Revolutionary Science Could Change Digital Camera Imaging Chips

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December 8, 2005 – Mark Bocko and Zeljko Ignjatovic, professors of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester, have developed a new chip that captures higher-resolution images with less power. . . a lot less power. Their new technology also has the potential to allow digital cameras to run on a single battery for years.

The chip is designed to digitize an image right at each pixel. In the works, however, is technology that will be able compress an image with far fewer computations being made by the processor. When these two abilities are finally brought together, the result will greatly reduce the amount of power used to capture a single digital image while improving image quality.

Currently many imaging sensors work by transmitting to an analog-to-digital converter off-chip. Those few chips that do have pixel site conversion require high precision transistors that take up pixel space and eat power. This new technology by Bocko and Ignjatovic still uses a CMOS sensor with an analog-to-digital converter at each pixel location. However, because this chip also uses both fewer and smaller-sized transistors per pixel, more of the pixel area is dedicated to light collection resulting in an overall better image. The transistors themselves while smaller have actually increased sensor performance resulting in denser, higher resolution chips that work on little power.

The scientists intend to further enhance this chip by incorporating their "Focal Plane Image Compression" system into it. This invention, which has stunned contemporaries, involves an innovative nonlinear arrangement of photodiodes on an imaging chip that enables processors to do significantly less math computation. By dividing the amount of computation required for image compression by 5, as Bocko and Ignjatovic have, the otherwise power-eating compression processor needs significantly less power.

While the current prototype chip is impressive, it is the combination of this chip with the Focal Plane Image Compression that could potentially revolutionize imaging chips to come.

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