Chapter 15: Vision Sensors and Cameras
Silicon charge-coupled-device (CCD) imagers have been and are a specialty market ruled by a few companies for decades. Based on CMOS technologies, active-pixel sensors (APS) began to appear in 1990 at the 1 µm technology node. These pixels allow random access, global shutters, and they are compatible with focal-plane imaging systems combining sensing and first-level image processing. The progress towards smaller features and towards ultra-low leakage currents has provided reduced dark currents and µm-size pixels. All chips offer Mega-pixel resolution, and many have very high sensitivities equivalent to ASA 12.800. As a result, HDTV video cameras will become a commodity. Because charge-integration sensors suffer from a limited dynamic range, significant processing effort is spent on multiple exposure and piece-wise analog-digital conversion to reach ranges >10,000:1. The fundamental alternative is log-converting pixels with an eye-like response. This offers a range of almost a million to 1, constant contrast sensitivity and constant colors, important features in professional, technical and medical applications. 3D retino-morphic stacking of sensing and processing on top of each other is being revisited with sub-100 nm CMOS circuits and with TSV technology. With sensor outputs directly on top of neurons, neural focal-plane processing will regain momentum, and new levels of intelligent vision will be achieved. The industry push towards thinned wafers and TSV enables backside-illuminated and other pixels with a 100% fill-factor. 3D vision, which relies on stereo or on time-of-flight, high-speed circuitry, will also benefit from scaled-down CMOS technologies both because of their size as well as their higher speed.