Opinion: the hyperspectral era has already begun

Opinion: the hyperspectral era has already begun

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By eeNews Europe

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.


The fact that consumer electronics giant Apple bought PrimeSense, in November 2013, only serves to reinforce the fact that visible plus infrared spectrum should be used together. And it is clear that while at the high-end there may be reason for complex multiband sensing, at the consumer end it is all about lowest cost practical solutions which will usually mean a dual-band solution.


The fact that hyperspectral imaging is already in play is an encouragement for European startups such as NikkoIA SAS (Grenoble, France) and Pyreos Ltd. (Edinburgh, Scotland). NikkoIA was founded in 2011 as a spin-off from Siemens AG and uses organic and inorganic materials sensitive to specific wavelengths to develop detectors and image sensors in the visible and near infrared parts of the spectrum. Pyreos makes IR sensors on MEMS membranes and span out of Siemens in 2007 and recently raised $4 million to help it pitch for design wins in smartphones and tablet computers.


And then there is Dual Aperture Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif.), founded in 2009, which has developed an RGB-IR sensor technology that can combine imaging and depth perception in a single sensor. It can provide consumer, automotive, and industrial products with gesture recognition command and control.


Indeed I predict there will come a time when IR is provided alongside visible on a CMOS image sensor as a matter of course. The question then becomes which company, startup or otherwise, has the best technology and has timed their run at the market the best.



Related links and articles:


News articles :


The future of video surveillance is hyperspectral


NikkoIA gets European money for organic NIR sensor


IR sensor startup preps smartphone bid


Sensor captures images and gestures


Ten analog, MEMS and sensor startups to watch in 2014


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