CCD and CMOS image sensors dominate the digital camera market. However, such image sensors don't work very well in small still image cameras, such as are found with cell phones. A recent announcement from InVisage -- called QuantumFilm, using quantum dot sensors -- may change the future for image sensors.
The image sensor in a digital camera must not only measure the light entering the camera, it must convert the light into an electrical signal, store the signal, and route it to the processor. Obviously, the image sensor requires plenty of space and electrical power to perform its tasks.
With the image sensor inside a cell phone, however, space is limited. The various pieces of electronics inside a cell phone block portions of the light from reaching the image sensor.
InVisage has created a layer of quantum dots that could take the place of the image sensor in a small device, such as a cell phone. InVisage calls the technology QuantumFilm.
Quantum dots are semiconductor crystals that can be programmed to perform a task, such as measuring light, in this case. In other products, quantum dots work to improve the color of LED lighting and to improve the efficiency of LCDs.
The quantum dot layer would differ from a CCD or CMOS image sensor in that the layer of quantum dots passes the information on the amount of light it absorbed to an electrical field where it can be measured.
InVisage estimates the quantum dots layer could absorb about double the amount of light of a traditional image sensor. If such estimates are true, QuantumFilm could eventually replace image sensors in all types of cameras, not only cell phones. As with any type of new technology, eventual acceptance in the market will come down to availability and cost.
InVisage -- which has partnered with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to incorporate quantum dots into its current CMOS image sensor manufacturing process to save money in manufacturing costs -- hopes to have samples of QuantumFilm sensors early in 2011, with QuantumFilm digital cameras and cell phone cameras available soon afterward. It's a very interesting technology, and it could greatly change the way cameras work, opening new possibilities for high resolution, point and shoot cameras.