Sunday, May 31, 2009

EOS Conference on Frontiers in Electronic Imaging

European Optical Society (EOS) announced an advance program on Frontiers in Electronic Imaging to be held in Munich, Germany on June 15 - 16, 2009. Most of the conference is devoted to custom designed image sensors for space, industrial, medical and other applications. The main sessions topics are:

  • Application-Specific , High-Performance Image Sensors
  • Single-Photon Imaging
  • Advanced Optical 3D Imaging

There is also a big number of invited papers:

Application Specific CMOS Image Sensors Dedicated to Space Applications: Reaching the Maturity Era
Pierre Magnan, Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace - ISAE (FR).

Custom Image sensors are extensively used in space applications, either for optical payloads or various satellite servitude sensors. CMOS image sensor technology has now achieved such a maturity level that it is considered as a first choice for a wide range of operational programs as illustrated on examples.

Wide Dynamic Range Image Sensors
Orly Yadid-Pecht, University of Calgary (CA).

The work done to provide image sensors with a wide dynamic range is reviewed. The different classes of solutions, which consist of logarithmic sensors, "clipped" sensors, multimode sensors, frequency-based sensors, time to first spike and sensors with control over integration time are described. Three generations of our AWARD - Automatic wide accepted range detector, are described. The first generation was mainly meant for rolling shutter, the next was mainly meant for low power and the third was mainly meant for snap-shot applications. Results and analysis of the solutions and possible future directions will be presented.

Single Photon Imaging Using a CCD and Electron Multiplication
Mark Robbins, e2v technolgies plc., Chelmsford (UK).

This article presents an overview of low light imaging using charge-coupled devices. Emphasis is placed on electron multiplication technology, which is incorporated within the current sensors of choice for many demanding applications requiring highperformance imaging down to the single photon level.

Scannerless 3D-ToF Sensors
Bedrich Hosticka, Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronics, Duisburg (DE).

In this talk the state of the art of "scannerless" 3D-Time-of-Flight sensors is presented. The principle, different realization approaches, performance limits, possible technology realizations, sensor examples, and future developments are considered.

Thanks to A.T. for letting me know about the conference.

Friday, May 29, 2009

ST Presents Its CIS Process Roadmap

As Dick James pointed in comments on Sony BSI secrets, ST presented its CIS process roadmap among other things on the analyst's event held on May 15, 2009. The roadmap is shown below:

Just to explain ST CIS processes naming convention: IMG175 process means that the minimum pixel size in this process is 1.75um. This process is also used to make larger pixels, for example 2.2um with improved performance. Similarly, IMG140 process is used for 1.4um pixels and for improved performance 1.75um sensors. IMG110 process is planned to be used with 1.1um and 1.4um pixels.

Many thanks to Dick James for posting the reference to ST roadmap.

Omnivision Quarterly Results Better Than Expected

Seeking Alpha publishes Omnivision Quarterly Earning Call transcript. OmniVision lost $20.1M this quarter, including stock-based compensation expenses on revenues $89.1M. The previous sales guidance was in range of $60-70M.
VGA and below represented an approximately 70% of the unit sales. Unit sales of 1.3MP products were just above 10%. Unit sales of our 2MP and above products were approximately 15% as compared to 20% in the previous quarter.

Ray Cisneros, VP Sales said about BSI progress:

"Sales of our new Omni BSI five megapixel and eight megapixel products will begin in the current quarter and should increase in volume throughout fiscal 2010. We are consistently winning new designs with these two product lines across multiple regions, in particular with smart phone designs.

Strength in sales will be driven by end customers in North America and Taiwan regions. Most recently, end customers in China have also adopted the Omni BSI five megapixel solution. We believe our Omni BSI technology is being viewed as a differentiator for end customer product designs."

"Our eight megapixel Omni BSI solution will begin shortly to a tier one OEM customer for a digital video camcorder product."

Ray Cisneros on WLC progress:

"We are also pleased that we recognized initial revenues in Q4 on our CameraCube products for the mobile phone market. There is a high degree of interest for this product line in major OEM's as well as mass market regions in Asia. The first shipments are VGA CameraCube products where cost and manufacturing efficiencies of this technology are most highly leveraged."

Bruce Wyer, VP Marketing:

"Based on TSR's calendar 2008 data, we retained our number one position in overall market CMOS sensors based on shipments, broadening our market share lead in key merging markets.

Based on TSR's data, OmniVision now holds the number one market share position in the mobile phone, notebook webcam, security and surveillance, automotive, digital video camcorder and toys and games markets."

