Because it is based on a monolithic approach, the process promises an order of magnitude gain in fabrication throughput and cost compared to processing today’s conventional IR imagers, while at the same time enabling multi-megapixel resolution.
To date, infrared image sensors are produced through a hybrid technology: the crystalline semiconductor detector and the electronic readout are fabricated separately and then interconnected at pixel or chip periphery level. This is an expensive and time-consuming process with a low throughput, resulting in sensors with a restricted resolution that often require cooling to reduce the signal noise under dark conditions. This prevents a widespread use of IR imagers in consumer applications.
Imec's IR imagers consist of a novel thin-film photodetector pixel stack based on quantum dots deposited directly on top of an electronic readout. They are manufactured in a monolithic process compatible with wafer-based mass production. The pixels embed newly developed high-performance low bandgap quantum dot materials that match or even surpass the performance of inorganic light absorbers. The stacks have been carefully engineered and can be tuned to target a spectrum from visible light all the way up to 2µm wavelength. Test photodiodes on silicon substrate achieve an external quantum efficiency above 60 percent at 940nm wavelength, exceeding the state-of-the-art, and above 20 percent at 1450nm, allowing for uncooled operation with dark current comparable to commercial InGaAs photodetectors. The prototype imager has resolution of 758x512 pixels and 5um pixel pitch.
“Our imagers could be integrated in next generation world-facing smartphone cameras coupled with eye-safe light sources, enabling compact sensing modules for augmented reality. In inspection, they could be used for food or plastics sorting, and in surveillance for low-light cameras with better contrast. Additionally, by enabling feature distinction in bad weather or smoke conditions, one can envision firefighting applications and, in the future, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)”, commented Pawel Malinowski, imec’s thin-film imagers program manager.
Imec – www.imec-int.com