Saturday, October 31, 2015

New CFA Said to Give Better Color Accuracy and Low Light Sensitivity

EETimes, University of Utah Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Rajesh Menon has developed a new camera color filter that is said to let in three times more light than Bayer CFA. The new approach is described in an open-access paper in OSA Optica Vol. 2, Issue 11, pp. 933-939 (2015): "Ultra-high-sensitivity color imaging via a transparent diffractive-filter array and computational optics" by Peng Wang and Rajesh Menon.

If you think about it, this [Bayer CFA] is a very inefficient way to get color because you’re absorbing two thirds of the light coming in,” Menon says. “But this is how it’s been done since the 1970s. So for the last 40 years, not much has changed in this technology.

Menon’s solution is to use a color filter that lets all light pass through to the camera sensor. He does this with a combination of software and hardware. It is a wafer of glass that has precisely-designed microscopic ridges etched on one side that bends the light in certain ways as it passes through and creates a series of color patterns or codes. Software then reads the codes to determine what colors they are.

Instead of just reading three colors, this new filter produces at least 25 new codes or colors that pass through the filter to reach the camera’s sensor, producing photos that are much more accurate and with nearly no digital grain.

You get a lot more color information than a normal color camera. With a normal camera, you only see red, green or blue. We can do 25 or more,” Menon says. “It’s not only better under lowlight conditions but it’s a more accurate representation of color.” Ultimately, the new filter also can be cheaper to implement in the manufacturing process because it is simpler to build as opposed to current filters, which require three steps to produce a filter that reads red, blue and green light, Menon says.

Talking about small pixel results, the paper says: "As anticipated, the DFA, together with the regularization algorithm, works well for the 1.67μm sensor pixel except at the boundaries of abrupt color change, where crosstalk smears color accuracy. Scalar diffraction calculation estimates the lateral spread of the crosstalk (or spatial resolution) to be ∼13μm. This is approximately three image pixels in our configuration, since one DFA unit cell is 5μm×5μm.

However, in the areas of uniform color (areas #4 and 5), our reconstructions demonstrate negligible distortion and noise. The absolute error between reconstruction and true images averaged over the entire image space is well below 5%. For this object of 404×404 image pixels, it takes roughly 30s to complete reconstruction by regularization without implementing any parallel computation techniques on a Lenovo W540 laptop (Intel i7-4700MQ CPU at 2.40 GHz and 16.0 GB RAM) for simplicity.

Menon has since created a company, Lumos Imaging, to commercialize the new filter for use in smartphones and is now negotiating with several large electronics and camera companies to bring this technology to market. He says the first commercial products that use this filter could be out in three years.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mediatek X20 Imagiq ISP Supports Dual Camera Depth Mapping

Mediatek Youtube technology presentation talks about its new next generation Imagiq ISP supporting the dual camera and depth mapping features, starting from time 13:15.

ON Semi Business Shifts Tad More into Image Sensors

ON Semi publishes its Q3 2015 earnings report. One can see that the image sensor business takes incrementally larger fraction of the total:

The company management says: "Revenue for our Image Sensor Group was approximately $189 million, up approximately 9 percent over the second quarter. ...Demand remains strong for our image sensor solutions driven by the increased adoption of rearview cameras and ADAS Safety Systems. ... During the third quarter, we secured design wins for our VGA Image Sensor to support the 2018 United States mandate for Rear View Cameras.

...a leading customer in the action sports camera market launched three new cameras using our image sensors.

...In the security market, sales of our image sensors grew by more than 20% quarter over quarter. We also saw strength in other industrial sub-segments, such as in machine vision for our CMOS and CCD image sensors.

Toshiba Reports Image Sensor Sales of 30B Yen in FY2014

Toshiba PR on image sensor business withdrawal officially reveals its CIS sales data: "The CMOS sensor business, a part of System LSI business, recorded sales on the scale of approximately 30-billion yen (consolidated basis) in FY2014."

