Thursday, July 31, 2014

Imaging at Confab 2014

The Confab Conference held in June 2014 has few mentions about imaging. Subramani Kengeri, Global Foundry VP of Advanced Technology Architecture names 10 most important emerging applications, among them there are 5 imaging ones:

Novati presentation by its CEO David Anderson shows the company's BSI capability:

Movidius Announces its 2nd Gen Vision Processor

Marketwired: Movidius announces Myriad 2, the next generation of its vision processor unit (VPU) SoC. Compared to Myriad 1—which was introduced as part of Google’s Project Tango—the new chipset delivers 20x more processing efficiency in terms of computations per watt of power consumed. Myriad 2 comprises a larger and upgraded set of programmable processors as well as a new set of dedicated and configurable image and vision accelerators to power the next wave of computational cameras.

Its key features:
  • Superior performance at ultra-low power: Myriad 2, implemented in TSMC 28HPM process, is capable of performance exceeding two trillion 16-bit operations per second while consuming an average of less than 500mW. It supports up to six full HD 60fps camera inputs simultaneously via 12 1.5Gbps MIPI lanes.
  • Programmability: Myriad 2 is equipped with 12 programmable vision-specific vector processors to enable rapid innovation and to enable device manufacturers to differentiate using their proprietary software.
  • Low latency processing: Given its highly parallelized data processing architecture and its new and highly efficient on-chip memory fabric, Myriad 2 can achieve high-performance processing with notably low latency. As an example, for the standard vision processing benchmark known as the Haar Cascade classification, Myriad 2 can calculate 50,000 multi-scale classifications per high-definition (HD) video frame in a mere seven milliseconds.
  • Flexible usage for different applications: Myriad 2 operates either as a co-processor to the main application processor in a vision-enabled mobile device, or as a standalone processor in wearable or embedded applications.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

TI Structured Light 3D Imaging Reference Kit

TI presents a reference design of structured light 3D camera based on its DLP projector:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Interview with Terry Gilton

Image Sensors Americas 2014 web site publishes an interview with Terry Gilton, Aptina VP of Advanced Technology. Few quotes:

Q: What are the major growth areas in the image sensor business in 2014/5?
A: Along with general market growth in the volume segments, there is a trend towards physically larger sensors to improve all around performance. While the pixel-count war is not dead, the top mobile OEMS have seen the light. Smaller pixels matter, but are being seen as enablers for unique features rather than just a way to use more power and memory, while larger pixels are getting the credit they deserve for image quality.

Q: Which advanced technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on the supply chain in the coming years?
A: Stacking of pure pixel arrays onto ASICS is going to be a very important change to the supply chain. Packaging of image sensors into camera modules is in an innovation phase now. Things like curved sensors will have an interesting impact on optical design, and could enable some changes in the module that will allow new technologies to flourish. Multi-chip solutions are going to become more popular, and advances in heat management are going to drive camera performance.

With pixel shrinks and the demand for greater performance, I believe that pixel level optics (color filters, micro lenses and pixel-scale light path engineering) is changing quickly. It used to be just spinning on some organics, but it is now much more complex and essential to the sensor's overall performance.

Monday, July 28, 2014

ISORG Presentation

ISORG published its presentation at Printed Electronics Show held in April 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Few slides talking about the company's plans and vision:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Amazon Fire Phone Teardown Confirms Omnivision Inside

EETimes: Amazon Fire Phone teardown confirms that Omnivision image sensors used for the "Dynamic Perspective" feature. Other than the sensors, the phone also integrates OV680 ISP. All cameras combined amount to more than 10% of the phone's cost:

Friday, July 25, 2014

2nd Session of 2014 Imaging Forum Announced

Albert Theuwissen announces that as the 1st session of 2014 Solid State Imaging Forum is almost sold out, the 2nd session registration opens. The 2nd session is scheduled for Dec. 15-16, 2014, same location.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pelican Imaging 3D Viewer

Pelican Imaging publishes an on-line 3D viewer of the real pictures taken by its array camera. Users can change the amount of the blur based on the object distance and can see either a processed 2D picture or a depth map:

150MP HDR Sensor Thesis

Delft University publishes MSc thesis "The Design of a Stitched, High-dynamic Range CMOS Particle Sensor" by Jiaqi Zhu. The thesis presents a cooperative work with Caeleste. The DR extension is achieved by a dual-gain 6.5um pixel:

The sensor resolution is up to 150MP (12288 x 12288 pixel). No silicon results yet, but the tapeout was scheduled for May 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rumor: Sony to Announce 22MP Curved Sensor for Mobile Applications

Sony Alpha Rumors quotes Chinese cnBeta site with specs of the first Sony curved image sensor - a 22MP 2/3-inch IMX271SMK and based on it camera module. One of the interesting features of the rumored sensor is rectangular pixels - "Oversampling (2-in-1 Logic physical pixel pixel, without guessing color)":

DPReview quotes another rumor from Chinese website saying that the next generation Sony Xperia Z3X smartphone is to feature the IMX271SMK curved sensor and is scheduled to appear on the market sometime in 2015. The camera phone lens is unusually bright at F1.2.

