Opinion: the hyperspectral era has already begun

February 06, 2014 // By Peter Clarke
Research institute IMEC, a pioneer of hyperspectral imaging, is helping roll out the technology in high-end markets but we should not lose sight of the fact that hyperspectral imaging is already in use in very high volume in consumer market

The hyperspectral era has begun and it seems likely that CMOS image sensors are about to embark on classic S-shaped adoption curve for the addition of infrared to visible light sensing.


IMEC developed a set of filters to sit on top of a commercially available CMOS image sensor in 2012. And the research has continued to make progress through 2013 and 2014 with IMEC able to define 100 bands across the visible and near-infrared parts of the spectrum from 600-nm to 1000nm wavelength.


However, that work by IMEC may have given the impression that complex hyperspectral imaging is aimed at high-value applications in space, in defense, in industy, in agriculture, medical and surveillance applications (see The future of video surveillance is hyperspectral).


It used to be the case that technologies that started off in high value, low volume applications would, over many years, gradually increase volumes and reduce in price due to economies of scale and manufacturing amortizations and trickle down to consumer electronics.


But things move a lot faster in the 21st century and hyperspectral imaging is already in use in very high volume in consumer markets.


In that regard we must look to PrimeSense Ltd. (Tel Aviv, Israel) a startup that was founded in 2005. The company raised about $80 million in venture capital and developed the Kinect system for Microsoft's Xbox. This used separate sensors but was essentially a conventional image sensor working with an infrared sensor and dedicated image processor to detect depth. As a result Kinect could add z-dimension information to a 2D image and place player in the context of a game. It also kicked off an appreciation of gesture recognition as a part of the human-machine interface.