Omnivision Announces Best-in-Class Low Light Sensitivity HD Security Sensor

PRNewswire: OmniVision announced the OV2718, a an 1080p30 CameraChip sensor for security cameras. The 1/3-inch OV2718 leverages OmniBSI-2 pixel and is said to deliver best-in-class low-light sensitivity. The 1/3-inch OV2718 can record 1080p30 video in HDR mode.

"Industry analysts predict a strong demand for image sensors with high quality 1080p HD video recording capabilities in mainstream commercial security systems. The OV2718, a sensor that offers such capabilities in a standard 1/3-inch format widely adopted in the industry, is designed to directly address that demand," said Chris Yiu, senior strategic marketing manager at OmniVision. "The OV2718 delivers best-in-class low-light sensitivity for 1080p security cameras. This sensitivity, paired with OmniVision's HDR technology, enables excellent scene reproduction even in challenging lighting conditions, which is essential for surveillance cameras."

The OV2718 is currently sampling, and is expected to enter volume production by the end of 2015.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Yole on Camera Module Market

Yole Developpement continues to publish snippets of info from its 2015 Camera Module Industry report:

  • The Compact Camera Module (CCM) market will more than double in the next five years, reaching $51B by 2020.
  • Thanks to explosive growth, automotive will soon be the second-largest application.
  • The CCM industry is quickly adapting to changing market needs.
  • Critical technology shifts (3D, Computional, Motion, Infrared) are ahead of us, with the camera module ultimately becoming the hub for multi-sensing.

"Access to technology is key in the CCM industry. At the image sensor level, access to Sony’s state-of-the-art 3D stacked sensors is a prerequisite for high-end, high-resolution modules. The integration of Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) is another key technology feature. Most CMOS Image Sensors (CIS) vendors are quickly closing the technology gap with Sony, but as the investments get larger and larger only the biggest companies will be able to compete.

One key on-going technology shift for high-end CCM is the integration of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) functionality. This critical feature is mainly provided by Korean and Japanese Voice Coil Motors (VCM) manufacturers. The high demand for VCM technology means stronger negotiating power for players with access to it.

ST Reports Growth of its ToF Sensor Business

SeekingAlpha publishes the transcript of STMicro Q3 2015 earnings call. The CEO Carlo Bozotti says: "Digital Product Group revenues totaled $230 million, an increase of $23 million on a sequential basis, driven by Imaging. In our specialized imaging business, we continued to expand our Time-of-Flight photonic sensors business in Asia, with now more than 20 phone models available from several leading Asian smartphone manufacturers. ...unfortunately I cannot give you too many details because it is a very important line for us. And I would – what I can say is that, there is a good momentum. It's a new area and I think it's a good opportunity for the future."

"Imaging, as you know, we have already decided that we are out now. This is another, let's say, actions that we took here is to exit from the commodity camera module and in Q4, basically, the sales zero. Here, it's very special products for imaging with a lot of potential. So, this is an important area for us."

Sony Reports QoQ Image Sensor Sales Growth, but Lowers Full Year Forecast

Sony reports its quarterly results: "In the Devices segment, sales increased significantly mainly due to an increase in sales of image sensors for mobile devices and the impact of foreign exchange rates."

However, the Devices business forecast for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2016 has been adjusted down: "Sales are expected to be lower than the July forecast mainly due to a decrease in sales of lithium-ion polymer batteries and the impact of a temporary decrease in image sensor production due to a production equipment problem. Although this production equipment problem has been remedied, sales are expected to decrease in the second half of the current fiscal year as well. The forecast for operating income remains unchanged from the July forecast mainly due to the above-mentioned decrease in sales being offset mainly by an increase in productivity and yield in the image sensor business as well as a reduction in costs."

Sony STAVIS Technology

Sony STARVIS page presents its progress in sensitivity improvements over the years:

The company's STARVIS 2015 short catalog lists 4 image sensor products under this name.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Omnivision Starts Mass Production of 4K Video Sensor

PRNewswire: OmniVision announces mass production of OV10823, a 4K, 30fps video sensor for security and surveillance systems, first announced in April 2015. The 1/2.6-inch CameraChip sensor utilizes 1.4um OmniBSI-2 pixel.

