in 3-D imaging technology by the world’s largest personal computer ODM will encourage other players to adopt this game-changing technology,” said Spare.

In February this year, Hitachi and Canesta demonstrated a television with 3-D interface and natural “gesture-based” controls (ISW link).

Some of the applications made possible by Canesta’s 3-D electronic perception chips and technology include:
  • Hands-free gesture control (for new user experiences that are more convenient and “fun”);
  • Robust and accurate facial recognition for user identification and security;
  • Background substitution for video conferencing and “virtual sets” (to enable every consumer to have video conferencing and content-creation capabilities that are currently only available to professionals with large budgets);
  • Avatar control for 3-D virtual communities (increasing ease-of-use and improving accessibility to a wider audience);
  • Augmented reality;
  • Immersive personalized advertising;
For several video examples, see Canesta videos. The news log about Canesta can be found here.

Update: SMSC has invested $2M in Canesta. SMSC and Canesta have agreed to collaborate in the definition of 3-D camera solutions whereby SMSC can combine its connectivity technologies and systems expertise with Canesta 3-D sensor devices and software to accelerate the adoption of this technology. The two companies intend to create economic, integrated solutions to add 3-dimensional depth-perception to automotive, PC, TV, consumer electronics and other communications devices.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tessera CSP Offers Proven Reliability

Electronic Design published Tessera team article describing reliability challenges with many TSV processes, while proposing Tessera CSP solution as a proven alternative.

CMOSIS Uses Tower Process for its First Standard Product

Yahoo: CMOSIS disclosed that it uses Tower 0.18um process for its first off-the-shelf sensor CMV2000. CMOSIS selected Tower’s 0.18um process for its aggressive layout rules, allowing a novel pixel structure featuring a pixel size of 5.5µm x 5.5µm which is needed to stay close to a 2/3" optical format with 2.2M pixel resolution and form factor. The CMV2000 combines a pipelined global shutter operation that allows true correlated double sampling and a full-frame rate of 300fps.

CMOSIS estimates its target machine vision sensor market at ~$200M (CCD and CMOS combined).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More about Nobel CCD Controversy

IEEE Spectrum put a special page with collection of articles and podcast about the controversy around the CCD invention in Bell Labs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

HDcctv Alliance Got SMPTE License

Yahoo: HDcctv Alliance receives the security industry's first license to SMPTE HD-SDI Standards, bringing the HDTV digital technology for video delivery over coaxial cable to the HDcctv Specification. The HDcctv Alliance members include CSST, Gennum, Stretch, AltaSens, blueCaps, Comart, COP UK, EverFocus,, OmniVision, Ovii, and Pixim.

ST Announces 5MP EDoF Sensor Family

Yahoo: ST unveiled its new 5MP CMOS image sensors family based on 1.4um pixels. The 1/4-inch sensors are based on 65/45nm process and said to utilize ST's unique pixel-isolation techniques to maximize the sensor's SNR.

The sensors allow 5MP cameras within dimensions of 6.5 x 6.5mm and a low module height of typically 5mm to enable ultra-low-profile handset designs. From the announcement it's not clear if EDoF and ISP are integrated onto the sensor die or they are separate. It appears that ST prepares a large product family with different types of integration and feature sets, including EDoF and AF VCM drivers.

All the sensors will include single-line or dual-line 1GHz Camera Serial Interface (CSI-2), as defined by the Mobile Industry Processor Interface (MIPI) alliance, and the 650Mbit/s Compact Camera Port (CCP2) interface defined by the Standard Mobile Imaging Architecture (SMIA) group.

ST will offer standard-die and Through-Silicon Via (TSV) packaging in the 5MP family. The standard packaging will support cameras combining Chip-On-Board (COB) sensor connection and discrete optical components. TSV enables emerging technologies such as Wafer-Level Camera (WLC).

Engineering samples of the first of these sensors are available now, and the roadmap will continue with new product introductions throughout the remainder of 2009.

Reportedly these ST's 45/65nm based FSI pixels deliver better QE and SNR10 performance than BSI. This presents a problem for Omnivision to justify the added BSI complexity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stanford HDR Symposium Materials

Stanford University held Symposium and Workshop on High Dynamic Range Imaging in September 2009. The selected presentations form this event are available on-line.

Thanks to S.S. for sharing the link!

Does CCD Idea Really Belong to Smith and Boyle?

IEEE Spectrum Tech Talk blog has two posts questioning Smith’s and Boyle's ownership of the CCD idea (Post #1, Post #2 with comments). The posts suggest that the idea originally came from their Bell Labs collegue Eugene Gordon.

Thanks to E.F. for sending me the link.

Update: As said in comments, there is another post saying that the CCD idea originator is Michael F. Tompsett.

Fast Pixel Shutter Imaging Unveiled

The Engineer Online: UK Oxford University researchers presented Fast Pixel Shutter Imaging (FPSI) technology. They demonstrated the technology using a prototype built out of a digital micro-mirror array comprising a vast amount of individually moveable mirrors measuring 10um each. The mirrors can be toggled on and off and used as pixel-level optical switches. So each pixel gets individually controlled exposure.

Oxford group is working with researchers at Nottingham University on fashioning the technology into a single CMOS chip that could be integrated into small electronic devices, including mobile phones. Within six months they plan to unveil a mobile-phone-sized camera that can demonstrate FPSI.

DxO Lab Discloses Its Future Directions

In an interview with EE Times, Jérôme Meniere, chairman and CEO of DXO Labs, shrank the field of view and focused on DXO Labs' solutions for camera phones, and unveiled future research directions. DxO Labs also provides the calibration and tuning tools which allow the configuration of the ISP to be done more easily and at a lower cost.

Another marker of differentiation is DxO Labs' EDoF technology. DxO Labs said PalmPre smartphones and Nokia cell phones integrate its EDoF design.

Looking ahead, Meniere said he identifies several directions: "There are huge opportunities to help camera module manufacturers reduce their costs. The idea is to loosen some constraints that we recover and use at the image processing level. Typically, you can have a yield drop because the optic has been badly tuned. We can recover modules that otherwise would be thrown away, and here lies a huge gain."

Another direction concerns very high ISO, probably with associated noise reduction. Other possible directions were described in very general words, so I do not quote them.

DxO Labs, formerly known as DO Labs SA, was founded in 2002 as a spin-off of Vision IQ, a company in the field of computer vision. It currently employs about 100 people, including 60 percent in R&D, and has filed about 40 patent families.