Monday, March 22, 2010

InVisage Demos QuantumFilm Sensor

EETimes, Venture Beat, WSJ, NY Times, CNET, Invisage PR: A venture-backed start-up Invisage announced QuantumFilm, promising to deliver 4x higher performance, 2x higher dynamic range and professional camera features not yet found in mobile image sensors:

QuantumFilm covers 100% of each pixel. The material is applied in liquid form to the top of a spinning disk, then it is annealed, or baked. It is a lot like adding a layer of photoresist to a chip wafer, and it uses the same equipment. The wafers are standard 110nm wafers produced by TSMC.

The first samples of QuantumFilm camera chips will be available in the fourth quarter, and products using them will likely launch next year. The QuantumFilm is based on the research of Invisage CTO and professor of electrical and computer engineering and the University of Toronto, Ted Sargent. He worked on the technology for several years at the University of Toronto. Then he secured the rights to the technology and founded InVisage Technologies in October, 2006.

Tetsuo Omori, a TSR analyst, estimates that the image sensor companies spend about $1 billion for each new generation of sensor technology, and each time they get a single-digit percentage increase in performance. A four-fold improvement is unheard of, and so Omori thinks QuantumFilm will change the competitive landscape in the image sensor market, which had $5 billion in revenue in 2009.

Ken Salsman, the director of new technologies at Aptina, conceded that silicon-based sensors had proved tough to advance. But he said that Aptina had managed to improve its technology through some novel techniques, and that InVisage might be “in for a very rude surprise.”

InVisage has 30 employees and has raised more than $30M from RockPort Capital, Charles River Ventures, InterWest Partners and OnPoint Technologies. Its technology is protected by 21 patents and patents pending. Invisage CEO, Jess Lee, used to be Omnivision's VP of the Mainstream Business Unit for four years.


  1. What is the technical principle please ?

  2. is it an image intensifier layer?

    if so then I would expect the noise to be higher like when the quantum yield is greater than one electron/interacting_photon

  3. from EE Times:
    The new semiconducting material was invented by Univeristy of Toronto professor Ted Sargent, who is now chief technology officer at InVisage. Sargent perfected a method of suspending lead-sulfide nanoparticles in a polymer matrix to form a new class of semiconducting polymer that Invisage has spent the last three years integrating into a standard CMOS process. Now it can paint quantum film atop a low-cost wafer that has the electrode array for super-dense high-pixel-count images, but without any of the expensive CMOS photodetectors that make up the bulk of conventional digital camera sensors.


    Physically, what happens is photons hit the quantum dots, but because of their small size quantum confinement converts the energy into an exciton—a bound electron-hole pair. The metal electrode then conducts the electron away thereby sensing the incident light.

    "We draw down those electrons and store them on a capacitor in a very standard-looking CMOS pixel—except we don't have to build a photodetector too so we can use much larger and less expensive geometries, since the quantum film has already done all the light capturing steps on the first layer," said Lee.

  4. The publications of the Sargent Group at UT seem to indicate low QE, high dark current and the need for at least 20 volts to get the charge moving in the right direction.

    Maybe someone should just revive the coatings developed 15 years ago by Alan Heeger (Nobel Laureate) at Uniax before Dupont bought the company and canned the imaging work.

  5. This is great. All next handset designs willcome to a stop to wait 2 years for this. Nok will jump on this right away

  6. Where to begin? Well tonight I will just comment that this company seems to be highly competitive with the field of press releases. Invisage has packed more BS per paragraph than any press release I have seen in a long time. Of course, Lee studied at Omnivision before InVisage so he does have the advantage of experience. It is also possible that Invisage is just unaware of the state of the art or the key principles that make image sensors today work so well. But, what does that say?
    Invisage has also hit an amazing home run of coverage by journalists that should know better than to just accept the company's claims at face value including Scientific American, MIT Tech Review and even New Scientist. I did not see a single solicited comment from any image sensor specialist - and just one comment from an image sensor company.
    I think am going to use their PR firm for my next company. It is an amazing tour-de-force.

  7. Eric, you're right. This reminds me of Foveon several years ago. You may want to check their PR firm also, they were even in my local newspaper, in the far-away kingdom of Belgium...

    Has anybody seen any recent actual QE or dark current curves? The only data I know are some publications from Sargent's team, which seems to drop the photoconductive gain or the QE year-by-year.

  8. @ I did not see a single solicited comment from any image sensor specialist

    Actually, New Scientist quotes some:

    But InVisage faces "significant but surmountable" challenges competing with existing silicon technology on sensing speeds and cost, says Seth Coe-Sullivan of QD Vision in Watertown, Massachusetts, which makes quantum dot displays. The biggest challenge, however, is probably going to be demonstrating long-term reliability against CMOS, he predicts.

    Although quantum film's colour sensitivity has "great potential", it will not be economically viable unless its developers can show the system works seamlessly with the other standard components used in imaging, says Edoardo Charbon, an imaging expert at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands.

  9. This technology will have a similar end as a-Si. The high quality Si material and high QE with BSI will waive out all these technologies ....


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