Curved sensor startup to boost imaging performance

May 03, 2021 // By Peter Clarke
Curved sensor startup to boost imaging performance
Startup Silina in Paris, France, has created a curved image sensor from conventionally produced planar sensors.

The use of curved imaging sensors can improve image quality and light transmission, bulk and cost by simplifying the lens systems used to correct for planar focal plane sensors. However, up until now it is not clear that the advantage has been worth the additional cost in sensor manufacturing, particularly for consumer applications. Michael Bailly and Wilfried Jahn point out that this is mainly because the manufacturing processes developed so far by the various players are manual rather than automated and for single chips at a time. Silina's process supports multi-die manufacturing and the process can be automated.

This follows French company Curve-One SAS founded in 2018 and research at Sony in 2014.

However, whereas Curve-one plans to produce curved sensors for specialized applications, such as scientific instrumentation, Silina is adopting a different business model. Silina plans to provide a direct "curving" service for small volume, niche customers and to license its curving process to high volume manufacturers.

Silina is offering to work with established manufacturers to produce curved versions of existing sensors for improved imaging. The company offers a curving process that it claims is applicable to various types of sensors, including CMOS, charge-coupled devices (CCDs), and front- and back-side illuminated sensors, to various spectral bandwidths, from ultraviolet (UV) to visible and infrared. The curving process works at various scales, including single-chip, multi-chip and wafer-level. And various shapes can be obtained, including spherical, aspherical, freeform, and custom shapes on demand.

The technology involves a first step that makes the image sensor flexible. This could be a wafer thinning process although it is notable that the step is also said to work with BSI image sensors. The company has stated it uses an "off-the-shelf machine" to curve the sensor. The company then monitors multiple, as yet undisclosed, parameters to achieve the required result and claims the process is accurate, repeatable and scalable.

The scalability opens up such applications as smartphones to curved sensors, according to Bailly, who serves the company as CEO. Sensors produced using the process have shown 5x better contrast and 3x better sensitivity.

The technology is applicable to aerospace and defence, industrial imaging, autonomous vehicles and smartphone cameras. The company was formed in February 2021 although Jahn, who serves as CTO, has worked on the technology for a number of years as a PhD student and post-doctoral researcher.

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