Quanta Image Sensor (QIS) Concept and Progress


Eric Fossum


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The Quanta Image Sensor (QIS) was conceived when contemplating shrinking pixel sizes and storage capacities, and the steady increase in digital processing power. In the single-bit QIS, the output of each field is a binary bit plane, where each bit represents the presence or absence of at least one photoelectron in a photodetector. A series of bit planes is generated through high speed readout, and a kernel or “cubicle” of bits (X,Y, t) is used to create a single output image pixel. The size of the cubicle can be adjust post-acquisition to optimize image quality. The specialized sub-diffraction-limit photodetectors in the QIS are referred to as “jots” and a QIS may have a gigajot or more, read out at 1000 fps, for a data rate exceeding 1Tb/s. Basically, we are trying to count photons as they arrive at the sensor. Recent progress towards realizing the QIS for commercial and scientific purposes will be discussed. This includes investigation of a pump-gate jot device implemented in a 65nm process, power efficient readout electronics, currently less than 20pJ/b in 0.18 um CMOS, creating images from jot data with high dynamic range, and understanding the imaging characteristics of single-bit and multi-bit QIS devices, such as the inherent and interesting film-like D-log(H) characteristic. If successful, the QIS will represent a major paradigm shift in image capture.

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Eric R. Fossum is a Professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. His work on miniaturizing NASA interplanetary spacecraft cameras at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the early 1990’s led to his invention of the CMOS image sensor “camera-on-a-chip” that has touched many here on Earth, from every smartphone to automobiles and medicine, from security and safety to art, social media and political change. Used in billions of cameras each year, his technology has launched a world-wide explosion in digital imaging and visual communications. Honors include induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and election to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors. He received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and is a Fellow of the IEEE. He co-founded the International Image Sensor Society and served as its first President. A graduate of Trinity College and Yale University, Dr. Fossum taught at Columbia and then worked at JPL. He co-founded and led Photobit Corporation and later led MEMS-maker Siimpel. He joined Dartmouth in 2010, where he teaches and continues research on image sensors, and is Director of the school’s Ph.D. Innovation Program. He has published over 260 technical papers and holds over 150 U.S. patents. He and his wife have a small hobby farm in New Hampshire and he enjoys his time on his tractor.

Created: Thursday, October 2nd, 2014