The most mind-altering movie I've ever seen is "The Hubble 3-D." To my knowledge it is only available for viewing (thus far) at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. Produced by Warner Brothers and NASA, the IMAX movie does indeed "change our view of the universe," as the movie trailer says. The JPL, (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) logo is highly visible on the replacement "guts" to the Hubble Telescope, as the movie viewers join the astronauts in outer space to witness this amazing accomplishment. The results, shown in this movie, are unprecedented views, data and knowledge of the vastness and mystery that surpasses time and space.
From what I understand about JPL, I would not be surprised if their logo is on just about everything the U.S. has launched into space.
So I was excited to discover that JPL, along with Panavision Imaging had partnered with entrepreneur and small business owner, Dr. Joseph Sgro to produce some game-changing, Machine Vision technology. The initial target will be semiconductor inspection, although it will be valuable for many other applications. Dr. Sgro is the CEO of Alacron, Inc. and FastVision, LLC. Sgro's background, unique among machine vision manufacturers, is in advanced mathematics and neurology.
Sgro has been a pioneer in the Machine Vision industry for 25 years. In 1985, he launched a leading Frame Grabber manufacturer, Alacron, Inc. In 2002, he started FastVision, LLC, a revolutionary developer and manufacturer of smart, high speed, digital cameras.
Panavision Imaging is a division of another "movie making" giant entity, Panavision -- whose advanced camera technology is affiliated with many Hollywood productions.
Panavision's Imaging division specializes in sensor technology. Image sensors are the things that allow cameras to translate images into information that can then trigger responses. Sensors (along with image gathering cameras) are at the heart of machine vision, now an option on most cars to prevent fender benders. Image sensors fall into two categories: CMOS and CCD. Until now, the CCD sensors were considered to be newer, faster and better -- and therefore most expensive. (Click HERE to see a comparison of CCD vs. other CMOS sensors.) However, Panavision's Imaging division's Dynamax family of CMOS sensors have demonstrated advantages over both CCD and other CMOS technologies. Their sensor allows ultra-low noise levels (what I might call minimal static in each frame) while operating at high frame rates with wide dynamic range.
The result of the partnership between JPL, Panavision, Alacron and FastVision has been an exceptionally fast camera -- the FC 300 -- and a back side imager. The back side imager utilizes JPL's patented delta doping process. To the uninitiated, delta doping sounds a bit like something that gets athletes in trouble. Instead, this technology plays a vital role in the semiconductor industry. From the "Semiconductor Glossary," delta doping is defined as: "formation of the doped layers which are atomic-layer thick, formed in the course of Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) of multilayer structures such as superlattices." (If this sounds overly technical to my readers, semiconductor manufacturing is a highly specialized field with its own jargon.)
Enabling semiconductor manufacturers to better inspect their delicate product with microscopic parts has long been a primary goal of the machine vision industry. (Click HERE to read a relevant 2009 article in VSD Magazine.)
The techno-speak is a bit over my head. But the semiconductor industry, which began around 1960, has grown to over $350 billion in 2010. And I DO understand the business opportunities in a competitive, $350 billion, worldwide business! Net-net: the FC 300 is an extremely valuable improvement on existing technology for manufacturers in this industry. It will allow for better, faster and less expensive inspection of semiconductors, enabling much better detection of abnormalities in their atom-thin layers.
The FC 300 offers options that include back thinned versions with high QE (or "quantum efficiency") in the visible and NIR (or near infrared) range. It can be ruggedized, too. This is useful, for example, for military use. Historically, frame grabbers were the predominant way to interface cameras to PC's. When integrated with a high powered frame grabber/coprocessor board, the resulting system capabilities can be expanded by adding processors and memory to the board according to the application's demands.
All this means that the FC 300, along with the patented back side imager, offers an improvement to existing technology in the fields of medicine, military and manufacturing, especially in the demanding production of quality semiconductors. In the field of medicine, the DUV capabilities might be used in early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's. It may prove useful in outer space exploration. Maybe someday, we'll see Alacron or FastVision's logos in an IMAX movie at the Air & Space Museum? Whether or not their logos make it into outer space or a feature-length movie, it is exciting to know that small businesses can still accomplish great things, earning the respect of and cooperation with such entities as JPL and Panavision.