Dr Chris Tisse, CTO at ULIS, talks to AZoOptics about Energy Efficient High-precision Thermal Imaging Sensor Arrays and the innovations currently taking place with ULIS.
ULIS recently introduced a line of 80x80 thermal sensor arrays into the market. Can you discuss the inspiration behind the innovative steps for ULIS, and how you've come about introducing this to the market?
The main reason was to fill a capability gap in existing low-resolution thermal detection sensors, let’s say pyroelectric detectors and thermopiles. Microbolometers are usually of higher resolution.
Whereas for the thermopiles and the pyroelectric devices, it is very common to see a detector of only one pixel, and in some cases up to 20x20. There was this gap in the market for the range between 20x20 and up to 100x100. Therefore, after a great length of discussion and actions with our prospects and customers in the market, we realized that there would be a very high demand for detectors in this particular range. Based on this finding, ULIS aimed to redesign the detector to address this part of our market.
Micro80P thermal sensor.
What new applications aimed at this particular energy will benefit from the 80x80 small pitch high-sensitivity arrays?
Related home automation or similar applications, which are not just for energy efficiency, become key to this technology in terms of new applications that we can really target with this 80x80 pixel resolution. We go beyond just the detection of people, which is already very well addressed by older technologies and smaller formats. Our infrared sensors are a far better fit when it comes to tracking people’s presence, people counting and managing video analytics . . .
In order to look at the data of a number of people and be able to analyze their behavior, we found that an IR detector with 80x80 pixels was the best compromise between performance and cost. We added new technologies to try and save costs in these types of detectors. Minimizing the resolution helped in achieving this as well as improving manufacturing efficiency.
There are also many other applications beyond home automation. I am thinking of (i) in stores, for example, for advanced presence detection and queue management, (ii) in buildings & industry for real-time energy management, (iii) in transport for temperature monitoring, short-range detection and occupancy sensing, as well as (iv) in the outdoors for perimeter surveillance and intrusion detection.
So, it goes beyond just simple energy efficiency and monitoring. This 80x80 has many, many applications.
Are there any development efforts in place to enhance the features of the Micro80P Thermal Image Sensor?
Actually, there are. I would say there are two main features, which we are working on. The first one is interesting because it is related to energy efficiency. As the Micro80P will be used to maximize energy efficiency and improve energy management in buildings, the power consumption of the detector itself has to be very low, since most of the equipment is battery operated.
It is fundamental that our Micro80P small pixel thermal arrays are able to run for years on a single battery. However, to be able to do so, more constraints in our design need to be introduced. Increasing the longevity of the battery means lowering power consumption of our detectors. Low power consumption is one of the main feature enhancements I envision in the Micro80P.
A second feature is also very significant. More and more integrators are not specialists in infrared technologies; neither are they familiar with the business of thermography. They are more focused on the security business or are interested in home automation management. Rather than placing the burden on them to invest resources into building up their own knowledge in infrared, we have to make our detectors “more human”. By “more human” I mean more ready and more accessible to use.
You've recently been appointed by ULIS to help build its core innovations. How do you plan on achieving this and offering clients competitive performance in infrared sensors?
It is more an emphasis on image quality. You see, when I say “very human” or “ready to use”, it's totally related. We have to be able to provide detectors, which, in terms of image quality, require that the integrator makes fewer adjustments between the uncooled IR detector and the camera system, similarly to what can be found nowadays in the visible CMOS image sensor industry.
Reliability and cost are two additional important and competing considerations that must be taken into account. The image quality capability of our detectors must be increased without trading-off on lifetime, robustness and cost.
ULIS is highly focused on making IR detectors. I think that today’s main challenge for ULIS is really to train our integrators to the same level as the long established, vertically integrated manufacturers of camera cores and thermal imaging systems. We are also focusing on being able to devote enough time and resources to make sure that they have all the know-how to develop the camera core and integrate all the intelligence they require to achieve this high level of image quality.
ULIS is also expected to have growth opportunities in automotive and smart building automation. Can you just tell us how ULIS will address these opportunities with the products they currently have on the market?
For the automotive market, we have to adapt our manufacturing line and existing product design to meet the automotive industry quality standard which is called ISO/TS.
The requirements for the automotive market are very stringent in terms of PPM. I am not sure if any of the uncooled infrared array manufacturers, at this point in time, are certified ISO/TS, but this will be for us one of the main challenges. We aim to be among the first to provide automotive compliant infrared detectors on the market.
Thermal applications supported by ULIS. Go to the ULIS website to engage with this interactive video explaining the varying applications of Micro80P.
What will be the key customer demands for the infrared imaging market over the next five years?
So my answer to this one is quite simple. I believe that the main challenge for uncooled IR detectors will be to meet the SWaP-C (Size, Weight and Power - Cost) requirements for embedded applications.
Another key customer demand will be the gradually increasing pixel count (i.e., the amount of pixels in the image).
About Dr. Chris Tisse
Dr Chris Tisse, CTO at ULIS, has 13 years of specialist knowledge in optical (visible-light & thermal) imaging science. He has extensive expertise in computational imaging, a multi-disciplinary field involving the co-design and joint-optimization of optoelectronic methods, image sensors and image/video processing techniques.
His industrial experiences in Europe and Asia-Pacific, include working for MTech-Imaging Pte Ltd., in Singapore, the Institute for Infocomm Research (A*STAR), the Interactive and Digital Media Institute, DxO labs and STMicroelectronics. He earned his PhD in Microelectronics from the Laboratory of Computer Science, Robotics and Microelectronics (LIRMM) at the University of Montpellier in 2003.
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