A team led by Woburn, Massachusetts-based Agiltron has proposed using a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) in an infrared sensor that could be incorporated in a variety of mass-market imaging and night-vision devices.
Thermal imagers can see objects in total darkness and can see through rain, camouflage, snow, fog and smoke. However, the widespread adoption of thermal imaging is limited by the high cost associated with traditional thermal imaging technologies based on semiconductor electronics.
Over the next four years, Agilitron and its partners Advanced Microsensors and L-3 Communications Infrared Products plan to see if it is possible to replace the current semiconductor sensor array technology with a micro-machined array of tiny mechanical sensors that respond directly to thermal radiation in much the same way that a bimetallic thermostat responds to temperature changes.
The companies believe that the photomechanical sensor array could be produced very inexpensively by standard mass-production processes used in the semiconductor industry. The array itself will be matched with wafer-level packaging, readout, and infrared lens technologies to produce a complete thermal imaging system.
The proposed idea holds the promise of making ubiquitous deployment of affordable thermal imaging products a reality. If the companies are successful in their efforts, such devices could find a host of uses in the automotive, firefighting, security and outdoor recreation industries.