Sony Invests More in Stacked Sensors Production

Sony plans to invest 35 billion yen in its Nagasaki Technology Center ("Nagasaki TEC") and Kumamoto Technology Center ("Kumamoto TEC") from the H2 of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2015 (FY14) through the H1 of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016 (FY15), to increase its production capacity for stacked image sensors. The investment is intended to reinforce Nagasaki TEC's "layering process" production capabilities, as well as Kumamoto TEC's "mastering process" facilities. "The layering process refers to the layering semiconductor chips containing back-illuminated structure pixels with semiconductor chips containing the circuit for signal processing. The mastering process refers to the manufacture of photodiodes and wiring processes for stacked CMOS image sensors."

On January 29, 2014, Sony announced its plans to establish and invest in Yamagata TEC as a facility mainly conducting the mastering process. The current investment is expected to enable Sony to complete subsequent stages of production, including the layering process, at Nagasaki TEC on semiconductor chips that have undergone the mastering process at Yamagata TEC, providing Sony with a fully integrated production system for stacked CMOS image sensors. This investment is a part of Sony's mid - to long-term plan to increase its total production capacity for image sensors to approximately 75,000 12-inch wafers per month, and is expected to increase the current capacity of approximately 60,000 wafers per month to approximately 68,000 wafers per month by August 2015.

Over FY14, Sony is going to invest approximately 9 billion yen (Nagasaki TEC: 3 billion, Kumamoto TEC: 6 billion). Approximately 26 billion yen is to be invested in FY15 (Nagasaki TEC).

Nagasaki Technology Center (left) and Kumamoto Technology Center (right)

Thanks to DG for the news.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mobileye Plans IPO at $3.8B Valuation

Reuters, Globes: Mobileye, a maker of vision & camera-based ADAS systems starts the roadshow for NYSE IPO of $500M at $3.8B valuation. Mobileye's revenue was $81.2M in 2013. Such a high valuation (for a hardware company) reflects the market expectations for a wide adoption of automotive vision systems.

A Youtube video shows one of the Mobileye features in action:

FLIR Announces Availability of its Low Cost Thermal Imager

Marketwired: FLIR announces that the FLIR ONE thermal imaging accessory for smartphones will be available on July 23 for pre-order online at The award-winning FLIR ONE transforms an iPhone 5 or 5s into a thermal imager. When paired with its iPhone app, FLIR ONE displays live infrared imagery that allows the user to see the world from a thermal perspective. FLIR ONE will also be available to buy in Apple Stores and on in August.

A Youtube commercial explains why average consumer needs thermal camera:

Thanks to SF for the news.

Friday, July 18, 2014

DALSA on CMOS Sensors Today and Tomorrow

Spectronet publishes Teledyne-DALSA presentation "CMOS Today & Tomorrow." Few slides from the presentation:

Maybank Forecasts Wide Adoption of Dual Cameras

Maybank's Largan report predicts that dual cameras with depth perception will appear in 10% of Chinese smartphones in 2015:

"we assume Largan will continue to outgrow the smartphone industry driven by more dual/multi-camera devices. We think dual cameras can not only support 3D applications but also decrease response time, and have better depth-sensing & low light performance without increasing thickness. We estimate 10% of Chinese smartphones will bundle dual cameras in FY15 which should help Largan extend its global No.1 position and help the company to increase its ASP due to requirements for more precise technology."

Toshiba's 20MP 1.2um Pixel Sensor

In March 2014, Toshiba quietly published a web page for T4K46, a 1/2.3-inch 20MP image sensor aimed to smartphone camera market. The sensor is based on 1.2um BSI pixels. Its RAW10 frame rate is 12fps at full resolution, and 60fps in 1080p video mode. The sensor's ADC supports up to 12b resolution.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

TowerJazz Plans Dual Sourcing of 110nm CIS Process

TowerJazz Q2'14 Newsletter publishes a message from Avi Strum, VP and GM of CMOS Image Sensors Business Unit, and VP of Sales for Europe. He has served as the head of the CIS BU since its inception in 2005. Few quotes:

"Although we served this very demanding and competitive market segment in the early days up until 2008, we took a calculated decision to concentrate in the high end market segments including: photography (mainly broadcasting and cinematography), large X-ray sensors for dental and medical applications, industrial high speed global shutter sensors, 3D gesture control and automotive and security sensors."

"...the high volume products that require 65nm technology will go to TowerJazz Panasonic Semiconductor Company while the products that require high flexibility and customization will go to TowerJazz. Both companies can also enjoy the 110nm CIS technology of Panasonic that will be transferred to Israel and thus, provide our customers dual source for their products."

" the X-ray sensor market, due to our patented stitching technology, we have become the largest source for such sensors and our customers dominate around 70% of the worldwide market share in the intra oral dental sensor market."

Toshiba Promotes "Bright Mode"

Toshiba publishes a Youtube video demoing its "Bright Mode" announced half a year ago:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Baird: Omnivision Regains Market Share in China

Yahoo, SeekingAlpha: Baird said its checks indicate OmniVision is regaining smartphone market share in China. Baird's analyst sees strong PureCel design activity, and forecasts margin expansion.

Imaging Companies in EETimes Hot Startups List

EETimes list "Silicon 60: Hot Startups to Watch" includes quite a lot of imaging companies:

Cognivue Corp. (Gatineau, Quebec) was spun off in 2009 from Korea's MtekVision to focus on so-called cognitive processing that uses parallel processing engines optimized for tasks such as image recognition and identification. Cognivue provides SoCs, software, and IP to capture, analyze, and render video and images for smart cameras.

Dual Aperture Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif.), founded in 2009, has developed a dual aperture RGB-IR sensor technology that can combine imaging and depth perception in a single sensor. The company is pitching the technology to form the basis of gesture recognition command and control in consumer, automotive, and industrial products.

Geo Semiconductor Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), founded in 2009, is a fabless semiconductor company that designs video and geometry processing integrated circuits (ICs). Its chips have found use in consumer displays and projection systems, and the company is extending its reach into automotive and security applications.

Gpixel Inc. (Changchun, China) develops high-end CMOS image sensor solutions for industrial, medical, and scientific applications. Founded in 2013, the company worked with foundry Tower Semiconductor Ltd. to produce a 150 Mpixel full-frame CMOS image sensor.

InVisage Technologies Inc. (Menlo Park, Calif.) is a fabless semiconductor company developing QuantumFilm, an image-sensing technology that it claims has superior performance to silicon. Its first product enables the high-resolution images from handheld devices such as camera phones and PDAs. Founded in 2006, InVisage Technologies is venture funded by RockPort Capital, Charles River Ventures, InterWest Partners, and OnPoint Technologies.

Isorg SA (Grenoble, France), founded in 2010 as a spinoff from CEA-LITEN, converts plastic and glass surfaces into smart surfaces through the application of printed, organic, optoelectronic sensors. The possibility of 3D product integration allows the recognition of many shapes and form factors. The company name is a contraction of Image Sensor ORGanic.

Pelican Imaging Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.), founded in 2008, is commercializing array cameras for the mobile market. Pelican's array camera, essentially replacing a single image sensor with an array of devices, captures depth information and addresses challenges posed by conventional camera design and small pixels.

Softkinetic SA (Brussels, Belgium), founded in 2007, is a developer of sensor-to-software 3D gesture recognition systems. It has licensed its platform to Texas Instruments and Melexis.

TeraDeep Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) was founded in December 2013 as a spinoff from Purdue University to focus on the design of mobile coprocessors and neural network hardware for the understanding of images and videos.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 Imaging Forum Registration Opens

Solid State Imaging Forum being organized by Albert Theuwissen announces its 2014 theme and a lecturer: "Advanced Digital Image Processing" by Majid Rabbani, an adjunct faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the University of Rochester (U of R), IEEE and SPIE Fellow member, and a Kodak Distinguished Inventor. The Forum is to be held on Dec. 11-12, 2014, in Voorburg, the Netherlands. The audience will be strictly limited to enhance and stimulate the interaction with the speaker as well as to allow close contacts between the participants.

The tentative agenda is:
  • Review of fundamentals
  • Resizing or Interpolation Algorithms
  • Dynamic Range Compression (DRC)
  • Sharpening Techniques
  • Motion Estimation
  • Noise Reduction
  • Image Deblurring (Restoration)
  • Super-resolution from multiple image captures (e.g., video)
  • Object detection, recognition and image matching

The Forum registration is open now.

Monday, July 14, 2014

TSV and Image Sensors

Yole Developpement's 2014 update of "3DIC & 2.5D TSV Interconnect for Advanced Packaging" report shows that image sensors keep being the biggest application for TSV technologies in the nearest years:

ON Semi Announces Improved 8MP CCD

Business Wire: ON Semi's new KAI-08051 CCD provides improved light sensitivity, reduced read noise, and improved color accuracy compared to the previous generation device for applications such as Intelligent Traffic, Surveillance, Medical Imaging, and Industrial Inspection. The KAI-08051 shares the same 5.5um pixel architecture, 8MP resolution, 15fps readout rate, and 4/3 optical format as the existing KAI-08050, but improves its performance through the use of an improved amplifier design, newly optimized microlens structure, and new color filter pigments in both Bayer and Sparse color configurations. The KAI-08051 is backward compatible with the KAI-08050, requiring at most minor modifications to the firmware used in existing camera designs.

"CCD image sensors continue to provide the critical image quality required in many key applications," said Chris McNiffe, VP Image Sensor Business unit at ON Semiconductor. "The enhanced performance available from the new KAI-08051 Image Sensor reflects our on-going commitment to improve the capability of our existing products and to deliver the industry’s most advanced image sensors using both CCD and CMOS technology."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Light Startup Gets $9.7M Funding

IEEE Spectrum: Palo Alto-based startup Light closed a $9.7M round of venture funding. The stealth-mode startup presents itself as "a team of creative technologists on a mission to reimagine the art and science of photography."

Light occupies the same address as Tinz Optics company, and Tinz URL redirects to Light, so IEEE Spectrum speculates that Tinz morphed into Light. Rajiv Laroia, an IEEE Fellow, was in 2013 identifying himself as a founder of Tinz Optics, "a company developing technology that miniaturizes lenses/cameras while preserving the quality."

Thanks to DM for the link!

Update: Re/Code got an email from Light CEO Dave Grannan: "The last major technological breakthrough in photography was the move from analog to digital, when traditional film was replaced by a digital sensor. Creation and consumption of photography have innovated, incrementally, around this, but there hasn’t been a real ground-up change in the way we think about the photograph. We’re working on that."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Forza Releases PTC ImageJ Plugin into Open Access

Inspired by Albert Theuwissen's PTC courses, Forza Silicon releases PTC plugin for NIH ImageJ freeware image viewing and analysis software package. The plugin computes the PTC, and gives a graphical plot from which the conversion gain and read noise can be fit to the PTC curve.

Talking about Forza, it has recently updated web site with a very impressive gallery of the past projects and a history page tracing the company roots to the early JPL works.

Friday, July 11, 2014

ISORG Raises 6.4M Euros

Bpifrance, Sofimac CEA Investissement Partners, and unnamed angel investors, participate in ISORG financing round totaling 6.4M euros. The new funds will enable ISORG, which already operates a pre-industrial pilot line in Grenoble, build a new production line to start volume manufacturing in 2015, and deploy internationally.

Industry Salary Trends

Job searching site offers some nice salary trend graphs. Here are the US national graphs saying that after the difficult 2013, salaries are on the rise this year:

Faster Readouts, Smaller Rolling Shutter Distortions

The batch of patent applications is supposed to speedup the image sensor readouts or solve the problems with slow readouts.

First, Sony patent application US20140160334 "Image pickup device, control method, and image pickup apparatus" by Hayato Wakabayashi proposes to read 4 rows simultaneously, while keeping a smooth progression of the rolling shutter:

The ramp DACs 142 and 152 work with a delay to have a smooth shutter curtain advance:

Omnivision application US20140183333 "Conversion circuitry for reducing pixel array readout time" by Robert Johansson proposes to alternate the readout signal polarity in even and odd columns:

The successive approximation ADC cycle starts from switching the cap array reference to an opposite one. Having the input inversion allows even and odd column ADCs use the opposite polarity references, and thus reduce the reference load and speed up the conversion: "Conventional image sensors are not configured to have conversion circuitry with SAR ADCs having capacitors that charge to opposite voltage references. In some conventional image sensors, all of the SAR ADCs in the conversion circuitry are all the same and the capacitors arrays charge to the same voltage reference. This can cause longer settling times for voltage reference because the capacitor arrays inside the SAR ADCs all tax the same voltage reference (at around the same time) by drawing charge from the voltage reference during the SAR ADC's binary search sequence."