There is Q&A part on yields and margins of BSI and CameraCube products:

Doug Freedman – Broadpoint:

"If I could try to get some color on the gross margin opportunity that you have. I know you don't want to break out things on a megapixel basis. How about giving us an idea of the impact that say CameraCube has if you convert some of the market in your VGA sockets over from VGA dive products into VGA CameraCube or as you move people from standard product into DSI. Can you give us some idea if these are margin accretive or at what point they'll be margin accretive?"

Anson Chan, CFO:

"The CameraCube is still early on in its life cycle and not so different from our other products. When the product is first introduced, the yields tend to be a little lower and so the margin contribution coming from this product is a little lower right now. It's hard to estimate exactly when we'll get to a healthier margin because it takes a bit of time for the market to adopt these products and start to turn into high production volume.

But the expectation though is that it will be accretive to our margin when we reach a steady state for this product rollout."

Doug Freedman – Broadpoint:

"And how about for the BSI product. What does that look like?"

Anson Chan:

"The BSI product is going to be similar in the sense that it's still very early on in its life cycle. Right now, even internally I would not use the current projected gross margin as the long term goal for this product yet and we still have not reached a point where we can precisely calculate the margin contribution coming from BSI products."

Chipworks Reveals Sony BSI Secrets

Semiconducor International publishes Chipworks' Ray Fontain's article on Sony BSI sensor reverse engineering findings. The article reveals:

  • Sony BSI uses SOI process - meaning it's not cheap.
  • The sensor's backside has AR layer
  • The backside uses aperture grid made of tungsten
  • Assuming the pixel size of 1.75um, the silicon layer thickness is about 2.8um
  • It appears there is 0.8-0.9um thick spacer between microlens and color filter, so the distanse from microlens to the silicon surface is about 2um

    The picture below shows the sensor cross-section:

Update: It appears that Sony uses an additional conforming AR layer on top of microlens (should I say on bottom of microlens?).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canesta Shows Off Gesture Recognition

Venture Beat publishes a popular article on gesture recognition potential for future gaming and user interface applications and Canesta's offer in this area.

Teledyne HgCdTe Sensor on Repaired Hubble Telescope

Yahoo: Teledyne Scientific & Imaging (TS&I) has delivered a new type of infrared imaging sensor for the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) installed on Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 4.

Nearly all of the iconic Hubble images have been taken with CCDs that are primarily sensitive to visible light. Until now, IR imaging has been constrained by the small 256x256 pixel detectors of the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instrument, which were state-of-the-art when NICMOS was installed in the HST in 1997. Teledyne’s 1024x1024 pixel HgCdTe IR sensor in WFC3 provides a significant increase in the number of IR pixels and also has higher QE, lower readout noise, and lower dark current. Combined with the high efficiency of the WFC3 optics, the IR imager of WFC3 provides up to 30 times increase in discovery efficiency in the near IR spectrum.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pixpolar Offers Sensor IP

It was brought to my attention that Finland-based image sensor company Pixpolar offers IP of its "patented MIG (Modified Internal Gate) image sensor". The company promises "at least 60% higher resolution with same chip size compared to cameras with conventional CMOS/CCD image sensors" or "at least 50% smaller camera size compared to conventional technologies" at the same resolution.

Pixpolar web site has a description of its idea and simulation results. The sensor relies on a potential well created by a special doping. A photogenerated charge in this potential well modulates the drain current of the MOSFETs above it.

The company appears to be an incubator project started in May 2006.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

LETI On Pixel Size Shrink

There is 2007 presentation by LETI analyzing pixel shrink trends and problems. Slide #17 raises an interesting question: is there a way to use electromagnetic detection device instead of energy-type device, like photodiode. The possible benefit is to be limited by thermal noise, rather than by shot noise. Personally, I do not believe that this approach is any better than what a photodiode.

Another 2007 LETI presentation
describes wafer level camera concepts. A 2008 LETI presentation mainly talks about IR smart pixels as a way to overcome pixel limitations.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

TSMC Tells about its TSVs for CIS Process

Semiconductor International: TSMC revealed its TSV plans on the 2009 Technical Symposium in San Jose in April. The current TSMC roadmap shows that PT140 (backside TSV for CIS) is available on 140 µm pitch now, and 60 µm pitch will be available later this year. It looks like i-T30 and i-T17 — vias “middle” (before BEOL) — at 40 and then 17 µm pitch will be available starting in Q2 2011.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Samsung Develops MEMS Shutter

Tech-On reports that Samsung is developing 2.2mm-diameter MEMS shutter for camera-phones. The shutter is composed of 36 pieces of fan-shaped ITO (indium tin oxide) films that have an angle of 10°, and they are arranged to form the shape of a circle. The shutter requires 30V to operate.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

JVC Develops 8MP 60p Video Camera

Twice: JVC unveiled a new 4K2K 60p camera, which produces a live 60fps signal output of 8.29 megapixels (3,840 horizontal by 2,160 vertical), which is roughly four times the resolution of common FullHD (1,920 by 1,080p systems). The 4K2K camera incorporates a single 1.25-inch CMOS image sensor and supports 12-bit signal processing. JVC said it plans to begin marketing the during its 2009 fiscal year and has started accepting advance orders.