"In terms of image processing, bandwidth, and playback capabilities, we view the security market as ready to take the leap into ultra-high resolution 4K video. Up to this point, a critical missing component has been a high performance image sensor that can deliver the required image quality and video specifications. The OV10823 is designed to provide exactly that capability," said Chris Yiu, senior product marketing manager at OmniVision. "The OV10823 is a no-compromise image sensor that can bring exceptional image quality. In conjunction with our partners' 'intelligent' algorithms, this new sensor can form a key part of new security systems with advanced features such as video analytics and automatic detection and tracking."

The OV10823 offers a zero-degree CRA and CSP package. The sensor is currently in volume production.

X-FAB Announces Industry’s First 4T CIS Process for High-Speed Applications Requiring Large Pixels

BusinessWire: X-FAB Silicon Foundries introduces XS018, said to be the first specialized 0.18µm CMOS process for fast and large image sensor pixels. Unlike the 4T pixels used in consumer products such as mobile phones and digital cameras, which have small sizes, the new XS018 technology is said to be the first to support high-speed large pixels required for medical and scientific applications such as computer tomography and x-ray scanners for 3D images. The XS018 process supports pixel sizes up to 200µm x 200µm with high-speed reading capability. The charge transfer time can be as short as 20ns with almost no image lag. The low dark current of less than 5pA/cm² gives designers a high SNR that allows high DR designs.

XS018 has a 3.3V core that results in a very low mask count, reducing cost if 1.8V devices are not necessary. Optionally, it can be extended for higher integration by using a 1.8V module.

The new 4T pixel cells with pinned photo diodes offer lower dark current and lower noise than the 3T cells commonly used today for large pixel designs. The pinned photo diode available with four different pinning voltages and a 3.3V n-channel MOS transistor with five different options for low-threshold voltages can be used as a SF, RST device or row SEL device in the pixel. This flexibility allows for higher voltage swing as the SF, and higher floating diffusion voltage as the RST device, diminishing image lag and increasing transfer speed. The XS018 also offers a 3.3V low-noise buried n-channel transistor that can reduce pixel noise.

According to Detlef Sommer, Business Line Manager CMOS Sensors at X-FAB, “Our customers in the medical and scientific sectors require large pixels and often large dies to handle the high-speed optical sensing their applications demand. We are pleased to meet this need with our new XS018 CMOS image sensor process – the first to support 4-transistor large pixel designs. In addition, our proven stitching process supports large dies – up to one die per wafer – giving our customers a clear edge for their advanced designs.

Sony and Toshiba Sign MOU on Assets Transfer

Sony and Toshiba announce that they have entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding that confirms their intent to negotiate the transfer to Sony of certain Toshiba semiconductor fabrication facilities, equipment and related assets in Oita Prefecture, and also other related equipment and assets.

The parties intend to transfer fabrication facilities, equipment and related assets of Toshiba's 300mm wafer production line, mainly located at its Oita Operations. Following the transfer, Sony plans to operate the site as a production facility of Sony Semiconductor, primarily for manufacturing CMOS image sensors.

Negotiations between the parties are proceeding with a view to Toshiba outsourcing production of the semiconductor products Toshiba currently manufactures on its 300mm wafer production line to Sony Semiconductor following the transfer.

The parties also are planning to make arrangements to offer the employees of Toshiba and its affiliates, employed at the manufacturing facilities to be transferred, as well as those involved in areas such as CMOS image sensor engineering and design (approximately 1,100 employees in total), employment within the Sony Group, upon the completion of the transfer.

This acquisition will enable Sony to increase its CMOS sensors production capabilities, where further market growth is anticipated.

Withdrawing from the CMOS image sensors business will allow Toshiba to devote its resources to other products where it has a high technological advantage.

After due diligence on the semiconductor fabrication facilities, equipment and related assets to be transferred, Sony and Toshiba aim to execute legally binding definitive agreements by the end of calendar year 2015. Thereafter, Toshiba and Sony aim to complete the transfer within the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, subject to regulatory approvals.

