Consumer electronics driving imaging technology innovations

Image sensors have evolved from analog films and phosphor plates to digital photon based sensors such as Charge-coupled devices (CCD) and Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) sensors. Both the technologies evolved years ago and had a sluggish growth rate; however, the emergence of consumer imaging application segment recently has strengthened the imaging market. In 2012, around 78% of the total image sensors market revenues were contributed by the consumer electronic applications.
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Apart from the revenue growth, consumer electronic applications are also driving the innovations in the imaging field. An increasing demand for smaller and sleeker electronic devices puts continuous pressure on manufacturers and designers. To make a device smaller, its Printed circuit board (PCB) footprint requires to be reduced and this can be done by reducing the size of the components. To meet the requirements of sleek mobile phones and tablet PCs, camera manufactures are formulating newer techniques to reduce the camera module footprint.

Back side illumination (BSI) sensors, Stacked image sensors market, Curved image sensors, and Transparent image sensors are few technologies that have recently evolved. Though BSI doesn’t help to reduce the footprint; it increases the image quality immensely without adding any extra components. BSI is rapidly cannibalizing the front side illumination (FSI) image sensor market and with the current rate, it is expected to dominate approximately 85% of the total CMOS image sensor market by 2018. BSI sensor is more difficult to manufacture, though its advantages overpower the disadvantages and thus it is preferred by manufacturers.

On 20th August 2012, Sony Corporation (Japan) started the shipment of its stacked image sensors for the consumer electronic applications. The Tokyo headquartered conglomerate claims that; its sensor chip to be half the size of an existing image sensor chip. This monumental reduction in size is possible due to the “stacked” manufacturing technique. As the name suggests, stacked image sensors have the chip circuit section stacked under the pixel section; thereby, saving the extra space which otherwise is wasted due to the adjacent placement of both the sections. The stacked technology is claimed, not only to reduce the footprint, but also to reduce power consumption and increase the processing speed of the image sensor.

The development phase technologies such as; Curved image sensors and Transparent image sensors are soon expected to hit the market. An idea of curved image sensor was derived form the fact that the human eye is curved. Therefore, with the help of curved sensors, more life-like images can be captured. Curved image sensors are expected to improve the digital motion pictures immensely. On the other hand, researchers from Kepler University Linz (Austria) have developed a prototype of a transparent image sensor. This particular sensor makes use of a luminescent transparent screen with photo-detectors placed at the edges. Transparent image sensor completely removes the need of optics and shutter function to capture images. This sensor is expected to be useful in applications for touch-less user interface such as, computer accessibility devices and video gaming controls.

Thus it can be concluded that the demand of new image sensor modules with groundbreaking technologies is the major cause for innovation in the imaging market segment. The increased demand on all fronts has made technology promoters to switch from push strategy to pull strategy.

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