KNOXVILLE, Tenn. & PRINCETON, N.J., April 22 -- Sarcon Microsystems and Sarnoff Corp. have demonstrated what they say is the world's first working prototype of a MEMS-based 320 x 240 uncooled infrared (IR) detector engine. The announcement was made at SPIE's 17th Annual International Symposium on Aerospace/Defense Sensing, Simulation and Controls (AeroSense 2003), being held this week in Orlando, Fla.
The new detector engine captures images with an array of heat-sensitive microscopic cantilever elements machined into its surface, one for each pixel. As the elements bend in response to the heat of invisible infrared light, they generate electrical signals to create a thermal image of objects in a scene. This miniaturized assembly is the first successful application of mechanically active MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) technology to uncooled IR imaging, the companies said.
The detector prototype was produced by Sarnoff, which provides research and MEMS fabrication resources for Sarcon. The Sarnoff foundry had previously produced 16 x 16 arrays with Sarcon for feasibility studies on the new design.
"This is a big step forward, and there's more to come," said Frank Pantuso, vice president and general manager at Sarnoff. "As the process matures, and we increase the leverage in the MEMS structure, we'll get progressively better uncooled IR sensitivity, perhaps 10 or 20 times that of the typical IR sensor, which uses temperature-sensitive resistors to image a scene. We believe this MEMS IR technology will replace the current uncooled sensors available today."
Uncooled IR cameras can be used in a variety of applications, including monitoring overheating in equipment and manufacturing processes and security night-vision equipment. Sarcon said the MEMS chip can be produced in standard CMOS foundries with conventional processing techniques.
Samples of the new detector engine are expected to be shipped in the first quarter of 2004.
For more information, visit: www.sarnoff.com