New infrared sensors could revolutionize phone cameras, AR glasses, and driverless cars

Seeing through fog and smoke, creating night goggles for augmented reality, and making autonomous vehicles cheaper is just the beginning of what infrared sensors could offer.

Breakthrough in infrared sensors could transform low-cost cameras in many devices

Smartphone cameras get better every year, and phone makers are always looking for the next innovation to give these cameras a boost. Professor Gabby Sarusi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has what may be one of the next breakthroughs--an infrared sensor that could be added to the second camera of a smartphone for under $10 and allow these devices to see at night and see through smoke and fog.

Sarusi said, "We developed a device, that basically captures infrared images, in the 1500 nanometer wavelength, and convert it to visible image. The overall thickness of this device is about half a micron. We found three primary applications for this technology.

"The first is touching the layer to a visible sensor, like a CMOS silicon sensor, and converting this sensor into infrared sensor, because once you attach such up-conversion to device, to a silicon-visible sensor, you convert the sensor to infrared sensor."

Sarusi explained, "It's good because we can have a very low-cost infrared sensor in the 1500 nanometer and the cost is in the silicon sensor, which is [a] few dollars. The up-conversion layer also few dollars. When you touch these low-cost devices together, you have a cost-effective and low-cost sensor. This dramatically helps the autonomous vehicle sensor and is a breakthrough.

"The cost to attach the up-conversion device will be, from $10 to $20, at the most. Today's sensor in the infrared in the 1500 nanometer can cost $!,000 to $3,000, a big different between costs.

"Smartphone are moving to dual cameras, and one can function with our up-conversion coating. All the mechanics in the smartphone remain the same with the exception of an up-conversion layer attached to one of the two cameras. That's a smartphone with a dual camera, one of them will be for the infrared, and the second one will be for the visible. Then you can play around with it to make a fusion of the cameras and consider tricks."

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Sarusi continued, "For example, if there's fire in the house, and smoke is preventing you from seeing the baby's crib, but with an infrared camera, through the smoke, because smoke is transparent to this infrared wavelength. If you want to look through fog or another element, but as night, this camera will work. Once technological capabilities are revealed, there will be a lot of room for experimentation.

"We also have a short-wavelength infrared night vision, which is very, unique. We attach such a up-conversion layer to the camera of augmented-reality glasses. Any augmented-reality glasses will have a camera embedded. So if you are attaching a small up-conversion device into the camera of the augmented-reality glasses, then you can merge two nice technologies. There are night-vision capability smart glasses, and an embedded augmented-reality capability.

"Our timeline designates availability in the market within two or three years. We're looking for potential investors. We want to woo PhD and masters-degree students to our startup. Additionally, a big firm has expressed interested in this technology."

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Gabby-Sarusi, Ben-Gurion University

Gabby Sarusi, Professor at Ben-Gurion University

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic