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Breakthrough Sensor for Photography, Life Sciences Security and More Developed

18 December 2017

Engineers from the Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering have produced new imaging technology that may revolutionize medical and life sciences research, security, photography, cinematography and other applications that rely on high-quality, low-light imaging.

This is a sample photo taken with the 1Megapixel Quanta Image Sensor operating at 1,040 frames per second, with total power consumption as low as 17mW. It is a binary single-photon image, so if the pixel was hit by one or more photons, it is white; if not, it is black. Figure 4 shows how an image in grayscale was created by summing up eight frames of binary images taken continuously. This process is where the innovative image processing of the QIS can be applied. (Source: Jiaju Ma)This is a sample photo taken with the 1Megapixel Quanta Image Sensor operating at 1,040 frames per second, with total power consumption as low as 17mW. It is a binary single-photon image, so if the pixel was hit by one or more photons, it is white; if not, it is black. Figure 4 shows how an image in grayscale was created by summing up eight frames of binary images taken continuously. This process is where the innovative image processing of the QIS can be applied. (Source: Jiaju Ma)

The Quanta Image Sensor (QIS), is the next generation of light sensing technology that allows highly sensitive, easily manipulated and higher quality digital imaging than the current technology on the market. This sensor even works in low light situations. Eric R. Fossum, professor of engineering at Dartmouth was one of the lead developers in this technology. Fossum was also one of the researchers behind the development of CMOS, the image sensor that is found in most smartphones and cameras today.

The new QIS technology can reliably capture and count the lowest level of light, single photons with resolution as high as one megapixel (one million pixels) and is as fast as thousands of frames per second. The QIS can accomplish this in low light, at room temperature, while using mainstream image sensor technology. Past technology required large pixels or cooling to low temperature per both.

This means great things for the industry. The QIS will enable cinematographers to have IMAX-quality video in an easily edited digital format, while still providing a lot of the same characteristics of film. Astrophysicists can use QIS for detection and they will be able to better capture signals from distant objects in space. The QIS will provide life science researchers with improved visualization of cells under a microscope, which is critical for determining the effectiveness of therapies.

Building the new imaging capability to make it commercially accessible and inexpensive is very important. Fossum and his team made it compatible with the low cost and mass production of today’s CMOS image sensor technology. The team made it readily scalable for higher resolution with as many as hundreds of megapixels per chip.

According to Jiaju Ma, co-author and researcher, the QIS platform technology is unique because the sensor incorporates “jots.” Jots, named by the research team, are very small pixels. These small pixels are sensitive enough to detect a single photon of light. The QIS platform is unique also because it can scan the jots ultra-fast.

With these features, the QIS captures data from every single photon or particle of light, which enables extremely high quality, easily manipulated digital imaging, computer vision and 3D sensing, even in low-light conditions.

The current QIS resolution is one megapixel. The team’s goal is for the QIS to contain hundreds of millions to billions of these jots, all scanned at a very fast rate.

The paper on this research was published in Optica.

To contact the author of this article, email Siobhan.Treacy@ieeeglobalspec.com


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