Update: Official JVC press release is here.

Update #2: Tech-On published an article on the new camera.

Microsoft Works on 3D Camera for Gaming

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is developing a new videocamera for the Xbox 360 console that will allow players to control games with the movement of their bodies in effort to attract the casual players who have fueled Nintendo's success. The camera is based on technology that Microsoft developed. Microsoft also recently acquired an Israeli start-up called 3DV Systems, which has developed a 3-D camera and holds related patents, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Aptina's Sandor Barna Talks about Industry Future

Digitimes publishes Q&A session with Aptina Marketing VP Sandor Barna. Some points he mentioned are:
  • Aptina expects to see growth in the second quarter in the handset, notebook and DSC markets.
  • Sony "may adopt Aptina's CIS products in the future because of cost concern."
  • Aptina targets mid-range and high-end applications and will not sacrifice profits in order to win market share.
  • There is a possible trend of consolidation. Smaller companies may develop certain technologies that interest first-tier CIS suppliers, who may then obtain these technologies by acquiring the small companies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sony Announces 8.3MP Security Module

Pocket-lint and I-Micronews report that Sony has announced the development of a "coin-sized" HD camera module for use in security and industry. The 8.3MP module footprint is just 9.5 x 7.1mm, although it has some added stuff on the flex cable:

The MCB1172 module from Sony Europe's Image Sensing Solutions Division is capable of delivering 720p, 30fps video and includes AF, video stabilization and face detection. It also features a high sensitivity mode and a slow-motion mode, delivering 120fps as well as the option of 16x zoom. The module is reported to be available for mass production, products with the module in will likely hit the business markets later this year.

The strange thing is that I'm unable to find any official word from Sony.

Aptina Talks about A-Pixel

Digitimes: Aptina will switch to its in-house developed A-Pix solution, according to Aptina VP Sandor Barna. The A-Pix solution utilizes Light Guide technology and also features Photo Die and Color Filter technologies, said the company.

ST and Soitec Join Forces in BSI Push

ST and Soitec announced an exclusive joint cooperation between the two companies that will lead to the development of 300mm wafer-level BSI technology for next-generation image sensors in consumer products. The agreement between the two companies includes the licensing by Soitec to ST of the Smart Stacking™ bonding technology for the manufacturing of backside-illumination sensors on 300mm wafers. This technology, developed by Soitec’s Tracit business unit, leverages molecular bonding, and mechanical, as well as chemical thinning. ST will develop a new generation of image sensors based on its advanced derivative-CMOS process technology at 65nm and beyond, at its 300mm facility in Crolles, France.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

e2v CCDs Upgrade Hubble Telescope Imager

Space Daily: e2v CCD will equip Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), a new instrument that will be installed on Hubble. Its key feature is the ability to span the electromagnetic spectrum from UV, through visible light and into NIR. The UVIS channel of the instrument is equipped with e2v's close-butted pair of CCD-43, forming an array of 4k(H) by 2k(V) 15um pixels. It features enhanced UV QE and back-illumination to give a very broad waveband response. The typical quantum efficiency is 50% at 250nm and 65% at 500nm. The low noise output amplifiers provide typical noise of ~2.5 e-rms at 50kHz.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sony Promotes High-Speed Imaging

The latest Sony CX-News magazine features high-speed imaging articles. The first one talks about high-speed imaging applications, such as high-speed image buffering, image stabilization with rotation component compensation, simultaneous video and stills capture, etc.
Sony also adds a new 9.3MP 30fps image sensor to its lineup of 6.4MP 60fps and 8.1MP 40fps sensors. The second article discusses this new IMX032 sensor. It's based on 1.75um pixel. The pixel has only 5Ke saturation level - quite low for that generation, in fact, lower than many 1.4um pixels. I wonder if this is the price for speed or some other Sony-specific restriction? For example, the speed trade-off might include a larger source follower size, so the photodiode is smaller and its saturation charge is lower.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Toshiba Focuses on Image Sensors

In Toshiba's revised business forecast, the company declares its focus on image sensors among few other key applications for its semiconductor business. As the wording on slide 11 implies, image sensor activity seems to generate profits for Toshiba. If true, this would make Toshiba one of the very few companies still enjoying healthy business in the mainstream image sensors.