Once we talk about the high speed shooting and necessity to reduce the rolling shutter distortions, Anyony Cog brought to my attention Samsung patent application US20130188069 "Methods and apparatuses for rectifying rolling shutter effect" by Omry Sendik, German Voronov, and Michael Slutsky. The application is said to have an unusually detailed description of the compensating algorithm. Not to go too much into the algorithmic details, below is a general structure of the proposed solution:

Sharp App Note Discusses Triangulation Distance Sensor Issues

Sharp publishes an application note on its active triangulation-based depth sensors series GP2Y0D8x. The principle of the sensor is shown on the figure:

It works fine in most of the cases, and allows even a simplistic movement detection. However, in some use cases the distance is determined incorrectly (sensor thinks that the object located at position C):

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Visera Applies for Light Field Imaging Wafer Optics

Visera patent application "Image sensor for light field device and manufacturing method thereof" by Wei-Ko Wang, Chin-Ching Chang, Chia-Hui Wu, Chien-Hsiung Huang, Cheng-Xuan LIN, Chieh-Yuan Cheng, and Chang Wei Chen proposes two-layer microlens integrated process for light field imaging:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Kunshan HuaTian Technologies Invests in 300mm WLP

Business Wire: Kunshan, China-based HuaTian Technologies Ltd., also known as Q-Tech, is exapnding its WLP facility and purchasing SPTS (soon to become Orbotech) Sigma fxP PVD system to deposit under bump metallization (UBM) for its 300mm Flip Chip line and interconnects for their CMOS sensor packages. The company is well known for its cost-effective image sensor wafer level packaging and its wafer level optics. The company's milestones and customer list are quite impressive:

Sony Publishes Few More Bits of Info on its Curved Sensor

DPReview quotes Japanese-language Nikkkei article with Sony talking on its curved sensor plans. The article is accompanied by a low resolution image from the curved senasor and says that Sony has difficulties combining curved sensor with "high power optical zoom lens." So, Sony considers to use a digital zoom instead.

Image from Sony curved sensor

Friday, July 04, 2014

How to Measure MTF, Slanted Edge Technique

Albert Theuwissen discusses the slanted edge target approach to measure MTF in his latest posts. The June post describes the basics of the measurement, while the July continuation talks about the edge angle optimizations.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Rambus Publishes More Conditional Reset Pixel Ideas

Rambus applies for another conditional reset pixel patent, the US20140175264 "Pixel Structure and Reset Scheme" by Song Xue, Thomas Vogelsang. Few figures from the application:

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

IC Insights Forecasts Imaging Market Stagnation in Two Years

IC Insights forecasts almost all major image sensor markets to stagnate starting 2016. Few bright spots are automotive, industrial/scientific/medical and PC/tablet markets:

Sony Presents Starvis and Pregius Trademarks

Sony technology page presents two new trademarks:
  • Starvis is a BSI pixel design optimized for surveillance cameras with improved sensitivity and noise reduction, typical sensitivity of more than 2000mV per 1 μ㎡ (color, F5.6, 1s accumulated conversion), and improved light utilization by including the NIR range.
  • Pregius is global shutter pixel technology for APS CMOS image sensors that use a low-noise CCD structure, and realizes high picture quality.
The company's Youtube video shows Pregius global shutter in action:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Qualcomm Acquires CSR Camera Chip Business (former Zoran)

Haaretz: Qualcomm is buying the Israeli operations of CSR (former Zoran) for about $44M. On June 24, CSR announced it had sold the unit but didn’t disclose the buyer. Now, a spokesman for Qualcomm confirmed it was the buyer.

"Telephone is quickly becoming the consumer’s main camera so that the camera function is increasingly becoming one of the main factors differentiating cellphones," Qualcomm said. "Camera functions are right now one of the main considerations of consumers when they buy a phone. This acquisition will enable us to continue successfully developing cameras so that smartphones will provide the same quality as a digital camera."

Update: EETimes publishes few more details on the deal.

Sony Lightfield Camera Application Promises Full Resolution Stereo Imaging

Lightfield-Forum noticed Sony patent application on lightfield camera that maintains the full image sensor resolution while providing stereo imaging. The 73-page, 43-figure US20140071244 application "Solid-state image pickup device and camera system" by Isao Hirota proposes dual level microlens and two-sided image senosr with 45-deg rotated pixels to achieve their promise:

Thanks to DM for the link!