Photonics HandbookResearch & Technology

Nanostructures Advance Machine Vision Capabilities for Diverse Applications

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MADISON, Wisc., Aug. 1, 2022 — Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Washington University in St. Louis, and OmniVision described approaches to image sensor production that used integrated nanostructured components to improve multimodal imaging. The developments could allow autonomous vehicles to see around corners, biomedical imaging to detect abnormalities at different tissue depths, and telescopes to see through interstellar dust. It could spur further advancements in lensless cameras, augmented reality, and robotic vision.
The schematics of (a) a conventional sensor that can detect only light intensity and (b) a nanostructured multimodal sensor, which can detect various qualities of light through the light-matter interactions at subwavelength scale. Courtesy of Yurui Qu and Soongyu Yi.
The schematics of a conventional sensor that can detect only light intensity (a) and a nanostructured multimodal sensor, which can detect various qualities of light through the light-matter interactions at subwavelength scale (b). Courtesy of Yurui Qu and Soongyu Yi.
The researchers described an approach to enable images sensors to detect multiple-band spectra by fabricating an on-chip spectrometer. The team deposited photonic crystal filters made of silicon directly on top of the pixels to create complex interactions between incident light and the sensor.

The pixels beneath the films recorded the distribution of light energy, from which light spectral information could be inferred. The device, less than a hundredth of a square inch in size, is programmable to meet various dynamic ranges, resolution levels, and almost any spectral regime from visible to infrared.

The component built by the researchers detected angular information to measure depth and construct 3D shapes at subcellular scales. Directional hearing sensors found in animals such as geckos inspired the work. These animals’ heads are too small to determine where sound is coming from in the same way as humans and other animals. Rather, they use coupled eardrums to measure the direction of sound within a size that is orders of magnitude smaller than the corresponding acoustic wavelength.

In a similar fashion, the scientists constructed pairs of silicon nanowires as resonators to support optical resonance. The optical energy stored in two resonators was demonstrated to be sensitive to the incident angle. The wire closest to the light sent the strongest current, and by comparing the strongest and weakest currents from both wires, the scientists determined the angle of the incoming lightwaves.

The researchers said that millions of the type of nanowires used in the work could be placed on a 1-mm2 chip. 

The research was published in Applied Physics Letters (

Published: August 2022
Nanophotonics is a branch of science and technology that explores the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, typically at dimensions smaller than the wavelength of light. It involves the study and manipulation of light using nanoscale structures and materials, often at dimensions comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of the light being manipulated. Aspects and applications of nanophotonics include: Nanoscale optical components: Nanophotonics involves the design and fabrication of...
machine vision
Machine vision, also known as computer vision or computer sight, refers to the technology that enables machines, typically computers, to interpret and understand visual information from the world, much like the human visual system. It involves the development and application of algorithms and systems that allow machines to acquire, process, analyze, and make decisions based on visual data. Key aspects of machine vision include: Image acquisition: Machine vision systems use various...
A kind of spectrograph in which some form of detector, other than a photographic film, is used to measure the distribution of radiation in a particular wavelength region.
Polarization refers to the orientation of oscillations in a transverse wave, such as light waves, radio waves, or other electromagnetic waves. In simpler terms, it describes the direction in which the electric field vector of a wave vibrates. Understanding polarization is important in various fields, including optics, telecommunications, and physics. Key points about polarization: Transverse waves: Polarization is a concept associated with transverse waves, where the oscillations occur...
Flux per unit solid angle.
Research & TechnologyImagingSensors & Detectorsimage sensorsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonWashington UniversityOmniVisionApplied Physics LettersnanostructuresnanophotonicsnanowirescopperMaterialsmachine visioninspectionspectroscopySpectrometerpolarizationintensity3D imagingAmericas

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