Hoping to usher in a new era of high-performance image sensors and mobile phone camera technology, InVisage Technologies, a venture-backed startup, announced QuantumFilm, a technology based on quantum dots-semiconductors with unique light-capture properties. The company said the first QuantumFilm-enabled product, due out later this year, will deliver four times higher performance and a dynamic range two times higher than cameras currently using silicon-based mobile image sensors.
The company developed QuantumFilm after research under the guidance of scientist and InVisage CTO Ted Sargent. QuantumFilm works by capturing an imprint of a light image, and then employing the silicon beneath it to read out the image and turn it into versatile digital signals. InVisage spent three years engineering the quantum dot material to produce highly sensitive image sensors that integrate with standard CMOS manufacturing processes. The company said the first application of QuantumFilm will enable high pixel count and high performance in tiny form factors.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to develop next-generation image sensors using silicon; essentially, silicon has hit a wall," said Jess Lee, InVisage's president and CEO. "The fundamental problem is that silicon cannot capture light efficiently, but until now it has been the only option. The disruptive nature of QuantumFilm builds on silicon's success in electronics, and elevates its function using new materials that are engineered from the ground up for light capture."
Measuring just nanometers in size, the quantum dot-based material is deposited directly on top of the wafer during manufacturing. Unlike silicon-based image sensor technologies such as BSI (back-side illumination) and FSI (front-side illumination), QuantumFilm covers 100 percent of each pixel. The material is added as a final wafer-level process, which also allows for integration into standard semiconductor foundries. InVisage said silicon-based image sensors-the technology used today for all digital cameras including handheld, professional, mobile phone, security and automotive cameras-capture on average a mere 25 percent of light, versus InVisage's claim of 90 to 95 percent light capture capability.
"It is safe to say that the industry spends an average of $1 billion for each new generation of pixel technology, all to achieve a single-digit percentage improvement in image quality," said Tetsuo Omori, a senior analyst for Techno Systems Research. "The future of imaging is in new materials like QuantumFilm, which will change the competitive landscape and possibly reignite the pixel race."
InVisage, founded in 2006, also announced it will be demonstrating the QuantumFilm technology at the emerging technologies expo Demo Spring 2010.
The company employs 30 people at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters and has received more than $30 million in funding from RockPort Capital, Charles River Ventures, InterWest Partners and OnPoint Technologies. The first QuantumFilm image sensors, which will target high-end mobile handsets and smartphones, will sample in the fourth quarter of 2010, the company said.