More pizzaz than Buzz

Anybody who tried to get hold of a Buzz Lightyear last Christmas will probably dispute the observation that in the toy market, price is all important. Nevertheless, the race to make it into a child’s toy cupboard, even for a few weeks, means that high technology has to be mass produced at the right price. This is the main reason that has limited the number of vision-based toys that have appeared on the market.

A company in Scotland, VLSI Vision, has broken through this barrier with their so-called CMOS device technology. In the past, the manufacturer of imaging arrays relied on a single-channel metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) silicon process. Peripheral components are on separate chips, adding manufacturing time and several discrete components. Using a standard complementary MOS (CMOS) process with additional functions `on chip’, produces cheaper single chip solutions, suitable for high-volume processes, on the same production lines as the ubiquitous microprocessor.

Last year saw the volume introduction of the Fisher-Price Creative Effects Camera, which allows pre-school children to take instant photographs with special effects. The black and white pictures print in two minutes, and the user can frame a picture with a dollar bill or a TV, frame a portrait with a kaleidoscope effect or write fun comments in thought bubbles and caption frames.

Another major application for VLSI’s CMOS technology is in cost-effective machine vision, and the company has a range of programmable intelligent cameras. The latest, Imputer 3 may be used in interlaced and non-interlaced modes with a resolution of up to 512 by 512 pixels. Unlike equivalent CCD devices, a direct mapping is maintained between square sensor pixels and memory.

The next step is to satisfy the customer’s demand for colour, be the customer a five year old or the designer of an automotive robot, and VLSI has developed the first colour CMOS camera, Vivitar, based around its ColorMOS sensor technology. Soon we will be seeing affordable products which have colour vision.

Figure 1: Vivitar, the first colour CMOS camera, with (inset) a CMOS camera module, showing the camera sensor which measures only 14mm square

Figure 2: The Creative Effects Camera from Fisher-Price was made possible by VLSI Vision’s CMOS imaging technology

{{VLSI VisionTel: Edinburgh (0131) 5397111Enter 402}}