Samsung is betting big on its image sensor business as the next source of revenue. As a proof of concept, the Korean company decided to put its 108-megapixel sensor on the flagship Galaxy S20 Ultra smartphone. Now, the company is taking a step further in pushing the horizon. Samsung has announced that it is working on a new image sensor that will match human eyes in resolution. Yes, you heard that right. Samsung’s image sensor division wants to rival the human eye. Also Read - Samsung debuts 108-megapixel ISOCELL Bright HMX mobile image sensor
The company has announced plans for a new 600-megapixel image sensor that will match the human eye. Samsung is already the leader in the small-pixel, high-resolution image sensor market. With its 600-megapixel image sensor, the company will push the segment to a whole new level. The aim here is capture more detail than the human eye using an image sensor on a smartphone. However, Samsung looks at selling this sensor to other business verticals as well. Also Read - Samsung announces ISOCELL Plus camera sensor technology, expected on Samsung Galaxy S10
In an editorial, Yongin Park, EVP, Head of Sensor Business Team, System LSI Business said that our eyes match a resolution of around 500-megapixels. In comparison, most flagship smartphones top at 12-megapixel while DSLRs top at 40-megapixels. Putting such a high-resolution sensor on a smartphone would only mean taking up the entire space of the device. This will leave little room for other components. Also Read - Samsung's ISOCELL dual-camera tech will bring bokeh and low-light photography to low-end smartphones
To address that issue, Samsung is relying on the trend that it has been pushing for quite some time. The Korean company sees the small-pixel, high-resolution trend as the solution for this goal. Park notes that pixels will have to shrink in order to make compact sensors that can fit inside a smartphone body. At the same, he also notes that such a design could result in fuzzy or dull pictures. “The impasse between the number of pixels a sensor has and pixels’ sizes has become a balancing act that requires solid technological prowess,” Park said in his editorial.
Samsung has been slowly demonstrating its capability to introduce high-resolution sensors. In May 2019, the company launched the industry’s first 64-megapixel sensor. Six months later, it launched the 108-megapixel ISOCELL Bright HMX sensor, which is becoming a new favorite for smartphone makers. While the sensor has small pixels, it relies on proprietary “Nanocell technology” to increase the amount of light absorbed by each pixel.
The technology relies on 3×3 pixel structure and supports nona-binning to create a 2.4-micron pixel. The 108-megapixel sensor on the Galaxy S20 Ultra has received critical acclaim but it has also been found to struggle with basics. Most reviewers noted its inability to focus fast. Samsung has vowed to fix the issues with software updates. It is now looking to make a sensor with more than five times the resolution. For Samsung, the image sensor business is already proving to be a lucrative opportunity.
It is now looking beyond the smartphone market. Most cameras in the market today can only take pictures visible to the human eye at wavelengths between 450 and 750 nanometers. Samsung says sensors capable of detecting light wavelengths outside of that range can benefit a wide range of areas. The company sees capabilities like ultraviolet light perception for diagnosing skin cancer or use of infrared image sensors for efficient quality control in agriculture and other industries.
Samsung also envisions a scenario where the sensors can be used to see microbes not visible to the naked eye. Apart from this high-resolution sensor, Samsung says it is also building other types of sensors than can register smells or tastes. It is looking at rapidly-emerging fields such as autonomous vehicles, IoT and drones. The announcement shows the ambition of a company making leaps in the image sensor business. It needs to be seen whether the company succeeds in delivering on this ambition.