Light Co. Explains Its Technology

Light Co. publishes almost an hour-long Vimeo video of its CTO Rajiv Laroia talking about the technology behind their multi-imager camera L16:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Xerox PARC Develops Hyperspectral Imager

GlobeNewsWire: PARC, a Xerox company, develops "a hyperspectral imaging technology with the potential to be integrated into just about any existing imaging system. The technology demands a minimal cost and size overhead as it relies on a liquid crystal layer about as thick as a human hair."

"The PARC HSI technology endows any existing image sensor with spectral sensitivity without significantly increasing its cost or size. By sandwiching a liquid crystal layer between crossed polarizers and synchronizing the
drive of the liquid crystal with the camera’s image acquisition, the system performs interferometry between two polarizations of light that travel through the liquid crystal. The interferometric data are analyzed to provide the spectral information. Because the complexity of the device is shifted from hardware to software, the sophistication of full spectral processing is within reach anywhere images are normally taken.

PARC has prototyped its HSI technology by integrating a liquid crystal cell inside a commercial monochrome CMOS camera. The prototype offers the following performance:
  • 640 x 480 spatial resolution
  • Up to 80 degree field of view
  • Acquires 30 independent spectral bands in 0.4 seconds
  • Wavelength range 400 nm to 1100 nm
  • F/1.8 max aperture

An open-access PARC paper "Hyperspectral imaging with a liquid crystal polarization interferometer" by Alex Hegyi and Joerg Martini is published in Optics Express, Issue 22, Vol 23.

Nikkei: Toshiba to Transfer 1,100 Employees to Sony

Nikkei reports that Toshiba may transfer up to 1,100 employees, or about 40%, at its fab in Oita to Sony in conjunction with the image sensor business sale. The companies are discussing the employees transfer in late-stage negotiations on the deal.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Color Night Vision: Sony STARVIS vs SPI X27

Sony publishes a promotional video of its STARVIS BSI image sensor for security applications, said to excel in color night vision in starlight:

It's interesting to compare it with SPI Infrared Corp.'s X27 sensor videos, such as this one:

Omnivision Announces Two 720p30 Imagers for Security

PRNewswire: OmniVision announced the OV9732 and OV9733, two power-efficient 720p30 CameraChip sensors based on OmniPixel3‑HS pixel for mainstream security systems and wireless battery-powered smart-home cameras.

The OV9732 is a traditional Bayer sensor. The OV9733 is equipped with RGB-IR pixels that can replace the traditional mechanical IR cut filter, thus simplifying the system designs and enabling the sensor to capture high quality infrared images and video, even from long ranges.

"Power consumption and image quality are among the most critical performance indicators for compact, battery-powered cameras found in new security systems and IoT-based smart-home and lifestyle cameras," said Chris Yiu, senior strategic marketing manager at OmniVision. "The extremely power-efficient OV9732 and OV9733 are 35 percent smaller than the previous-generation OV9712 CameraChip sensor, while capturing equally exceptional images. These benefits make the OV9732 and OV9733 extremely versatile imaging solutions, capable of supporting most mainstream security cameras and battery-operated camera platforms."

The sensors' narrow 9-degree CRA supports consumer-grade optical lens systems and reduces image artifacts for enhanced performance. When operating in low-power mode, the 1/4-inch OV9732 requires just 115mW to capture 720p30 video.

The OV9732 is currently in volume production and the OV9733 is expected to enter volume production in the Q4 2015.

Ambarella Announces S3L H.265 SoC

BusinessWire: Ambarella introduced S3L, a low-power IP camera SoC that enables H.265, or HEVC video encoding in cloud-based home monitoring and mainstream professional IP cameras. S3L includes multi-exposure HDR, 180-degree fisheye lens correction and a high performance CPU for intelligent video analytics.

Our new S3L SoC family brings the low bit rate benefits of H.265 to cloud-based home monitoring and mainstream professional cameras,” said Chris Day, VP of marketing and business development at Ambarella.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Invisage Announces Release of Short Film Shot By its QuantumCinema Sensor

InVisage announces the release of “Prix”, a short film shot entirely with InVisage’s QuantumFilm smartphone camera sensor. The film is said to capture "a stunning level of detail despite dynamic lighting environments and shooting fast-moving subjects outdoors. This quality is made possible thanks to InVisage’s QuantumFilm, a quantum dot camera sensor technology."