ISP Pipeline for Digital Still and Video Cameras

The Color Imaging Pipeline for Digital Still and Video Cameras tutorial from 2008 IEEE Conference on Image Processing is on-line now.

ADVIS Publications Online

Rochester-based image sensor company ADVIS presented its ideas on-line. I'm not a big fan of their approach, but it's nice to see it presented in a collection of papers. It's also nice to see ADVIS web site up again.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

News from Japan

I've just discovered a new image sensor-dedicated blog in Japanese: Using Google for translation, one can see a lot of interesting news there. One of them is a report that Panasonic has frozen its Tonami image sensor fab construction due to the downturn. The building is almost finished, but the delivery of equipment has been stopped.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Tessera Camera Technology For Masses

Silicon Valley Mercury News published a popular article on Tessera camera technology. One interesting part of it is the new camera applications. The most unusual one is this:

"The Fujitaka company in Japan is developing a vending device that uses a camera to count the wrinkles on a customer's face to determine their age, in response to a new Japanese law forbidding vending-machine operators from selling tobacco to anyone under 20."

CMOSIS Gets New CEO, New Funding and New Office

I got this press release by mail and it's supposed to appear on CMOSIS site too. Since it's not there yet, I'm posting it below in full:

Antwerp, Belgium, 08 May 2009 -- CMOSIS NV has successfully concluded its second round of financing by raising € 1.11 m from present shareholders, new personnel and management. The new investment is earmarked for the ongoing development of new CMOS image sensor technologies and further business expansion. The second round of financing coincides with the appointment of Luc De Mey as CMOSIS CEO and President. Guy Meynants will become VP R&D.

“CMOSIS’s first 18 months of operation have confirmed to all of us that there are tremendous, still untapped, business opportunities for CMOS image sensors, especially in those areas that, until recently, were considered to be CCD strongholds", De Mey says. "We are convinced that CMOSIS, with its first-class seasoned management team, experienced engineering staff and exceptionally strong IP portfolio is well positioned to gain a significant share of future industrial and professional CMOS image sensor markets." In De Mey's view, it is obvious that recent progress of CMOS image sensor technology, especially in terms of dark current and noise performance, will cause conventional CCD technology to lose application areas and market share. "CMOSIS's focus will be on machine vision, medical , scientific and space applications."

Luc De Mey joins CMOSIS as a widely known industry expert and a veteran of the former FillFactory where he served, from 1999 until 2004, as CEO and President. After the acquisition of FillFactory by Cypress Semiconductor in August 2004, he stayed in charge of the Mechelen operation until leaving in October 2005. Luc De Mey holds an MS in Engineering and an MBA from FBS/Northwestern University, Chicago.

CMOSIS received its initial round of financing by its founders and by Capital-E, an early-stage venture fund focused on microelectronics start-ups in Europe. The CMOSIS technology portfolio is based upon crucial IP related to various advanced aspects of image sensors – among them high pixel counts at a high fill factor, high-speed functionality, large bit-depth of column ADCs, high
dynamic range, TDI (time-delay and integration) implementation in CMOS, very low noise pixel and readout circuits and novel rad-hard pixel concepts.

In June 2009 CMOSIS will move to an 800 m2 industrial facility in Antwerp, Belgium, where it operates development labs, device qualification and a 100 m2, Class 100, clean room for wafer and device production testing. The enlarged premises are to support the launch of a suite of standard machine-vision CMOS imagers as well as the manufacture of the company's first custom image sensor products. In addition to Andre Alaerts, who was recently appointed Director of Manufacturing, CMOSIS continues expanding its staff by hiring senior personnel for product qualification and manufacturing, as well as quality and customer support operations.

CMOSIS principals, besides Luc De Mey and Andre Alaerts, are Guy Meynants and Lou Hermans – all former FillFactory founders. Together they establish a team of image sensor experts with more than 50 person-years of highly significant experience in CMOS imaging technology. In March of 2009 the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT) granted to CMOSIS a substantial subsidy supporting its R&D activities that lead to the development of the new suite of standard image sensor products. The IWT is the only Flemish organization stimulating and supporting innovation.

