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Image Sensors Made for Extreme Temps

Photonics.com
Sep 2010
DUISBURG, Germany, Sept. 23, 2010 — Car manufacturers are increasingly equipping their vehicles with image sensors to register the presence of pedestrians or vehicles in the blind spot or to detect obstacles when parking.

The sensors must be able to function in extremely high temperatures and in blazing sunlight. If they are installed behind the rear view mirror or on the instrument panel, for example, they can get very hot.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS has developed for an industrial customer a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS)image sensor, which can withstand temperatures ranging from -40 to +115 degrees Celsius. The CCD image sensors available up to now fail when the temperature goes beyond about 60 degrees.


The CMOS sensor can be connected directly to an electronic image intensifier. (Image: Fraunhofer IMS)

“Our chip is not only heat-resistant, it even functions at arctic temperatures,” said Werner Brockherde, head of the department at the IMS.

The research scientists have succeeded in developing pixels that exhibit an extremely low dark current. This reduction of residual current, which flows in complete darkness, makes it possible to capture very high-quality images even in extreme heat.

“It was not easy to achieve a low dark current. An increase in temperature of just eight degrees doubles the dark current, resulting in image noise and reduced dynamics. Ghosting occurs in the form of artifacts or fuzziness and degrades the image,” explained Brockherde.

A further special feature of the sensor is its image size of 2.5 x 2.5 centimeters. This offers the advantage that for special applications with weak illumination or for capturing images in the IR or UV range the sensor can be connected directly to an electronic image intensifier. The sensor has a resolution of 256 x 256 pixels. Its high dynamic range or exposure latitude of 90 decibels provides increased contrast and optimized detail accuracy both in shadow as well as in very bright areas. Nuances of light are precisely reproduced.

Thanks to its efficient light absorption, the image sensor reacts with high sensitivity even in weak light conditions. It is therefore also suitable for night vision equipment.

The chip supports cameras with synchronous as well as asynchronous shutters. The synchronous shutter prevents motion artifacts, for instance when recording rapid movements, reducing movement fuzziness. The rolling shutter permits a higher image frame rate and continuous image recording. The effect of this is to minimize image noise.

“We produced the sensor in a standard process using 0.5 micrometer CMOS technology in our own semiconductor factory. We also produce special components here for industrial customers,” he said.

In addition to the automotive sector he can see further potential markets. “Our chip is suitable for deployment in chemical and steel production facilities, where it can be used for process and quality control. Very high temperatures prevail, for example, in rolling mills where sheet metal is produced,” Brockherde said.

The CMOS image sensor will be shown at the Vision trade fair from November 9 to 11, 2010, in Stuttgart, Germany (Stand 6 D12).

For more information, visit  www.ims.fraunhofer.de 




GLOSSARY
dark current
The current that flows in a photodetector when there is no optical radiation incident on the detector and operating voltages are applied.
image
In optics, an image is the reconstruction of light rays from a source or object when light from that source or object is passed through a system of optics and onto an image forming plane. Light rays passing through an optical system tend to either converge (real image) or diverge (virtual image) to a plane (also called the image plane) in which a visual reproduction of the object is formed. This reconstructed pictorial representation of the object is called an image.
image intensifier
An electro-optic device consisting of an electronic tube equipped with a light-sensitive electron emitter at one end, and a phosphor screen at the other end, used to convert low levels of light at various wavelengths into a more intense level of light at a single visible wavelength. Image intensifiers are commonly used to enhance visual imaging for low-light applications such as night-vision and fluorescence.
sensor
1. A generic term for detector. 2. A complete optical/mechanical/electronic system that contains some form of radiation detector.
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