Today, filmmakers of all types have access to HD-quality cameras through their smartphones,” said InVisage President and CEO Jess Lee. “However, achieving truly cinematic quality can be difficult without professional-grade cameras. Our expanded dynamic range capability is a major step forward in allowing smartphones to capture the tiniest of details across a wide range of lighting conditions. The results can be seen in ‘Prix,’ a charming short film about children who make their own technological innovations.

Prix film has been published on Youtube, while another Youtube video talks about the QuantumFilm advantages and gives a short Invisage office tour:

Update: posts a collection of responses from different web sites on the QuantumCinema technology.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nikkei: Toshiba to Sell Image Sensor Business to Sony for about $163M

Nikkei reports that "Toshiba is in late-stage talks on selling its image sensor operations to Sony in a deal estimated at around 20 billion yen ($163 million)."

"Negotiations on the sale have reached an advanced stage. Toshiba is looking to divest its newest production facility in Oita, which can handle 300mm wafers. Besides production equipment, Sony would take over some employees as well as customer accounts, which include automakers and camera manufacturers.

Besides production equipment, Sony would take over some employees as well as customer accounts, which include automakers and camera manufacturers.

Toshiba would in effect withdraw from the image sensor market and concentrate its semiconductor investment on its more competitive memory business.

Toshiba's global market share in CMOS sensors came to just 1.9% last year, compared with 40.3% for Sony, according to Tokyo-based Techno Systems Research. Sony's investments in this business will help it fend off rising competition from Samsung Electronics.

Reuters confirms this story, based on its own sources.

Another Nikkei article talks about Toshiba restructuring and its hard choices:

"Toshiba has little choice but to carry out a sweeping reorganization of its presence in semiconductors. It has turned to Sony, which once sold a portion of its semiconductor operations in Nagasaki to Toshiba, only to buy it back later.

Some workers at its Oita semiconductor operations in southern Japan would go to Sony as part of the image sensor business sale.

[Masashi Muromachi, the new Toshiba President who started the re-org - ISW] once ran Toshiba's semiconductor operations in Oita."

The Japan Times quotes Yomiuri newspaper saying the deal will be officially announced next week.

Toshiba Oita Fab

Friday, October 23, 2015

NHK Image Sensor Research

Sept. 2015 issue of NHK R&D Journal is almost entirely devoted to the image sensor projects:

Fabrication of Three-Dimensional Integrated Circuits for CMOS Image Sensors with Pixel-Parallel Signal Processing
Masahide GOTO, Kei HAGIWARA, Yoshinori IGUCHI and Hiroshi OHTAKE
We studied a three-dimensional (3D)-integrated image sensor that is capable of pixel-parallel signal processing, thereby meeting the demand for high-resolution and high-frame-rate imaging. Unlike the conventional 3D-stacked devices using through silicon vias (TSVs), which are not applicable to image sensor pixels of a few micrometers or less due to its hole diameter larger than the pixel size, we have recently developed a novel 3D-structuring method by using the direct bonding that could transfer signals vertically without using TSVs. Demonstrations are performed on 3D-CMOS inverters and 3D-ring oscillators with 101 stages through the lowtemperature hybrid bonding of Au contacts embedded in a SiO2 surface. The experimental results show that the developed technology is promising for high-density 3D-integrated circuits.

Color Image Sensor using Three Stacked Organic Photoconductive Films with Silicon Nitrides as Interlayer Insulators
Hokuto SEO, Toshikatsu SAKAI and Hiroshi OHTAKE
We are developing a color image sensor with three stacked organic photoconductive films (OPFs) sensitive to only one primary color component (red (R), green (G), or blue (B)); each OPF has a signal readout circuit. In this study, we fabricated a structure with three stacked OPFs sensitive to the R, G, or B component with a thickness of 5.8μm by using 2-μmthick silicon nitrides as interlayer insulators.