CMOSIS is a pure-play supplier of standard off-the-shelf and application-specific CMOS image sensors for the industrial and professional market covering applications such as machine vision, scientific, medical, automatic data capture and space. CMOSIS was conceived as a fabless CMOS image sensor vendor providing in-house design, characterization and qualification facilities for research, development and volume production. CMOSIS currently employs 14 people and is headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium. More information:

CMOSIS Media Contact:
Lou Hermans
Mobile: +32 478 299 758

Two Aptina VGAs in Nintendo DSi

Deon Scansen's Semiserious blog reveals that Nintendo DSi uses two Aptina VGA sensors. The sensors are based on 2.2um pixels with the new unusual pixel layout. Don promises to tell more in his future posts.

Aptina's Work on Modulated Dual Conversion Gain CMOS Imagers

Xiangli Li from Aptina sensor characterization group published his Ph.D. dissertation "MOSFET Modulated Dual Conversion Gain CMOS Image Sensors". The dissertation is especially interesting in part describing the sensors characterization procedures and results.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

2008 Astrophysics Detector Workshop Presentations

Astrophysics Detector Workshop Presentations are on-line now. The workshop was held in Nice, France on November 17-20, 2008. Among the interesting papers are "Review of CCD Technologies" by e2v and "Review of APS Technologies" by CNES.

More Intertech-Pira 2008 Presentations

There are more presentations from the last year's Intertech-Pira Image Sensors Europe conference: ST, Pixim, 1 Limited (AF motors), IMS (Part 1 and Part 2), Thomson-Green Valley, Cypress-Fillfactory, Milan University (Image Enhancement), Fraunhofer Institute (Linear sensors and 3D time of flight sensors), Spiral Gateway (re-configurable ISP).

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

3 Presentations from Intertech-Pira Image Sensors Europe 2008

It came to my attention that 3 presentations from Intertech-Pira Image Sensors Europe are on-line now: Nokia, Aptina and Semiconductor Insights.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

TSMC Moves BSI Technology into Production

Seeking Alpha: In TSMC Q1'09 Earnings Call transcript Rick Tsai, the CEO, reiterates that TSMC continues to heavily invest into image sensor process R&D. He also says that BSI technology "is now being moved into production".

Friday, May 01, 2009

2009 Image Sensor Workshop Program Published

2009 Image Sensor Workshop draft program is published. The BSI opening session includes 8 papers from Omnivision, ST, Toshiba, e2v, Caeleste, Leti, IMEC and few universities. 5 papers devoted to small pixel design, including one from IBM (suprize for me, as I thought IBM image sensor group is disbanded). Overall, the four day agenda of the workshop is very densely packed with interesting and, sometimes, unique stuff.

Tessera IP Pricing

Seeking Alpha: Tessera's CEO Hank Nothhaft disclosed the company's IP pricing:

"...we have today basically two types of intellectual property, one is infrastructure IP and one is designing IP. So the infrastructure IP centers around sensor packaging which is our MVP product range the way for level optics and if you get somebody there license both of us from you like NanoTech and Qtech the both combine and they can actually manufacture wafer-level cameras. And so, in that environment we are able comment upfront license fees and than we get a per unit royalty pretty low and then we also get recurring revenues and royalties from the lens stack from the wafer-level optics side of it, and so in the probably the most fair balance case lease value provided.

We are in the $0.02 to $0.03 range of the low end. And it can get over $0.20 under certain environment. I am talking about the infrastructure IP side of it. And then the small optic side is interesting because we’re rolling out more and more features and therefore we are commanding more and more value added, and so it does sort of stack on itself. So, we are able to come back now the extended after field capabilities with a FotoNation sort of post imaging processing capabilities and really creates an excitement in the marketplace and we have a quite a platform there.

And so, once again, I can give a broad range on how meaningful it would be, but certainly towards a low end of that activity would be something in the $0.10 range and certainly if there licensing a bunch of features and whole prior formula can be more to $0.25. So, theoretically if you have somebody building wafer-level cameras using your technology as well as ordering and using EDAP and some post imaging processing. You could get $0.40 under certain circumstances are greater. I am not saying that we are but so the range would be anywhere from a few cents to approaching half hours depending on high integrated and how full for us one of our licenses might be in using our products.

I must say that deeper we get imaging optics and looking at now its insiders and what's going on there. We feel really great about the industry, the segment choice and the potential for us to build the meaningful business there.

Tessera to Acquire Dblur Assets

Yahoo: Tessera announced the signing of a definitive agreement to acquire certain assets of Israel-based Dblur. Under the terms of the agreement, Tessera will purchase certain of Dblur’s assets including IP and specified customer agreements. In addition, Tessera will hire certain former Dblur employees. The transaction is expected to close within the second quarter of 2009.