Development on Low-voltage Carrier Multiplication Film using Chalcopyrite Based Materials
Kenji KIKUCHI, Shigeyuki IMURA, Kazunori MIYAKAWA, Hiroshi OHTAKE and Misao KUBOTA
There is a need for highly sensitive imaging devices for high-resolution and high-frame-rate image sensors. We have been developing low-voltage carrier multiplication film using chalcopyrite based materials, CuIn1-xGax(Se1-ySy)2 (CIGS), to increase the sensitivity of image sensors. A gallium oxide (Ga2O3) thin layer, which functioned as a hole-blocking layer, was used for the CIGS layer to achieve low dark current. The electric and optical properties of Ga2O3/CIGS photodiodes were investigated. The quantum efficiency in the visible light range (400-700nm) was 95% at an applied voltage of 4V. Moreover, carrier multiplication phenomena were observed at applied voltages under 5V.

Development of CMOS Image Sensors Overlaid with Crystalline Selenium-based Heterojunction Photodiode
Shigeyuki IMURA, Kenji KIKUCHI, Kazunori MIYAKAWA, Hiroshi OHTAKE and Misao KUBOTA
We have been investigating highly sensitive imaging devices with crystalline selenium (c-Se) as a photosensitive layer for applications to nextgeneration ultra high-definition imaging systems. By using c-Se with a high absorption coefficient over the entire visible region instead of using silicon, which has been conventionally applied to a photoelectric conversion material, highly sensitive image sensors using avalanche multiplication in a photoelectric conversion film can be realized. In this paper, we describe the first observation of avalanche multiplication in a c-Se film fabricated on the glass substrate which exhibits external quantum efficiency of greater than 100%. Furthermore, we successfully created high resolution images by applying a uniform c-Se film to the CMOS circuits.

Selenium sensor external QE

Socionext Ships H.264 Processor Consuming 1.3W at 4K, 30fps, Licenses CEVA ISP IP

Socionext (ex-Fujitsu) is now shipping its “M-8M” series, or MB86S27, a compact image processor which is the eighth-generation product from its Milbeaut Image Processor series. The MB86S27 features H.264 4K Codec Engine originally developed at Socionext, and comes with 360-degree distortion correction and other image processing functionalities suitable for video devices such as surveillance cameras, drones, action cameras and drive recorders. Its power consumption is as low as 1.3W, when operating with 4K at 30 fps.

In a separate PRNewswire release, CEVA announces that it has licensed its image processing IP for use in the Socionext new MB86S27 Milbeaut processor.

"The inclusion of the CEVA imaging and vision DSP in our Milbeaut series of image processors allows our customers achieve true product differentiation by implementing proprietary technologies and applications that can take advantage of its powerful vector processing engine," said Mitsugu Naito, CVP and Head of Business Group Ⅲ at Socionext. "The DSP offers outstanding performance, flexibility and power efficiency for implementing such advanced algorithms, making it the ideal choice for our imaging processing products."

"We are honored to welcome Socionext to the extensive list of leading companies adopting our imaging and vision DSPs for their image processor SoCs," said Gideon Wertheizer, CEO of CEVA. "Advanced computational photography and embedded vision capabilities are key differentiators in next-generation camera-enabled devices, and our DSP brings these features to Socionext's Milbeaut products in a low-power, cost efficient manner."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Omnivision Presents PureCel Plus Pixel Technology

Omnivision presented its mobile imaging solutions at Qualcomm 3G/LTE Summit in Hong Kong on Sept. 14-16, 2015. Few slides explaining its PureCel Plus pixel technology:

Sony Mobile Sensor Presentation

Sony presented its mobile imaging solutions at Qualcomm 3G/LTE Summit in Hong Kong on Sept. 14-16, 2015. Few slides from the presentation:

Altek on Dual Camera Trend

Altek presented its view on dual camera imaging at Qualcomm 3G/LTE Summit in Hong Kong on Sept. 14-16, 2015. Few slides from the presentation saying that dual cameras will conquer the mobile world: