US20070102622A1 - Apparatus for multiple camera devices and method of operating same - Google Patents

Apparatus for multiple camera devices and method of operating same Download PDF

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Publication number
US20070102622A1
US20070102622A1 US11/322,959 US32295905A US2007102622A1 US 20070102622 A1 US20070102622 A1 US 20070102622A1 US 32295905 A US32295905 A US 32295905A US 2007102622 A1 US2007102622 A1 US 2007102622A1
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United States
Prior art keywords
photodetectors
array
band
light
digital camera
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
Application number
US11/322,959
Inventor
Richard Olsen
Darryl Sato
Borden Moller
Olivera Vitomirov
Jeffrey Brady
Ferry Gunawan
Remzi Oten
Feng-Qing Sun
James Gates
Original Assignee
Olsen Richard I
Sato Darryl L
Borden Moller
Olivera Vitomirov
Brady Jeffrey A
Ferry Gunawan
Remzi Oten
Feng-Qing Sun
James Gates
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Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US69594605P priority Critical
Priority to US11/212,803 priority patent/US20060054782A1/en
Application filed by Olsen Richard I, Sato Darryl L, Borden Moller, Olivera Vitomirov, Brady Jeffrey A, Ferry Gunawan, Remzi Oten, Feng-Qing Sun, James Gates filed Critical Olsen Richard I
Priority to US11/322,959 priority patent/US20070102622A1/en
Publication of US20070102622A1 publication Critical patent/US20070102622A1/en
Application status is Abandoned legal-status Critical

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    • G02B13/00Optical objectives specially designed for the purposes specified below
    • G02B13/001Miniaturised objectives for electronic devices, e.g. portable telephones, webcams, PDAs, small digital cameras
    • G02B13/0015Miniaturised objectives for electronic devices, e.g. portable telephones, webcams, PDAs, small digital cameras characterised by the lens design
    • G02B13/002Miniaturised objectives for electronic devices, e.g. portable telephones, webcams, PDAs, small digital cameras characterised by the lens design having at least one aspherical surface
    • G02B13/0035Miniaturised objectives for electronic devices, e.g. portable telephones, webcams, PDAs, small digital cameras characterised by the lens design having at least one aspherical surface having three lenses
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    • G02B7/04Mountings, adjusting means, or light-tight connections, for optical elements for lenses with mechanism for focusing or varying magnification
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    • G02B7/04Mountings, adjusting means, or light-tight connections, for optical elements for lenses with mechanism for focusing or varying magnification
    • G02B7/10Mountings, adjusting means, or light-tight connections, for optical elements for lenses with mechanism for focusing or varying magnification by relative axial movement of several lenses, e.g. of varifocal objective lens
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Abstract

There are many, many inventions described herein. In one aspect, what is disclosed is a digital camera including a plurality of arrays of photo detectors, including a first array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of a first wavelength and a second array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of a second wavelength. The digital camera further may also include a first lens disposed in an optical path of the first array of photo detectors, wherein the first lens includes a predetermined optical response to the light of the first wavelength, and a second lens disposed in with an optical path of the second array of photo detectors wherein the second lens includes a predetermined optical response to the light of the second wavelength. In addition, the digital camera may include signal processing circuitry, coupled to the first and second arrays of photo detectors, to generate a composite image using (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors; wherein the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry are integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.

Description

    RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • This application is a divisional application of application Ser. No. 11/212,803 (still pending), filed Aug. 25, 2005. In addition, this application claims priority to: (1) U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/604,854, entitled “Solid State Camera”, filed Aug. 25, 2004; and (2) U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/695,946, entitled “Method and Apparatus for use in Camera and Systems Employing Same”, filed Jul. 1, 2005. The contents of the above-referenced Provisional and non-Provisional Applications are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety.
  • FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • The field of the invention is digital imaging.
  • BACKGROUND
  • The recent technology transition from film to “electronic media” has spurred the rapid growth of the imaging industry with applications including still and video cameras, cell phones, other personal communications devices, surveillance equipment, automotive applications, computer based video communication and conferencing, manufacturing and inspection devices, medical appliances, toys, plus a wide range of other and continuously expanding applications. The lower cost and size of digital cameras (whether as stand-alone products or imbedded in other appliances) is a primary driver for this growth and market expansion.
  • Although traditional component manufacturers continue to shrink the components to take advantage of the electronic media, it is difficult to achieve the ever tightening demand of digital camera producers for smaller sizes, lower costs and higher performance. Several important issues remain, including: 1) the smaller the size of a digital camera (e.g., in cell phones), the poorer the image quality; 2) complex “lenses”, shutter and flash are still required for medium to higher quality imaging, thus negating much of the size advantage afforded by the electronic media; and 3) the cost advantage afforded by the electronic media is somewhat negated by the traditional complex and costly lens systems and other peripheral components.
  • Most applications are continuously looking for all or some combination of higher performance (image quality), features, smaller size and/or lower cost. These market needs can often be in conflict: higher performance often requires larger size, improved features can require higher cost as well as a larger size, and conversely, reduced cost and/or size can come at a penalty in performance and/or features. As an example, consumers look for higher quality images from their cell phones, but are unwilling to accept the size or cost associated with putting stand-alone digital camera quality into their pocket sized phones.
  • One driver to this challenge is the lens system for digital cameras. As the number of photo-detectors (pixels) increases, which increases image resolution, the lenses must become larger to span the increased size of the image sensor which carries the photo detectors. The pixel size can be reduced to maintain a constant image sensor and optics size as the number of pixels increases but pixel performance is reduced (reduced photo-signal and increased crosstalk between pixels). Also, the desirable “zoom lens” feature adds additional moveable optical components, size and cost to a lens system. Zoom, as performed by the lens system, known as “optical zoom”, changes the focal length of the optics and is a highly desired feature. These attributes (for example, increased number of pixels in the image sensor and optical zoom), although benefiting image quality and features, may adversely impact the camera size and cost. In some cases, such as cell phones or other appliances where size and/or cost are critical, this approach to good image quality (high resolution and sensitivity) is not optimum.
  • Digital camera suppliers have one advantage over traditional film providers in the area of zoom capability. Through electronic processing, digital cameras can provide “electronic zoom” which provides the zoom capability by cropping the outer regions of an image and then electronically enlarging the center region to the original size of the image. In a manner similar to traditional enlargements, a degree of resolution is lost when performing this process. Further, since digital cameras capture discrete input to form a picture rather than the ubiquitous process of film, the lost resolution is more pronounced. As such, although “electronic zoom” is a desired feature, it is not a direct substitute for “optical zoom.”
  • Conventional digital cameras typically use a single aperture and lens system to image the scene onto one or more image sensors. Color separation (if desired), such as red, green and blue (RGB), is typically achieved by three methods: 1) a color filter array on a single integrated circuit image sensor, 2) multiple image sensors with a color separation means in the optical path (such as prisms), or 3) an imager with color separation and multiple signal collection capability within each pixel. These three color separation method have limitations as noted below.
  • The color filter array, such as the often used Bayer pattern, changes the incident color between adjacent pixels on the array and color crosstalk occurs that prevents accurate color rendition of the original image. Since the array is populated with pixels of different color capability, interpolation techniques are required to create a suitable color image. The color filter array may also have low and variable optical transmission that reduces received optical signal levels and creates pixel-to-pixel image non-uniformity.
  • The use of multiple imagers, with color separation methods such as a prism, provides accurate color rendition but the optical assembly is large and expensive.
  • Color separation methods within the pixel create crosstalk of colors and inaccurate color rendition. Since multiple color charge collection and readout means are required in each pixel, pixel size reduction is limited.
  • Technology advances in lenslet optical design and fabrication, integrated circuit imager pixel size reduction and digital post-processing have opened new possibilities for cameras and imaging systems which differ dramatically in form fit and function from time-honored digital camera designs. The use of multiple camera channels (multiple optics, image sensors and electronics) in a compact assembly allows fabrication of a digital camera with improved image quality, reduced physical thickness and increased imaging functionality not achievable with a conventional single aperture/optical system digital camera architecture.
  • SUMMARY OF INVENTION(S)
  • It should be understood that there are many inventions described and illustrated herein. Indeed, the present invention is neither limited to any single aspect nor embodiment thereof, nor to any combinations and/or permutations of such aspects and/or embodiments. Moreover, each of the aspects of the present invention, and/or embodiments thereof, may be employed alone or in combination with one or more of the other aspects of the present invention and/or embodiments thereof. For the sake of brevity, many of those permutations and combinations will not be discussed separately herein.
  • In one aspect of the present invention, an image sensor comprises separate first and second arrays of photo detectors and a signal processing circuitry that combines signals from the arrays to produce a composite image.
  • Preferred embodiments include three or more arrays of photo detectors, wherein the signal processing circuitry processes the signals from each array and then combines the signals from all of the arrays to produce a composite image. Such use of multiple arrays allows each of the arrays to be optimized in some respect, such as for receipt of particular colors. Thus, for example, the arrays can be optimized to detect light of different colors, or other wavelengths. The “colors” can be narrow bands, or broad bands such as red, green, or blue. The bands can even be overlapping.
  • Optimization can be accomplished in any desired manner, including for example having different average pixel depths, column logic, analog signal logic, black level logic, exposure control, image processing techniques, and lens design and coloration.
  • A sensor having two or more different arrays could advantageously have a different lens over each of the different arrays. Preferred lenses can employ a die coating, defused dye in the optical medium, a substantially uniform color filter or any other filtering technique through which light passes to the underlying array.
  • The processing circuitry can comprise any suitable mechanism and/or logic. Of particular interest are circuitries that produce multiple separate images from the different arrays, and then combines the multiple separate images to form a single image. During the process the signal processing circuitry can advantageously execute image enhancement functions, such as address saturation, sharpness, intensity, hue, artifact removal, and defective pixel correction.
  • As far as integration, it is desirable for the various arrays to be physically located on the same chip. In addition, it is desirable to couple a frame to the chip, and to couple at least one of the lenses to the frame. The lenses can be independently positionable during manufacture, and then sealed to the frame using a sealant or other bonding technique. The integration of these elements is called the “Digital Camera Subsystem” (DCS).
  • Preferred image sensors contain at least several hundred thousand of the photo detectors, and have a total thickness of no more than 10, 15, or 20 mm, including the lens and frame. Such small DCS devices may be incorporated into a semiconductor “package” or directly attached to a circuit board (“packageless”), using wave soldering, die on board, or other techniques. The DCS and/or board can then be incorporated into cameras or other devices having user interface elements, memory that stores images derived from the arrays, and at least one power supply that provides power to the system. The DCS, cameras and other devices of the invention can be used for any suitable purpose, including especially still and video imaging, calculating a distance, and creating a 3D effect.
  • In another aspect of the present invention a compact solid-state camera (compact digital camera) comprises a first and second camera channel, located in close proximity to each other, where each camera channel contains its own optics, image sensor and signal processing circuitry. The two camera channels (being identical or different) can combine their output signals to form a composite image or each camera channel can provide a separate image. The electronics to combine images from any combination of camera channels or to display/store/transmit channels individually or combined is included in the compact solid-state camera assembly (CSSC).
  • Other embodiments include three or more camera channels (identical or different), wherein the signal processing circuitry processes the signals from each channel and then combines the signals from some or all the channels to produce a composite image or each camera channel can provide a separate image by itself in conjunction with a composite image. The use of multiple camera channels allows each of the channels to be optimized in some respect, if desired, such as imaging of particular incident light colors. Thus, for example, the arrays can be optimized to detect light of different colors, or other wavelengths. The “colors” of each camera channel can be narrow bands, or broad bands such as red, green, or blue. The bands can even be overlapping. Each camera channel can image one or more colors.
  • Optimization of each camera channel can be accomplished in any desired manner, including optics, image sensor and signal processing electronics to obtain a desired image capability, for example the optics can optimized for a certain image sensor size, wavelength (color), focal length and f-number. The image sensor can be optimized by number of pixels, pixel size, pixel design (photo-detector and circuitry), frame rate, integration time, and peripheral circuitry external to the pixel circuitry. The signal processing electronics can be optimized for color correction, image compression, bad pixel replacement and other imaging functions. The camera channels can be identical or unique; however all located in close proximity.
  • Color filters (or other color separation techniques), if desired, can be incorporated into the optical materials or optics surfaces, as separate filter layers, on the image sensor surface or built into the pixel semiconductor by design. Each camera channel can have its own color imaging characteristics. The image sensor can have a single color capability or multiple color capability; this multiple color capability can be within a single pixel, or between adjacent pixels (or combinations of single and adjacent pixels)
  • The processing circuitry can comprise any suitable mechanism and/or logic to optimize the image quality. Of particular interest are circuitries that produce separate images from the camera channels, and then combines the multiple separate images to form a composite single image. During the process, the signal processing circuitry can advantageously execute image enhancement functions, such as dynamic range management (auto gain/level), image sharpening, intensity correction, hue, artifact removal, defective pixel correction and other imaging optimization functions. The processing circuitry can operate in an analog or digital mode.
  • As far as mechanical integration, it is desirable for the various image sensors of the camera channels be physically located on the same integrated circuit (chip) to reduce manufacturing costs and reduce electrical interconnects and size. In addition, it is desirable to assemble a mechanical frame to the chip, and to couple one or more of the lenses to the frame. The lenses can be independently positionable during manufacture, and then sealed to the frame using a sealant or other bonding technique. The integration of these elements is called the “Digital Camera Subsystem” (DCS). The vertical integration of other layers to the DCS (such as camera system electronics and even display capability), can form a compact solid-state camera (CSSC)
  • Preferred camera channels contain at least several hundred thousand of the photo detectors (pixels). The thickness of the camera channels (including image sensors and optics) can be thinner than conventional camera systems (for equivalent image resolution) where only one optical assembly is utilized. Such small DCS devices may be incorporated into a semiconductor “package” or directly attached to a circuit board (“packageless”), using wave soldering, die on board, or other techniques. The DCS and/or board can then be incorporated into cameras or other devices having user interface elements, memory that stores images derived from the arrays, and at least one power supply that provides power to the system. The DCS, cameras and other devices of the invention can be used for any suitable purpose, including especially still and video imaging.
  • Notably, in certain aspects, a digital camera subassembly includes two or more complete camera channels in a single layered assembly that contains all desired components (optics, mechanical structures and electronics) in one heterogeneous assembly or package.
  • In another embodiment, the digital camera subassembly has the form of a multi-layer laminate.
  • In another embodiment, two or more of the camera channels includes channel specific optics, optical alignment structures (mechanical frame), packaging, color filters and other optical elements, image sensors, mixed signal interface, image and/or color processing logic, memory, control and timing logic, power management logic and parallel and/or serial device interface.
  • In another embodiment, each camera channel also includes one or more of the following: single or multi-channel image compression logic and/or image output formatting logic, wired or wireless communications, and optical display capability.
  • In another embodiment, the output of each channel can provide either discrete processed images or integrated images comprising a color or partial color images.
  • In another embodiment, the camera channels are co-located, in close proximity defined by number of, type of, and position of, and optical diameter constraints of the lens system, on a two-dimensional focal plane that comprises one component layer of the CSSC.
  • In another embodiment, each camera channel further contains an image sensor to provide a photon sensing capability that makes up part of the overall compact solid-state camera using semiconductor-based detection mechanisms (no film). The single assembly may be formed by two or more component layers that are assembled sequentially in the vertical dimension (orthogonal to the focal plane).
  • In another embodiment, the assembly, comprising the vertically integrated component layers, with multiple camera channel capability, provides camera system capability and performance not achievable with conventional camera systems using a single camera channel.
  • In another embodiment, some or the entire vertically integrated component layers are be formed by methods of wafer scale integration or laminated assembly to create portions of many camera systems simultaneously.
  • In another embodiment, the wafers or layers may contain optical, mechanical and electrical components, electrical interconnects and other devices (such as a display).
  • In another embodiment, the electrical interconnect between component layers may be formed by lithography and metallization, bump bonding or other methods. Organic or inorganic bonding methods can be used to join the component layers. The layered assembly process starts with a “host” wafer with electronics used for the entire camera and/or each camera channel. Then another wafer or individual chips are aligned and bonded to the host wafer. The transferred wafers or chips can have bumps to make electrical interconnect or connects can be made after bonding and thinning. The support substrate from the second wafer or individual chips is removed, leaving only a few microns material thickness attached to the host wafer containing the transferred electronics. Electrical interconnects are then made (if needed) between the host and the bonded wafer or die using standard integrated circuit processes. The process can be repeated multiple times. The layers transferred in this fashion can contain electrical, mechanical or optical features/components. This process allows multiple layers to form a heterogeneous assembly with electrical, mechanical and optical capabilities required in a compact solid-state camera.
  • In another embodiment, the camera channels are comprised of linear or area array imagers, of any size, format, pixel number, pixel design or pixel pitch.
  • In another embodiment, the camera channels provide full color, single color, multi-color or mono chromatic (black and white) capability in any wavelength range from ultraviolet (UV) to infrared (IR). Color filters, if desired, may be on an image sensor or within the optical component layer or a combination of both. The camera channels may also provide color capability by utilizing the semiconductor absorption properties in a pixel. For example, a pixel may provide one or more color capability via the optical absorption depth properties. The pixel color separation properties may also be combined with color filters in the optical path.
  • In another embodiment, a high spatial image resolution may be achieved by using multiple camera channels to observe the same field of view from a slightly different perspective.
  • In another embodiment, two or more camera channels observe the same field of view, although from a different perspective as a result of a spatial offset between such camera channels. In some of such embodiments, images from such two or more camera channels may be combined to result in an image that provides high spatial resolution. It may be advantageous to employ a parallax correction algorithm in order to reduce and/or eliminate the effects of the parallax. Alternatively, images from the two or more camera channels (with the same field of view but different perspectives) may be combined to provide three dimensional feature imaging. In this regard, it may be advantageous to increase and/or enhance the effects of the parallax, for example, by applying a parallax correction algorithm “inversely”. Three dimensional feature imaging may be used, for example, in finger print and/or retinal feature imaging and/or analysis. Any parallax correction algorithm whether now known or later developed may be employed in conjunction with any of the embodiments herein. Any of the previous embodiments can be employed in association with an increase in parallax and/or a decrease in parallax.
  • In another embodiment, optical features may be added to the optical stack of one or more camera channels to provide additional imaging capability such as single, dual or tunable color filters, wave front modification for increased depth of focus and auto focus, and glare reduction polarization filters. Notably, any optical feature whether now known or later developed may be incorporated in one or more of the camera channels to provide additional imaging capability.
  • In another embodiment, the optical portion may include one or more filters, e.g., color filters, to provide one or more wavelengths or one or more bands of wavelengths to one or more associated sensor arrays. Such filters may be for example, single or dual, fixed or tunable filters. In one embodiment, the user, operator and/or manufacturer may employ a tunable filter to control or determine the one or more wavelengths or the one or more bands of wavelengths.
  • In another embodiment, one or more filters are employed in association with one, some or all of the camera channels. Such filters may or may not be the same as one another. For example, the filters may or may not provide the same wavelength or bands of wavelengths. In addition, some of the filters may be fixed and others may be tunable.
  • In another embodiment, the optical portion includes a wave front modification element, for example, to increase the depth of focus and/or for use in implementing auto focus. In addition, in another embodiment, the optical portion may include one or more glare reduction polarization filters, to polarize the light and thereby reduce “glare”. Such filters may be employed alone or in combination with any of the embodiments disclosed herein.
  • Any of the embodiments of the present invention may include one or more illumination units to improve and/or enhance image acquisition by the one or more camera channels (and, in particular, the one or more sensor arrays), facilitate range detection to an object, shape detection of an object, and covert imaging (i.e., imaging that is not observable to the human eye).
  • The illumination units may provide passive (for example, no illumination), active (for example, constant illumination), constant and/or gated active illumination (for example, pulsed illumination that is predetermined, preset or processor controlled, and/or pulsed illumination that is user/operator programmable). The one or more illumination units may be disposed on or integrated in the support frame and/or the substrate of the sensor arrays. Indeed, the one or more illumination units may be disposed on or integrated in any element or component of the one or more of the camera channels.
  • In some embodiments, the illumination units are dedicated to one or more camera channels. In this regard, the illumination unit is “enabled” cooperatively with the operation of one or more dedicated channels. In another embodiment, the illumination units are shared by all of the camera channels. As such, in this embodiment, the illumination unit is enabled cooperatively with the operation of the camera channels. Indeed, in certain embodiments, one or more illumination units may be dedicated to one or more camera channels and one or more illumination units may be shared by one or more camera channels (including those channels that are associated with one or more dedicated illumination units). In this embodiment, the dedicated illumination units are “enabled” cooperatively with the operation of one or more dedicated channels and the shared illumination units are enabled cooperatively with the operation of all of the camera channels.
  • As noted above, one or more of the camera channels may be optimized, modified and/or configured according to a predetermined, an adaptively determined, an anticipated and/or a desired spectral response of the one or more camera channels. For example, the dimensions, characteristics, operation, response and/or parameters of a sensor array (and/or pixels thereof) as well as image processing circuitry may be configured, designed and/or tailored in accordance with predetermined, adaptively determined, anticipated and/or desired spectral response of the one or more camera channels. In this way, one or more aspects of the digital camera of the present inventions may be configured, designed and/or tailored to provide a desired, suitable, predetermined and/or particular response in the environment in which the camera is to be employed.
  • In some embodiments, each camera channel may be uniquely configured, designed and/or tailored. For example, one or more camera channels may be configured to include a field of view that is different than one or more camera channels. As such, one or more camera channels have a first field of view and one or more other camera channels have a second field of view. In this way, a digital camera may simultaneously capture an image using different fields of view.
  • The field of view may be fixed or programmable (for example, in situ). The field of view may be adjusted using a number of techniques or configurations including adjustment or modification of the optics focal length and/or adjustment or modification of the effective size of the array. Indeed, any technique or configuration to adjust the field of view, whether now known or later developed, is intended to come within the scope of the present inventions.
  • Further, the digital camera of the present inventions may include programmable (in situ or otherwise) or fixed integration times for one or more (or all) of the camera channels. In this regard, integration time of one or more camera channels may be configured, designed and/or tailored to facilitate capture of, for example, a large scene dynamic range. As such, in this embodiment, single color band camera channels may be used to create a combined color image capability (including, for example, UV and IR if desired), configuring and/or designing the integration time of each camera channel to provide desired signal collection it its wavelength acquisition band.
  • Moreover, two or more integration times can be implemented to simultaneously acquire low to high light levels in the image. The combined dynamic range of the multiple camera channels provides greater dynamic range than from a single camera channel (having a one integration time for all channels). As such, the image sensor(s) or array(s) of each camera channel may be configured and/or designed to operate using a specific (predetermined, pre-set or programmable) integration time range and illumination level.
  • Notably, the dimensions, characteristics, operation, response and/or parameters of the camera channels (for example, field of view, integration time, sensor array (and/or pixels thereof), and/or image processing circuitry) may be configured, designed and/or tailored (in situ or otherwise) in accordance with predetermined, an adaptively determined, anticipated and/or desired response of the one or more camera channels. For example, the camera channels may be configured, designed and/or tailored to include different fields of view each having the same or different frame rates and/or integration times. As such, in one embodiment, the digital camera of the present inventions may include a first large/wide field of view camera channel capability to acquire objects and a second narrower field of view camera channel to identify objects. Moreover, the resolution of the first large/wide field of view camera channel and second narrower field of view camera channel may also be different in order to, for example, provide an enhanced image or acquisition.
  • In addition, the sensor array and/or pixel size (pitch) may be configured, designed and/or tailored in accordance with a predetermined, an anticipated and/or a desired response of the one or more camera channels. For example, the pixel size may be configured in order to optimize, enhance and/or obtain a particular response. In one embodiment, the pixel size of associated sensor arrays may be selected in order to provide, enhance and/or optimize a particular response of the digital camera. In this regard, where the sensor array includes a plurality of camera channels (for example, UV, B, R, G and IR), implementing different pixel sizes in one or more of the sensor arrays (for example, an increasing pixel pitch from UV (smallest) to IR (largest)) may provide, enhance and/or optimize a particular response of the digital camera.
  • The size of the pixels may be based on a number of considerations including providing a predetermined, adaptively determined, anticipated or a desired resolution and/or obtaining a predetermined, enhanced and/or suitable acquisition characteristics for certain wavelength or bands of wavelengths) for example, reducing the size of the pixel (reducing the size of the pitch) may enhance the acquisition of shorter wavelengths of light. This may be advantageous when matching the corresponding reduction in optical blur size. The pixel design and process sequence (a subset of the total wafer process) may be selected and/or determined to optimize and/or enhance photo-response of a particular camera channel color. Moreover, the number of pixels on the sensor array may be adjusted, selected and/or determined to provide the same field of view notwithstanding different sizes of the pixel in the plurality of arrays.
  • Further, the image processing circuitry (for example, the image processing and color processing logic) may be configured, designed and/or tailored to provide a predetermined, an adaptively determined, an anticipated and/or a desired response of the one or more camera channels. For example, the image processing and color processing logic may be configured to optimize, accelerate and/or reduce the complexity by “matching” the optics, sensor, and image processing when discretely applied to each channel separately. Any final sequencing of a full or partial color image may, in turn, be simplified and quality greatly improved via the elimination of Bayer pattern interpolation.
  • It should be noted that any of the digital camera channels (for example RGB capable or other color filter combinations) may be combined with one or more full color, dual color, single color or B/W camera channels. The combination of camera channels may be used to provide increased wavelength range capability, different simultaneous fields of view, different simultaneous integrations times, active and passive imaging capability, higher resolution using multiple camera channels and parallax correction, 3D imaging (feature extraction) using multiple camera channels and increased parallax, and increased color band capability.
  • In some embodiments, different color camera channels share components, for example, data processing components. In this regard, in one embodiment, one camera channel may employ a sensor array that acquires data which is representative of a first color image (for example, blue) as well as a second color image (green). Other camera channels may employ sensor arrays that are dedicated to a particular/predetermined wavelength or band of wavelengths (for example, red or green) or such camera channels may employ sensor arrays that acquires data which is representative of two or more predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths (for example, (i) red and green or (ii) cyan and green). The camera channels, in combination, may provide full color capabilities.
  • For example, in one embodiment, a first sensor array may acquire data which is representative of first and second predetermined wavelengths or band of wavelengths (for example, wavelengths that are associated with red and blue) and a second sensor array may acquire data which is representative of third predetermined wavelength or band of wavelengths (for example, wavelengths that are associated with green). In this embodiment, the camera channels, in combination, may provide a full color image using only two sensor array.
  • Notably, in the exemplary embodiment discussed above, it may be advantageous to employ a third sensor array to acquire IR. In this way, a “true” YCrCb output camera may be provided while minimizing and/or eliminating the cost complexity and/or power considerations necessary to perform the transformation in the digital image domain.
  • Where a sensor array acquires two or more predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths, the pixels of the sensor array may be designed to collect photons at two or more depths or areas within the pixels of the semiconductor arrays which are associated with the two or more predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths. In this regard, the color “selection” for such a sensor array may be based on color band separation and/or pixel design to color separate by optical absorption depth.
  • Moreover, the two color capability in one or more camera channel may be accomplished or provided using color filter arrays that are disposed before the sensor array (for example, in the optical assembly). Notably, additional color band separation can be provided in the optical assembly layer if desired.
  • It may be advantageous to employ programmable (in situ or otherwise) or fixed integration techniques for one or more (or all) of the camera channels in conjunction with a sensor array that acquires two or more predetermined or adaptively determined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths. In this regard, integration time(s) of one or more camera channels may be configured, designed and/or tailored to facilitate capture of, for example, multiple predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths in order to enhance, optimize and or provide an enhanced, designed, desired adaptively determined and/or predetermined acquisition technique. Notably, any of the embodiments discussed herein in relation to integration times of the camera channels may be incorporated with a sensor array that acquires two or more predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelength. For the sake of brevity, those discussions will not be repeated here.
  • The present inventions may be implemented using three sensor arrays (each acquiring one or more predetermined wavelengths or band of wavelengths for example, wavelengths that are associated with red, blue and green). In this embodiment, the three sensor arrays may be arranged in a triangular configuration (for example, a symmetrical, non-symmetrical, isosceles, obtuse, acute and/or right triangle) to provide full color (RGB) capability. The triangular configuration will provide symmetry in parallax and thereby simplify the algorithm computation to address parallax. The triangular configuration will also provide enhanced and/or optimal layout of a three image sensor array system/device and associated assembly layers for a more compact assembly.
  • In the triangular configuration/layout embodiment, it may be advantageous to employ programmable (in situ or otherwise) or fixed integration techniques for one or more (or all) of the camera channels. In this regard, integration time of one or more camera channels may be configured, designed and/or tailored to facilitate capture of, for example, multiple predetermined wavelengths or bands of wavelengths in order to enhance, optimize and or provide an enhanced, desired, designed adaptive determined and/or predetermined acquisition techniques. Notably, any of the embodiments discussed above herein in relation to integration times of the camera channels may be incorporated with triangular configuration/layout. For the sake of brevity, those discussions will not be repeated here.
  • As mentioned above, the digital camera according to the present inventions may include two or more camera channels. In one embodiment, the digital camera includes a plurality of sensor arrays (for example, greater than five sensor arrays) each acquiring a narrow predetermined number of wavelengths or band of wavelengths (for example, wavelengths that are associated with four to ten color bands). In this way, the digital camera may provide multi-spectral (for example, 4-10 color bands) or hyper-spectral (for example, 10-100 color bands) simultaneous imaging capability.
  • In another embodiment, the digital camera may employ black and white (B/W) sensor arrays that acquire multiple broadband B/W images. The combination of B/W camera channels may be used to provide increased wavelength range capability, different simultaneous fields of view, different simultaneous integrations times, active and passive imaging capability, higher resolution using multiple camera channels and parallax correction, 3D imaging (feature extraction) using multiple camera channels and increased parallax. Indeed, the multiple B/W camera channels can be combined with other camera channels for full or partial color capability. Notably, gray scale sensor arrays may be employed in conjunction with or in lieu of the B/W sensor arrays described herein.
  • In another embodiment, the digital camera subsystem includes a display. The display may be disposed in a display layer and/or integrated in or on the sensor array substrate.
  • In yet another embodiment, the digital camera subsystem provides one or more interfaces for communicating with the digital camera subsystem.
  • In another embodiment, the digital camera subsystem includes the capability for wired, wireless and/or optical communication. In some embodiments, the digital camera subsystem includes one or more circuits, or portions thereof, for use in such communication. The circuits may be disposed in a layer dedicated for use in such communication and/or may be incorporated into one of the other layers (for example, integrated in or on the sensor array substrate).
  • In one aspect of the present invention, a “scene” is imaged onto multiple sensor arrays. The sensor arrays may be in close proximity and may be processed on a single integrated circuit or fabricated individually and assembled close together. Each sensor array is located in or beneath an optical assembly. The optical assembly, can be processed of the sensor subsystem wafer, applied to the image wafer by a separate wafer transfer, transferred individually by pick and place method, or attached at die level.
  • Where color filters are employed, the color filters can be built into the optical material, disposed as a layer or coating on the associated sensor array, applied as a lens coating or as a separate color filter in the optical assembly. Color separation mechanisms can also be provided on each imaging area by means of color filters or by an in-pixel color separation mechanism if desired. Other optical features can be added to the optical system of each sensor array to provide additional imaging capability.
  • In some embodiments, the design and electrical operation of each sensor array is optimized for sensing the incident wavelengths of light to that sensor array. The use of multiple optical assemblies with individually optimized sensor arrays results is a compact camera capable of high resolution, high sensitivity and excellent color rendition.
  • In one aspect, the present invention is a digital camera comprising a plurality of arrays of photo detectors, including a first array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of, for example, light of a first wavelength (which may be associated with a first color) and a second array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of, for example, light of a second wavelength (which may be associated with a second color). The digital camera may include signal processing circuitry, coupled to the first and second arrays of photo detectors, to generate a composite image using (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors. In this aspect of the present invention, the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry are integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • The digital camera may further include a third array of photo detectors to sample the intensity of light of a third wavelength (which may be associated with a third color). In this embodiment, the signal processing circuitry is coupled to the third array of photo detectors and generates a composite image using (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the third array of photo detectors. The first, second and third arrays of photo detectors may be relatively arranged in a triangular configuration (for example, an isosceles, obtuse, acute or a right triangular configuration).
  • In certain embodiments, the first array of photo detectors may sample the intensity of light of the first wavelength for a first integration time; the second array of photo detectors sample the intensity of light of the second wavelength for a second integration time. Where the digital camera includes a third array of photo detectors, the third array of photo detectors sample the intensity of light of the third wavelength for the first integration time, the second integration time, or a third integration time.
  • The digital camera may include a first array wherein each photo detector of the first array includes a semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light is sampled. Further, each photo detector of the second array includes a semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light is sampled. In certain embodiments, the semiconductor portion of each photo detector of the first array is located at a different depth, relative to a surface of each of the photo detectors, from than semiconductor portion of each photo detector of the second array.
  • The digital camera may further include a first lens disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of photo detectors as well as a second lens disposed in and associated with an optical path of the second array of photo detectors. A substantially uniform color filter sheet may be disposed in the optical path of the first array of detectors. Further, a first colored lens disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of detectors.
  • Notably, the digital camera may further including a first lens (passes light of a first wavelength and filters light of a second wavelength) disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of photo detectors, wherein the first array of photo detectors sample an intensity of light of a first wavelength and the second array of photo detectors sample an intensity of light of a second wavelength.
  • The digital camera may include a first array of photo detectors that samples an intensity of light of a first wavelength and an intensity of light of a second wavelength and a second array of photo detectors sample an intensity of light of a third wavelength, wherein the first wavelength is associated with a first color, the second wavelength is associated with a second color and the third wavelength is associated with a third color. Each photo detector of the first array may include a first semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the first wavelength is sampled and a second semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the second wavelength is sampled; and each photo detector of the second array may include a semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the third wavelength is sampled; and wherein the first and second semiconductor portions of each photo detector of the first array are located at a different depth, relative to each other and to a surface of each of the photo detectors from the semiconductor portion of each photo detector of the second array.
  • In this embodiment, the digital camera may further include a first lens disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of photo detectors and a second lens disposed in and associated with an optical path of the second array of photo detectors wherein the first lens passes light of the first and second wavelengths and filters light of the third wavelength. Indeed, the digital camera may include an optical filter disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of photo detectors wherein the optical filter passes light of the first and second wavelengths and filters light of the third wavelength. Moreover, the first array of detectors may sample the intensity of light of the first wavelength for a first integration time and the intensity of light of the second wavelength for a second integration time; and the second array of photo detectors may sample the intensity of light of the third wavelength for a third integration time.
  • The signal processing circuitry of the digital camera may generate a first image using data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and a second image using data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors. Thereafter, the signal processing circuitry may generate the composite image using the first image and the second image.
  • The digital camera may further include a memory to store (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors. The memory, the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry may be integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • Further, timing and control logic may be included to provide timing and control information to the signal processing circuitry, the first array of photo detectors and/or the second array of photo detectors. In addition, communication circuitry (wireless, wired and/or optical communication circuitry) to output data which is representative of the composite image. The communication circuitry, memory, the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry may be integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • In any of the embodiments above, the first array of photo detectors may include a first surface area and the second array of photo detectors includes a second surface area wherein the first surface area is different from the second surface area. Moreover, the photo detectors of the first array may include a first active surface area and the photo detectors of the second array may include a second active surface area wherein the first active surface area is different from the second active surface area.
  • In addition, in any of the embodiments, the first array of photo detectors may include a first surface area and the second array of photo detectors includes a second surface area wherein the first surface area is substantially the same as the second surface area. The photo detectors of the first array may include a first active surface area and the photo detectors of the second array may include a second active surface area wherein the first active surface area is different from the second active surface area.
  • A digital camera comprising a plurality of arrays of photo detectors, including a first array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of a first wavelength (which may be associated with a first color) and a second array of photo detectors to sample an intensity of light of a second wavelength (which may be is associated with a second color). The digital camera further may also include a first lens (which may pass light of the first wavelength onto an image plane of the photo detectors of the first array and may filter/attenuate light of the second wavelength) disposed in an optical path of the first array of photo detectors, wherein the first lens includes a predetermined optical response to the light of the first wavelength, and a second lens (which may pass light of the second wavelength onto an image plane of the photo detectors of the second array and may filter/attenuate light of the first wavelength) disposed in with an optical path of the second array of photo detectors wherein the second lens includes a predetermined optical response to the light of the second wavelength. In addition, the digital camera may include signal processing circuitry, coupled to the first and second arrays of photo detectors, to generate a composite image using (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors; wherein the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry are integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • The digital camera may further include a third array of photo detectors to sample the intensity of light of a third wavelength (which may be is associated with a third color) and a third lens disposed in with an optical path of the third array of photo detectors wherein the third lens includes a predetermined optical response to the light of the third wavelength. As such, the signal processing circuitry is coupled to the third array of photo detectors and generates a composite image using (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the third array of photo detectors. The first, second and third arrays of photo detectors may be relatively arranged in a triangular configuration (for example, an isosceles, obtuse, acute or a right triangular configuration).
  • In one embodiment, the first lens filters light of the second and third wavelengths, the second lens filters light of the first and third wavelengths, and the third lens filters light of the first and second wavelengths.
  • In one embodiment, the first array of photo detectors sample the intensity of light of the first wavelength for a first integration time and the second array of photo detectors sample the intensity of light of the second wavelength for a second integration time. Where the digital camera includes a third array, the third array of photo detectors may sample the intensity of light of the third wavelength for a third integration time.
  • The digital camera may further include a housing, wherein the first and second lenses, first and second arrays of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry are attached to the housing, and wherein the first and second lenses are independently positionable relative to the associated array of photo detectors.
  • In some embodiments, the first array of photo detectors sample an intensity of light of the first wavelength (which is associated with a first color) and an intensity of light of a third wavelength (which is associated with a third color) and the second array of photo detectors sample an intensity of light of a second wavelength (which is associated with a second color). Here, each photo detector of the first array may include a first semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the first wavelength is sampled and a second semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the third wavelength is sampled. Further, each photo detector of the second array may include a semiconductor portion at which the intensity of light of the second wavelength is sampled. In this embodiment, the first and second semiconductor portions of each photo detector of the first array are located at a different depth, relative to each other and to a surface of each of the photo detectors from the semiconductor portion of each photo detector of the second array.
  • Further, in one or more of these embodiments, the first lens may pass light of the first and third wavelengths and filters light of a second wavelength. In addition to, or in lieu thereof, an optical filter disposed in and associated with an optical path of the first array of photo detectors wherein the optical filter passes light of the first and third wavelengths and filters light of the second wavelength.
  • Moreover, the first array of photo detectors may sample the intensity of light of the first wavelength for a first integration time and the intensity of light of the third wavelength for a third integration time. The second array of photo detectors sample the intensity of light of the third wavelength for a second integration time.
  • The signal processing circuitry of the digital camera may generate a first image using data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and a second image using data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors. Thereafter, the signal processing circuitry may generate the composite image using the first image and the second image.
  • The digital camera may further include a memory to store (i) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the first array of photo detectors, and (ii) data which is representative of the intensity of light sampled by the second array of photo detectors. The memory, the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry may be integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • Further, timing and control logic may be included to provide timing and control information to the signal processing circuitry, the first array of photo detectors and/or the second array of photo detectors. In addition, communication circuitry (wireless, wired and/or optical communication circuitry) to output data which is representative of the composite image. The communication circuitry, memory, the first array of photo detectors, the second array of photo detectors, and the signal processing circuitry may be integrated on or in the same semiconductor substrate.
  • The signal processing circuitry may include first signal processing circuitry and second signal processing circuitry wherein the first signal processing circuitry is coupled to and associated with the first array of photo detectors and second signal processing circuitry is coupled to and associated with the second array of photo detectors. In addition, the signal processing circuitry includes first analog signal logic and second analog signal logic wherein the first analog signal logic is coupled to and associated with the first array of photo detectors and second analog signal logic is coupled to and associated with the second array of photo detectors. Moreover, the signal processing circuitry may include first black level logic and second black level logic wherein the first black level logic is coupled to and associated with the first array of photo detectors and second black level logic is coupled to and associated with the second array of photo detectors. Notably, the signal processing circuitry includes first exposure control circuitry and second exposure control circuitry wherein the first exposure control circuitry is coupled to and associated with the first array of photo detectors and second exposure control circuitry is coupled to and associated with the second array of photo detectors.
  • The digital camera may include a frame, wherein the first and second arrays of photo detectors, the signal processing circuitry, and the first and second lenses are fixed to the frame.
  • In any of the embodiments above, the first array of photo detectors may include a first surface area and the second array of photo detectors includes a second surface area wherein the first surface area is different from the second surface area. Moreover, the photo detectors of the first array may include a first active surface area and the photo detectors of the second array may include a second active surface area wherein the first active surface area is different from the second active surface area.
  • In addition, in any of the embodiments, the first array of photo detectors may include a first surface area and the second array of photo detectors includes a second surface area wherein the first surface area is substantially the same as the second surface area. The photo detectors of the first array may include a first active surface area and the photo detectors of the second array may include a second active surface area wherein the first active surface area is different from the second active surface area.
  • Again, there are many inventions described and illustrated herein. This Summary of the Invention is not exhaustive of the scope of the present inventions. Moreover, this Summary of the Invention is not intended to be limiting of the invention and should not be interpreted in that manner. Thus, while certain embodiments have been described and/or outlined in this Summary of the Invention, it should be understood that the present invention is not limited to such embodiments, description and/or outline. Indeed, many others embodiments, which may be different from and/or similar to, the embodiments presented in this Summary, will be apparent from the description, illustrations and/or claims, which follow.
  • In addition, although various features, attributes and advantages have been described in this Summary of the Invention and/or are apparent in light thereof, it should be understood that such features, attributes and advantages are not required whether in one, some or all of the embodiments of the present inventions, and indeed, except where stated otherwise, need not be present in any of the aspects and/or embodiments of the present invention.
  • Various objects, features and/or advantages of one or more aspects and/or embodiments of the present invention will become more apparent from the following detailed description and the accompanying drawings in which like numerals represent like components. It should be understood however, that any such objects, features, and/or advantages are not required, and indeed, except where stated otherwise, need not be present in any of the aspects and/or embodiments of the present invention.
  • It should be understood that the various aspects and embodiments of the present invention that do not appear in the claims that follow are preserved for presentation in one or more divisional/continuation patent applications.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS
  • In the course of the detailed description to follow, reference will be made to the attached drawings. These drawings show different aspects and embodiments of the present invention and, where appropriate, reference numerals illustrating like structures, components, materials and/or elements in different figures are labeled similarly. It is understood that various combinations of the structures, components, materials and/or elements, other than those specifically shown, are contemplated and are within the scope of the present invention.
  • FIG. 1A illustrates a prior art digital camera, and its primary components;
  • FIGS. 1B-1D are schematic illustrations of the prior art image capturing elements of the prior art digital camera of FIG. 1A;
  • FIG. 1E shows the operation of the lens assembly of the prior art camera of FIG. 1A, in a retracted mode;
  • FIG. 1F shows the operation of the lens assembly of the prior art camera of FIG. 1A, in an optical zoom mode;
  • FIG. 2 illustrates a digital camera, and its primary components, including a digital camera subsystem (DCS) in accordance with one embodiment of aspects of the invention;
  • FIGS. 3A-3B are schematics of a digital camera subsystem (DCS);
  • FIG. 4 illustrates a digital camera subsystem having a three array/lens configuration.
  • FIGS. 5A-5C is a schematic of image capture using the digital camera subsystem (DCS) of FIGS. 2-3;
  • FIG. 6A is an alternative digital camera subsystem (DCS) having four arrays;
  • FIG. 6B is a flow chart for the alternative digital camera subsystem (DCS) of FIG. 6A;
  • FIGS. 7A-7C are a schematic of a four-lens system used in the DCS of FIG. 3;
  • FIG. 8 is a schematic representation of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of aspects of the present invention;
  • FIG. 9A is a schematic exploded representation of an optics portion that may be employed in a digital camera apparatus in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 9B-9D are schematic exploded representations of optics portions that may be employed in a digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 10A-10H are schematic representations of optics portions that may be employed in a digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 11A-11B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens used in an optics portion adapted to transmit red light or a red band of light, e.g., for a red camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 12A-12B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens used in an optics portion adapted to transmit green light or a green band of light, e.g., for a green camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 13A-13B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens used in an optics portion adapted to transmit blue light or a blue band of light, e.g., for a blue camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 14 is a schematic view of a lens used in an optics portion adapted to transmit red light or a red band of light, e.g., for a red camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 15A-15F are schematic representations of lenses that may be employed in a digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 16A is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in a digital camera apparatus in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 16B is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 16A;
  • FIG. 16C is a schematic representation of circuit that may be employed in the pixel of FIG. 16B, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 17A is a schematic representation of a portion of a sensor array in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 17B-17K are schematic cross sectional views of various embodiments of one or more pixels in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention; such pixel embodiments may be implemented in any of the embodiments described and/or illustrated herein;
  • FIG. 17F are explanatory representations of sensor arrays in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 18A-18B depict an image being captured by a portion of a sensor array, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 19A-19B depict an image being captured by a portion of a sensor array in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 20A-20B are schematic representations of a relative positioning provided for an optics portion and a respective sensor array in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 21 is a schematic representation of a relative positioning that may be provided for four optics portions and four sensor arrays, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 22A-22B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 23A-23B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 24A-24B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 25A-25B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 26A-26B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 27A-27B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 28A is a schematic perspective view of a support and optics portions that may be seated therein, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 28B is an enlarged schematic plan view of the support of FIG. 28A;
  • FIG. 28C is an enlarged schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 28A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 28B;
  • FIG. 28D is an enlarged exploded schematic cross sectional view of a portion of the support of FIG. 28A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 28B; and a lens that may be seated therein;
  • FIG. 29A is a schematic cross sectional view of a support and optics portions seated therein, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 29B is a schematic cross sectional view of a support and optics portions seated therein, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 30A is a schematic perspective view of a support and optics portions that may be seated therein, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 30B is a schematic plan view of the support of FIG. 30A;
  • FIG. 30C is a schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 30A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 30B;
  • FIG. 30D is a schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 30A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 30B; and a lens that may be seated therein;
  • FIG. 31A is a schematic perspective view of a support and optics portions that may be seated therein, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 31B is a schematic plan view of the support of FIG. 31A;
  • FIG. 31C is a schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 31A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 31B;
  • FIG. 31D is a schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 31A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 31B; and a lens that may be seated therein;
  • FIG. 32 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 33A-33F shows one embodiment for assembling and mounting the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 32;
  • FIG. 33G is a schematic perspective view of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 33H-33K are schematic elevational views of mounting and electrical connector configurations that may be employed in association with a digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 34 is a schematic cross section view of a support that may be employed to support the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, at least in part, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 35A-35C show one embodiment for assembling three lenslets of an optics portion in the support.
  • FIG. 36 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 34 and the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 37 is a schematic cross sectional view of another support that may be employed to support the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, at least in part, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 38 is a schematic cross sectional view of another support that may be employed to support the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, at least in part, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 39 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 37 and the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 40 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 38 and the optics portions of FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B, and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 41A-41D, are schematic cross sectional views of seating configurations that may be employed in a digital camera apparatus to support the lenses of FIGS. 15A-15D, respectively, at least in part, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 42-44 are schematic cross sectional views of supports that employ the seating configurations of FIGS. 41B-41D, respectively, and may be employed to support the lenses shown in FIGS. 15B-15D, respectively, at least in part, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 45 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 42 and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 46 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 43 and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 47 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus that includes the support of FIG. 44 and a printed circuit board on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted; in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 48 is a schematic representation of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 49 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus and a printed circuit board of a digital camera on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 50A-50F shows one embodiment for assembling and mounting the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 49.
  • FIG. 51 is a schematic representation of a digital camera apparatus that includes a spacer in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 52 is a schematic representation of a digital camera apparatus that includes a spacer, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 53 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus and a printed circuit board of a digital camera on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 54A-54F shows one such embodiment for assembling and mounting the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 53.
  • FIG. 55 is a schematic representation of a digital camera apparatus that includes a second device and a spacer, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 56 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus and a printed circuit board of a digital camera on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 57A-57F shows one such embodiment for assembling and mounting the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 56;
  • FIGS. 58-62 are schematic cross-sectional views of digital camera apparatus and printed circuit boards of digital cameras on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 63-67 are schematic cross-sectional views of digital camera apparatus and printed circuit boards of digital cameras on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 68-72 are schematic cross-sectional views of digital camera apparatus and printed circuit boards of digital cameras on which the digital camera apparatus may be mounted, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 73A-73B are schematic elevational and cross sectional views, respectively, of a support in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 74 is a schematic cross sectional view of a support in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 75 is a schematic plan view of a support in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 76A is a schematic view of a digital camera apparatus that includes one or more output devices in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 76B-76C are schematic front and rear elevational views respectively, of a display device that may be employed in the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 76A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 76D-76E are schematic views of digital camera apparatus that include one or more output devices in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 77A is a schematic view of a digital camera apparatus that includes one or more input devices in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 77B-77C are enlarged schematic front and rear perspective views respectively, of an input device that may be employed in the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 77A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 77D-77L are schematic views of digital camera apparatus that include one or more output devices in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 77M-77N are schematic plan and cross sectional views, respectively, of a support in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 78A is a schematic view of a digital camera apparatus that includes one or more illumination devices in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 78B-78C are enlarged schematic front and rear perspective views respectively, of an illumination device that may be employed in the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 78A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 78D-78L are schematic perspective views of digital camera apparatus that include one or more illumination devices in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 78M-78N are schematic views of digital camera apparatus that include one or illumination devices in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 79A-79C are schematic perspective views of digital camera apparatus that include one or more input devices and one or more output devices, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention.
  • FIGS. 80A-80F are schematic perspective views of digital camera apparatus that include one or more input devices, one or more display devices and one or more illumination devices, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention.
  • FIG. 81A is a schematic perspective view a digital camera apparatus that includes molded plastic packaging in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 81B-81C are schematic exploded perspective views of the digital camera apparatus of FIG. 81A;
  • FIG. 82 is an enlarged schematic front perspective view of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 83A-83C are schematic front perspective views of sensor array and processor configurations, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 83A-83C are schematic front perspective views of sensor array configurations, in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 84A-84E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 85A-85E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 86A-86E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 87A-8B are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 88A-88E are schematic representations of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 88A-88E are schematic representation of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 89A-89E are schematic representation of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 90A, 91A-91B, 92A-92B, 93A-93, 94A-94B, 95A-95B and 96A-96B are a schematic plan views and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of some embodiments of the image device;
  • FIG. 90A is a schematic plan view of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 91A-91B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 92A-92B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 93A-93B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 94A-94B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 95A-95B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 96A-96B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 97A is a schematic plan view of a support and optics portions that may be seated therein, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 97B is a schematic cross sectional view of the support of FIG. 97A, taken along the direction A-A of FIG. 97B;
  • FIG. 97C is an exploded schematic cross sectional view of a portion of the support of FIG. 97A and a lens that may be seated therein;
  • FIGS. 99A-99D are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 100A-100D are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 101A is schematic front perspective view of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 101B is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 101A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 101C is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 101B;
  • FIG. 101D is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 101A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 101E is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 101D;
  • FIG. 102F is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 101A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 101G is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 101F;
  • FIG. 102A is schematic front perspective view of an image device in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 102B is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 102A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 102C is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 102B;
  • FIG. 102D is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 102A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 102E is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 102D;
  • FIG. 102F is a schematic representation of a sensor array and circuits connected thereto, which may be employed in the image device of FIG. 102A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 102G is a schematic representation of a pixel of the sensor array of FIG. 102F;
  • FIGS. 103A-103E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 104A-104E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 105A-105E are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 106A-106C are schematic perspective views of a system having a plurality of digital camera apparatus, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 107A is a schematic perspective view of a system having a plurality of digital camera apparatus, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 107B is a schematic elevational view of image devices that may be employed in the system of FIG. 107A;
  • FIGS. 108A-108B are schematic representations of digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 109A-109E are block diagram representations showing configurations of digital camera apparatus in accordance embodiments of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110A is a block diagram of a processor in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110B is a block diagram of a channel processor that may be employed in the processor of FIG. 110A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110C is a block diagram of an image pipeline that may be employed in the processor of FIG. 110A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110D is a block diagram of a post processor that may be employed in the processor of FIG. 110A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110E is a block diagram of a system control and other portions of a digital camera apparatus, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 110F is representation of an instruction format according to one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111A is a block diagram of a channel processor in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111B is a graphical representation of a neighborhood of pixel values.
  • FIG. 111C shows a flowchart of operations employed in one embodiment of a double sampler;
  • FIG. 111D shows a flowchart of operations employed in one embodiment of a defective pixel identifier;
  • FIG. 111E is a block diagram of an image pipeline in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111F is a schematic diagram of an image plane integrator, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111G is an explanatory representation of a multi-phase clock that may be employed in the image plane integrator of FIG. 111G;
  • FIGS. 111H-111J are explanatory views showing representations of images generated by three camera channels, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 111K-111Q are explanatory views showing a representation of a process carried out by the automatic image alignment portion for the images of FIGS. 111H-111J, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111R is a schematic block diagram of an automatic exposure control, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111S is a schematic block diagram of a zoom controller, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 111T-111V are explanatory views of a process carried out by the zoom controller of FIG. 111S, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111W is a graphical representation showing an example of the operation of a gamma correction portion, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention
  • FIG. 111X is a schematic block diagram of a gamma correction portion employed in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111Y is a schematic block diagram of a color correction portion, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111Z is a schematic block diagram of an edge enhancer/sharpener, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111AA is a schematic block diagram of a chroma noise reduction portion in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111AB is an explanatory view showing a representation of a process carried out by a white balance portion, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111AC is a schematic block diagram of a color enhancement portion, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111AD is a schematic block diagram of a scaling portion, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 111AE is an explanatory view, showing a representation of upscaling, in accordance with one embodiment;
  • FIG. 111AF is a flowchart of operations that may be employed in the alignment portion, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 112 is a block diagram of a channel processor in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 113 is a block diagram of a channel processor in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 114A is a block diagram of an image pipeline in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 114B is a block diagram of an image pipeline in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 114C is a schematic block diagram of a chroma noise reduction portion in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention
  • FIGS. 115A-115L are explanatory views showing examples of parallax;
  • FIG. 115M is an explanatory view showing an image viewed by a first camera channel superimposed with an image viewed by a second camera channel if parallax is eliminated, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 115N-115R are explanatory representations showing examples of decreasing the parallax;
  • FIGS. 115S-115V and 115X are explanatory views showing examples of increasing the parallax;
  • FIG. 116 shows a flowchart of operations that may be employed in generating an estimate of a distance to an object, or portion thereof, according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 117 is a schematic block diagram of a portion of a range finder, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 118 is a schematic block diagram of a locator portion of the range finder, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 119A-119C are explanatory representations showing examples of 3D imaging;
  • FIG. 120 is an explanatory representation of another type of 3D imaging;
  • FIGS. 121-122 show a flowchart of operations that may be employed in 3D imaging, according to another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 123 is a schematic block diagram of a 3D effect generator in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 124 is a schematic block diagram of a 3D effect generator in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 125 shows a flowchart of operations that may be employed in image discrimination, according to another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 126A-126B illustrate a flowchart of operations that may be employed in image discrimination, according to another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 127 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 128 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 129 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 130 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 131 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 132 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 133 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 134 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 135 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 136 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 137 is a schematic block diagram representation of one or more portions of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention; and
  • FIG. 138 is one or more aspects/techniques/embodiments for implementing spectral optimization of one or more components of a digital camera apparatus in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention; one or more of the aspects/techniques/embodiments may be implemented in any of the embodiments described and/or illustrated herein.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • In FIG. 1A a prior art digital camera 1 generally includes the primary image capturing elements of an image sensor 150, a color filter sheet 160 and a series of lenses 170 (in a lens assembly). Additional electronic components typically include a circuit board 110, a peripheral user interface electronics 120 (here represented as a shutter button, but could also include display, settings, controls, etc), power supply 130, and electronic image storage media 140
  • The digital camera 1 further includes a housing (including housing portions 173, 174, 175, 176, 177 and 178) and a shutter assembly (not shown), which controls an aperture 180 and passage of light into the digital camera 1. A mechanical frame 181 is used to hold the various parts of the lens assembly together. The lens assembly includes the lenses 170 and one or more electro-mechanical devices 182 to move the lenses 170 along an axis 183. The mechanical frame 181 and the one or more electro-mechanical devices 182 may be made up of numerous components and/or complex assemblies.
  • The color filter sheet 160 has an array of color filters arranged in a Bayer pattern. A Bayer pattern historically uses filters of red, green, blue and typically a second green (e.g., a 2×2 matrix of colors with alternating red and green in one row and alternating green and blue in the other row, although other colors may be used) although patterns may vary depending on the need of the customer. The Bayer pattern is repeated throughout the color filter array 112 as illustrated in FIGS. 1A-1D. This pattern is repeated over the entire array as illustrated.
  • The image sensor 150 contains a plurality of identical photo detectors (sometimes referred to as “picture elements” or “pixels”) arranged in a matrix. The number of photo detectors is usually in the range of hundreds of thousands to millions. The lens assembly spans the diagonal of the array.
  • The color filter array 160 is laid over the image sensor 150 such that each of the color filters in the color filter sheet 160 is disposed above a respective one of the photo detectors in the image sensor 150, whereby each photo detector in the image sensor receives a specific band of visible light (e.g., red, green or blue).
  • FIGS. 1B-1D illustrate the photon capture process used by the prior art digital camera 1 in creating a color image. The full spectrum of visible light 184 strikes the set of lenses, which essentially passes along the full spectrum. The full spectrum then strikes the color filters of the color filter sheet 160 and each of the individual color filters of the color filter sheet 160 passes its specific band of spectrum on to its specific pixel. This process is repeated for every pixel. Each pixel provides a signal indicative of the color intensity received thereby. Signal processing circuitry (not shown) receives alternating color signals from the photo detectors, processes them in uniform fashion by integrating each set of four pixels (red/green/blue/green or variation thereof) into a single full color pixel, and ultimately outputs a color image.
  • FIG. 1E shows the operation of the lens assembly in a retracted mode (sometimes referred to as normal mode or a near focus setting). The lens assembly is shown focused on a distant object (represented as a lightning bolt) 186. A representation of the image sensor 150 is included for reference purposes. A field of view for the camera 1 is defined between reference lines 188, 190. The width of the field of view may be for example, 50 millimeters (mm). To achieve this field of view 188, 190, the one or more electro-mechanical devices 182 have positioned lenses 170 relatively close together. The lens assembly passes the field of view through the lenses 170 and onto the image sensor 150 as indicated by reference lines 192, 194. An image of the object (indicated at 196) is presented onto the image sensor 150 in the same ratio as the width of the actual image 186 relative to the actual field of view 188, 190.
  • FIG. 1F shows the operation of the lens assembly 110 in an optical zoom mode (sometimes referred to as a far focus setting). In this mode, the one or more electro-mechanical devices 182 of the lens assembly re-position the lens 170 so as to reduce the field of view 188, 190 over the same image area, thus making the object 186 appear closer (i.e., larger). One benefit of the lens assembly is that the resolution with the lens assembly in zoom mode is typically equal to the resolution with the lens assembly in retracted mode. One drawback, however, is that the lens assembly can be costly and complex. Moreover, providing a lens with zoom capability results in less light sensitivity and thus increases the F-stop of the lens, thereby making the lens less effective in low light conditions.
  • Some other drawbacks associated with the traditional digital camera 1 are as follows.
  • Traditional digital cameras, employing one large array on an image sensor, also employ one lens that must span the entire array. That creates two physical size related issues: 1) a lens that spans a large array (e.g. 3 Meg pixels) will be physically larger than a lens that spans a smaller array (e.g., 1 Meg pixels) in both diameter and thickness; and 2) a larger lens/array combination will likely have a longer focal length which will increase the height of the lens.
  • Also, since the traditional lens must resolve the entire spectrum of visible light wavelengths, they are complex, usually with 3-8 separate elements. This also adds to the optical stack height, complexity and cost.
  • Further, since the traditional lens must pass all bandwidths of color, it must be a clear lens (no color filtering). The needed color filtering previously described is accomplished by depositing a sheet of tiny color filters beneath the lens and on top of the image sensor. For example, an image sensor with one million pixels will require a sheet of one million individual color filters. This color filter array technique is costly (non-standard integrated circuit processing), presents a limiting factor in shrinking the size of the pixels (cross-talk of colors between pixels in the imaging sensor), plus the color filter array material attenuates the in-band photon stream passing through it (i.e., reduces light sensitivity) since in-band transmission of the color filter array material is less than 100%.
  • Further, since the lens must be moved forward and backwards with respect to the image sensor, additional time and power are required. This is an undesirable aspect of digital cameras as it creates long delays in capture response time as well as diminished battery capacity.
  • One or more of the above drawbacks associated with traditional digital cameras may be addressed by one or more embodiments of one or more aspects of the present invention, although this is not required.
  • FIG. 2 shows an example of a digital camera 2, and components thereof, in accordance with one embodiment of certain aspects of the present invention. The digital camera includes a digital camera subsystem 200, a circuit board 110, a peripheral user interface electronics (here represented as a shutter button, but could also include display and/or one or more other output devices, setting controls and/or one or more additional input devices etc) 120, a power supply 130, and electronic image storage media 140.
  • The digital camera of FIG. 2 may further include a housing and a shutter assembly (not shown), which controls an aperture 180 and passage of light into the digital camera 2.
  • FIGS. 3A-3B are partially exploded, schematic views of one embodiment of the digital camera subsystem 200. In this embodiment, the digital camera subsystem includes an image sensor 210, a frame 220 (FIGS. 7A-7C) and lenses 230A-230D. The image sensor 210 generally includes a semiconductor integrated circuit or “chip” having several higher order features including multiple arrays 210A-210D and signal processing circuitries 212, 214. Each of the arrays 210A-210D captures photons and outputs electronic signals. The signal processing circuitry 212, in certain embodiments, processes signals for each of the individual arrays 210. The signal processing circuitry 214 may combine the output from signal processing 212 into output data (usually in the form of a recombined full color image). Each array and the related signal processing circuitry may be preferably tailored to address a specific band of visible spectrum.
  • Each of lenses 230A-230D may be advantageously tailored for the respective wavelength of the respective array. Lenses will generally be about the same size as the underlying array, and will therefore differ from one another in size and shape depending upon the dimensions of the underlying array. Of course, there is no requirement that a given lens cover all, or only, the underlying array. In alternative embodiments a lens could cover only a portion of an array, and could extend beyond the array. Lenses can comprise any suitable material or materials, including for example, glass and plastic. Lenses can be doped in any suitable manner, such as to impart a color filtering, polarization, or other property. Lenses can be rigid or flexible.
  • The frame 220 (FIGS. 7A-7C) is used to mount the lenses 230A-230D to the image sensor 210.
  • In this exemplary embodiment, each lens, array, and signal processing circuitry constitutes an image generating subsystem for a band of visible spectrum (e.g., red, blue, green, etc). These individual images are then combined with additional signal processing circuitry within the semiconductor chip to form a full image for output.
  • Those skilled in the art will appreciate that although the digital camera subsystem 210 is depicted in a four array/lens configuration, the digital camera subsystem can be employed in a configuration having any multiple numbers and shapes of arrays/lenses.
  • FIG. 4 depicts a digital camera subsystem having a three array/lens configuration.
  • In FIGS. 5A-5C, the digital camera subsystem employs the separate arrays, e.g., arrays 210A-210D, on one image sensor to supplant the prior art approach (which employs a Bayer pattern (or variations thereof), operations across the array (a pixel at a time) and integrates each set of four pixels (for example, red/green/blue/green or variation thereof) from the array into a single full color pixel). Each of such arrays focuses on a specific band of visible spectrum. As such, each array may be tuned so that it is more efficient in capturing and processing the image in that particular color. Individual lenses (230A-D) can be tailored for the array's band of spectrum. Each lens only needs to pass that color (184A-184D) on to the image sensor. The traditional color filter sheet is eliminated. Each array outputs signals to signal processing circuitry. Signal processing circuitry for each of these arrays is also tailored for each of the bands of visible spectrum. In effect, individual images are created for each of these arrays. Following this process, the individual images are combined to form one full color or black/white image. By tailoring each array and the associated signal processing circuitry, a higher quality image can be generated than the image resulting from traditional image sensors of like pixel count.
  • FIGS. 6A-6B illustrate some of the many processing operations that can be advantageously used. As stated above, each array outputs signals to the signal processing circuitry 212. Within the signal processing circuitry, each array can be processed separately to tailor the processing to the respective bands of spectrum. Several functions occur:
  • The column logic (212.1A-D) is the portion of the signal processing circuitry that reads the signals from the pixels. For example, the column logic 212.1A reads signals from the pixels in array 210A. Column logic 212.1B reads signals from the pixels in array 210B. Column logic 212.1C reads signals from the pixels in array 210C. Column logic 212.1D reads signals from the pixels in array 210D.
  • Since the array is targeting a specific wavelength, wavelengths, band of wavelength, or band of wavelengths, the column logic may have different integration times for each array enhancing dynamic range and/or color specificity. Signal processing circuitry complexity for each array can be substantially reduced since logic may not have to switch between extreme color shifts.
  • The Analog Signal Logic (ASL) (212.2A-D) for each array may be color specific. As such, the ASL processes a single color and therefore can be optimized for gain, noise, dynamic range, linearity, etc. Due to color signal separation, dramatic shifts in the logic and settling time are not required as the amplifiers and logic do not change on a pixel by pixel (color to color) basis as in traditional Bayer patterned designs.
  • The black level logic (212.3A-D) assesses the level of noise within the signal, and filters it out. With each array focused upon a narrower band of visible spectrum than traditional image sensors, the black level logic can be more finely tuned to eliminate noise.
  • The exposure control (212.4A-D) measures the overall volume of light being captured by the array and will adjust the capture time for image quality. Traditional cameras must make this determination on a global basis (for all colors). Our invention allows for exposure control to occur for each array and targeted band of wavelengths differently.
  • These processed images are then passed to the second group of signal processing circuitry 214. First, the image processing logic 214.1 integrates the multiple color planes into a single color image. The image is adjusted for saturation, sharpness, intensity, hue, artifact removal, and defective pixel correction. The IPL also provides the algorithmic auto focus, zoom, windowing, pixel binning and camera functions.
  • The final two operations are to encode the signal into standard protocols 214.2 such as MPEG, JPEG, etc. before passing to a standard output interface 214.3, such as USB.
  • Although the signal processing circuitries 212, 214 are shown at specific areas of the image sensor, the signal processing circuitries 212, 214 can be placed anywhere on the chip and subdivided in any fashion. The signal processing circuitries in fact will likely be placed in multiple locations.
  • As previously stated, the image sensor 210 (FIGS. 3A-3B) generally includes a semiconductor chip having several higher order features including multiple arrays (210A-210 D), and signal processing circuitry 212, in which each array and the related signal processing circuitry is preferably tailored to address a specific band of visible spectrum. As noted above, the image sensor array can be configured using any multiple numbers and shapes of arrays.
  • The image sensor 210 can be constructed using any suitable technology, including especially silicon and germanium technologies. The pixels can be formed in any suitable manner, can be sized and dimensioned as desired, and can be distributed in any desired pattern. Pixels that are distributed without any regular pattern could even be used.
  • Any range of visible spectrum can be applied to each array depending on the specific interest of the customer. Further, an infrared array could also be employed as one of the array/lens combinations giving low light capabilities to the sensor.
  • As previously described, arrays 210A-D may be of any size or shape. FIG. 3 shows the arrays as individual, discrete sections of the image sensor. These arrays may also be touching. There may also be one large array configured such that the array is subdivided into sections whereby each section is focused upon one band of spectrum, creating the same effect as separate arrays on the same chip.
  • Although the well depth of the photo detectors (for example, an area or portion of the photo detector that captures, collects, is responsive to, detects and/or senses for example, the intensity illumination of incident light; in some embodiments, the well depth is the distance from the surface of the photo detector to a doped region—see, for example, FIGS. 17B-E) across each individual array (designated 210A-D) may be the same, the well depth of any given array may be different from that of one or more or all of other arrays of the sensor subsystem. Selection of an appropriate well depth could depend on many factors, including most likely the targeted band of visible spectrum. Since each entire array is likely to be targeted at one band of visible spectrum (e.g., red) the well depth can be designed to capture that wavelength and ignore others (e.g., blue, green).
  • Doping of the semiconductor material in the color specific arrays can further be used to enhance the selectivity of the photon absorption for color specific wavelengths.
  • In FIGS. 7A-7C, frame 220 is a thin plate bored to carry the individual lenses (represented by 230A, 230C) over each array. Lenses may be fixed to the frame in a wide range of manners: adhesive, press fit, electronic bonding, etc. The mounting holes may have a small “seat” at the base to control the depth of the lens position. The depth may be different for each lens and is a result of the specific focal length for the particular lens tailored for each array.
  • The frames shown in FIGS. 7A-7C are solid devices that offer a wide range of options for manufacturing, material, mounting, size, and shape. Of course, other suitable frames can be readily designed, all of which fall within the inventive scope.
  • Although the Figures show individual lenses per array, assembled into a frame, the lenses could be manufactured such that the lenses per image sensor come as one mold or component. Further, this one-body construction could also act as the frame for mounting to the image sensor.
  • The lens and frame concept can be applied to traditional image sensors (without the traditional color filter sheet) to gain physical size, cost and performance advantages.
  • As shown in FIGS. 7A-7C, the digital camera subsystem can have multiple separate arrays on a single image sensor, each with its own lens (represented by 230A, 230C). The simple geometry of smaller, multiple arrays allows for a smaller lens (diameter, thickness and focal length), which allows for reduced stack height in the digital camera.
  • Each array can advantageously be focused on one band of visible and/or detectable spectrum. Among other things, each lens may be tuned for passage of that one specific band of wavelength. Since each lens would therefore not need to pass the entire light spectrum, the number of elements may be reduced, for example, to one or two.
  • Further, due to the focused bandwidth for each lens, each of the lenses may be dyed during the manufacturing process for its respective bandwidth (e.g., red for the array targeting the red band of visible spectrum). Alternatively, a single color filter may be applied across each lens. This process eliminates the traditional color filters (the sheet of individual pixel filters) thereby reducing cost, improving signal strength and eliminating the pixel reduction barrier.
  • Elimination of the color filter sheet allows for reductions in the physical size of the pixel for further size reductions of the overall DCS assembly.
  • Although FIGS. 2, 3A-3B and 5A-5C illustrates a 4 array/lens structure, and FIG. 4 depicts a three array/lens configuration, any multiple number of arrays/lenses as well as various combinations thereof is possible.
  • The above-described devices can include any suitable number of combinations, from as few as 2 arrays/lenses or in a broader array. Examples include:
      • 2 arrays/lenses: red/green and blue
      • 2 arrays/lenses: red and blue/green
      • 3 arrays/lenses: red, green, blue
      • 4 arrays/lenses: red, blue, green, emerald (for color enhancement)
      • 4 arrays/lenses: red, blue, green, infrared (for low light conditions)
      • 8 arrays/lenses: double the above configurations for additional pixel count and image quality.
  • Although FIG. 2 reflects a digital still camera, the camera is intended to be emblematic of a generic appliance containing the digital camera subsystem. Thus, FIG. 2 should be interpreted as being emblematic of still and video cameras, cell phones, other personal communications devices, surveillance equipment, automotive applications, computers, manufacturing and inspection devices, toys, plus a wide range of other and continuously expanding applications. Of course these alternative interpretations of the Figure may or may not include the specific components as depicted in FIG. 2. For example, the circuit board may not be unique to the camera function but rather the digital camera subsystem may be an add-on to an existing circuit board, such as in a cell phone.
  • Thus, it should be understood that any or all of the methods and/or apparatus disclosed herein may be employed in any type of apparatus or process including, but not limited to still and video cameras, cell phones, other personal communications devices, surveillance equipment, automotive applications, computers, manufacturing and inspection devices, toys, plus a wide range of other and continuously expanding applications.
  • As used herein, the following terms are interpreted as described below, unless the context requires a different interpretation.
  • “Array” means a group of photo detectors, also know as pixels, which operate in concert to create one image. The array captures the photons and converts the data to an electronic signal. The array outputs this raw data to signal processing circuitry that generates the image sensor image output.
  • “Digital Camera” means a single assembly that receives photons, converts them to electrical signals on a semiconductor device (“image sensor”), and processes those signals into an output that yields a photographic image. The digital camera would included any necessary lenses, image sensor, shutter, flash, signal processing circuitry, memory device, user interface features, power supply and any mechanical structure (e.g. circuit board, housing, etc) to house these components. A digital camera may be a stand-alone product or may be imbedded in other appliances, such as cell phones, computers or the myriad of other imaging platforms now available or may be created in the future, such as those that become feasible as a result of this invention.
  • “Digital Camera Subsystem” (DCS) means a single assembly that receives photons, converts them to electrical signals on a semiconductor device (“image sensor”) and processes those signals into an output that yields a photographic image. At a minimum, the Digital Camera Subsystem would include any necessary lenses, image sensor, signal processing circuitry, shutter, flash and any frame to hold the components as may be required. The power supply, memory devices and any mechanical structure are not necessarily included.
  • “Electronic media” means that images are captured, processed and stored electronically as opposed to the use of film.
  • “Frame” or “thin plate” means the component of the DCS that is used to hold the lenses and mount to the image sensor.
  • “Image sensor” means the semiconductor device that includes the photon detectors (“pixels”), processing circuitry and output channels. The inputs are the photons and the output is the image data.
  • “Lens” means a single lens or series of stacked lenses (a column one above the other) that shape light rays above an individual array. When multiple stacks of lenses are employed over different arrays, they are called “lenses.”
  • “Package” means a case or frame that an image sensor (or any semiconductor chip) is mounted in or on, which protects the imager and provides a hermetic seal. “Packageless” refers to those semiconductor chips that can be mounted directly to a circuit board without need of a package.
  • The terms “Photo-detector” and “pixels” mean an electronic device that senses and captures photons and converts them to electronic signals. These extremely small devices are used in large quantities (hundreds of thousands to millions) in a matrix to capture an image much like film.
  • “Semiconductor Chip” means a discrete electronic device fabricated on a silicon or similar substrate, which is commonly used in virtually all electronic equipment.
  • “Signal Processing Circuitry” means the hardware and software within the image sensor that translates the photon input information into electronic signals and ultimately into an image output signal.
  • The inventive subject matter can provide numerous benefits in specific applications. For example, traditional color filters are limited in their temperature range, which limits end user manufacturing flexibility. Wave soldering processes, low cost, mass production soldering processes, cannot be used due to the color filters' temperature limitations. At least some embodiments of the inventive subject matter do not have that limitation. Indeed, one, some or all of the embodiments described and illustrated herein need not employ wave soldering processes or other low cost, mass production soldering processes.
  • In addition, once the imager sensor, frame, and lenses are assembled, the assembly can be a hermetically sealed device. The device does not need a “package” and as such, if desired, can be mounted directly to a circuit board which saves parts and manufacturing costs.
  • Because multiple images are created from separate locations (albeit a small distance between the arrays on the same image sensor), parallax is created, which can be eliminated in the signal processing circuitry or utilized/enhanced for numerous purposes, including for example, to measure distance to the object, and to provide a 3-D effect.
  • Although each array and the related signal processing circuitry is preferably tailored to address a specific band of visible spectrum and each lens may be tuned for passage of that one specific band of wavelength, it should be clear that there is no requirement that each such array and the related signal processing circuitry be tailored to address a specific band of the visible spectrum. Nor is there any requirement that each lens be tuned for passage of a specific band of wavelength or that each of the arrays be located on the same semiconductor device. Indeed, the embodiments described and illustrated herein, including the specific components thereof, need not employ wavelength specific features. For example, the arrays and/or signal processing circuitry need not be tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths.
  • Notably, in certain embodiments, certain components thereof may be tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths while other components of the embodiment are not tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths. For example, the lenses and/or arrays may be tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths and the associated signal processing circuitry is not tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths. Moreover, in other embodiments, one or more lenses (of the same or different optical channels) may be tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths and the associated array and signal processing circuitry is not tailored to address a specific wavelength or band of wavelengths. All such permutations and combinations are intended to come within the scope of the present inventions. For the sake of brevity, all such permutations and combinations are not discussed in detail herein.
  • In addition, although a digital camera subsystem includes any necessary lenses, image sensor, signal processing circuitry, shutter, flash and any frame to hold the components as may be required, some digital camera subsystems may not have any requirement for one or more of such. For example, some digital camera systems may not require a shutter, a flash and/or a frame to hold the components. Further, some of the digital camera subsystems may not require an image sensor that includes each of the detectors, the processing circuitry and output channels. For example, in some embodiments, one or more of the detectors (or portions thereof), one or more portions of the processing circuitry and/or one or more portions of the output channels may be included in separate devices and/or disposed in separate locations. All such permutations and combinations are intended to come within the scope of the present inventions. For the sake of brevity, all such permutations and combinations are not discussed in detail herein.
  • FIG. 8 is a schematic exploded perspective view of a digital camera apparatus 300 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. The digital camera apparatus 300 includes one or more sensor arrays, e.g., four sensor arrays 310A-310D, one or more optics portions, e.g., four optics portions 330A-330D, and a processor 340. Each of the one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, may include, for example, but is not limited to, a lens, and may be associated with a respective one of the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D. In some embodiments, a support 320 (see for example, FIGS. 28A-28D), for example, but not limited to, a frame, is provided to support the one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, at least in part. Each sensor array and the respective optics portion may define a camera channel. For example, a camera channel 350A may be defined by the optics portion 330A and the sensor array 310A. Camera channel 350B may be defined by the optics portion 330B and the sensor array 310B. Camera channel 350C may be defined by optics portion 330C and the sensor array 310C. Camera channel 350D may be defined by optics portion 330D and a sensor array 310D. The optics portions of the one or more camera channels are collectively referred to herein as an optics subsystem. The sensor arrays of the one or more camera channels are collectively referred to herein as a sensor subsystem. The two or more sensor arrays may be integrated in or disposed on a common substrate, referred to hereinafter as an image device, on separate substrates, or any combination thereof (for example, where the system includes three or more sensor arrays, two or more sensor arrays may be integrated in a first substrate and one or more other sensor arrays may be integrated in or disposed on a second substrate).
  • In that regard, with continued reference to FIG. 8, the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, may or may not be disposed on a common substrate with one another. For example, in some embodiments two or more of the sensor arrays are disposed on a common substrate. In some embodiments, however, one or more of the sensor arrays is not disposed on the same substrate as one or more of the other sensor arrays.
  • The one or more camera channels may or may not be identical to one another. For example, in some embodiments, the camera channels are identical to one another. In other embodiments, one or more of the camera channels are different, in one or more respects, from one or more of the other camera channels. In some of the latter embodiments, each camera channel may be used to detect a different color (or band of colors) and/or band of light than that detected by the other camera channels.
  • In some embodiments, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350A, detects red light, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350B, detects green light, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350C, detects blue light. In some of such embodiments, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350D, detects infrared light, cyan light, or emerald light. In some other embodiments, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350A, detects cyan light, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350B, detects yellow light, one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350C, detects magenta light and one of the camera channels, e.g., camera channel 350D, detects clear light (black and white). Any other wavelength or band of wavelengths (whether visible or invisible) combinations can also be used.
  • The processor 340 is connected to the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, via one or more communication links, e.g., communication links 370A-370D, respectively. A communication link may be any kind of communication link including but not limited to, for example, wired (e.g., conductors, fiber optic cables) or wireless (e.g., acoustic links, electromagnetic links or any combination thereof including but not limited to microwave links, satellite links, infrared links), and combinations thereof, each of which may be public or private, dedicated and/or shared (e.g., a network). A communication link may employ for example circuit switching or packet switching or combinations thereof. Other examples of communication links include dedicated point-to-point systems, wired networks, and cellular telephone systems. A communication link may employ any protocol or combination of protocols including but not limited to the Internet Protocol.
  • The communication link may transmit any type of information. The information may have any form, including, for example, but not limited to, analog and/or digital (a sequence of binary values, i.e. a bit string). The information may or may not be divided into blocks. If divided into blocks, the amount of information in a block may be predetermined or determined dynamically, and/or may be fixed (e.g., uniform) or variable.
  • As will be further described hereinafter, the processor may include one or more channel processors, each which is coupled to a respective one (or more) of the camera channels and generates an image based at least in part on the signal(s) received from the respective camera channel, although this is not required. In some embodiments, one or more of the channel processors are tailored to its respective camera channel, for example, as described herein. For example, where one of the camera channels is dedicated to a specific wavelength or color (or band of wavelengths or colors), the respective channel processor may be adapted or tailored to such wavelength or color (or band of wavelengths or colors). For example, the gain, noise reduction, dynamic range, linearity and/or any other characteristic of the processor, or combinations of such characteristics, may be adapted to improve and/or optimize the processor to such wavelength or color (or band of wavelengths or colors). Tailoring the channel processing to the respective camera channel may facilitate generate an image of a quality that is higher than the quality of images resulting from traditional image sensors of like pixel count. In addition, providing each camera channel with a dedicated channel processor may help to reduce or simplify the amount of logic in the channel processors as the channel processor may not need to accommodate extreme shifts in color or wavelength, e.g., from a color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) at one extreme to a color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) at another extreme.
  • In operation, an optics portion of a camera channel receives light from within a field of view and transmits one or more portions of such light, e.g., in the form of an image at an image plane. The sensor array receives one or more portions of the light transmitted by the optics portion and provides one or more output signals indicative thereof. The one or more output signals from the sensor array are supplied to the processor. In some embodiments, the processor generates one or more output signals based, at least in part, on the one or more signals from the sensor array. For example, in some embodiments, each of the camera channels is dedicated to a different color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) than the other camera channels and the processor generates a separate image for each of such camera channels. In some other embodiments, the processor may generate a combined image based, at least in part, on the images from two or more of such camera channels. For example, in some embodiments, each of the camera channels is dedicated to a different color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) than the other camera channels and the processor combines the images from the two or more camera channels to provide a partial or full color image.
  • Although the processor 340 is shown separate from the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, the processor 340, or portions thereof, may have any configuration and may be disposed in one or more locations. In some embodiments, one, some or all portions of the processor 340 are integrated in or disposed on the same substrate or substrates as one or more of the one or more of the sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D. In some embodiments one, some or all portions of the processor are disposed on one or more substrates that are separate from (and possibly remote from) one or more substrates on which one or more of the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, may be disposed. For example, certain operations of the processor may be distributed to or performed by circuitry that is integrated in or disposed on the same substrate or substrates as one or more of the one or more of the sensor arrays and certain operations of the processor are distributed to or performed by circuitry that is integrated in or disposed on one or more substrates that are different from (whether such one or more different substrates are physically located within the camera or not) the substrates the one or more of the sensor arrays are integrated in or disposed on.
  • The digital camera apparatus 300 may or may not include a shutter, a flash and/or a frame to hold the components together.
  • FIG. 9A is a schematic exploded representation of one embodiment of an optics portion, e.g., optics portions 330A. In this embodiment, the optics portion 330A includes one or more lenses, e.g., a complex aspherical lens module 380, one or more color coatings, e.g., a color coating 382, one or more masks, e.g., an auto focus mask 384, and one or more IR coatings, e.g., an IR coating 386.
  • Lenses can comprise any suitable material or materials, including for example, glass and plastic. Lenses can be doped in any suitable manner, such as to impart a color filtering, polarization, or other property. Lenses can be rigid or flexible. In this regard, some embodiments employ a lens (or lenses) having a dye coating, a dye diffused in an optical medium (e.g., a lens or lenses), a substantially uniform color filter and/or any other filtering technique through which light passes to the underlying array.
  • The color coating 382 helps the optics portion filter (i.e., substantially attenuate) one or more wavelengths or bands of wavelengths. The auto focus mask 384 may define one or more interference patterns that help the digital camera apparatus perform one or more auto focus functions. The IR coating 386 helps the optics portion 370A filter a wavelength or band of wavelength in the IR portion of the spectrum.
  • The one or more color coatings, e.g., color coating 382, one or more masks, e.g., mask 384, and one or more IR coatings, e.g., IR coating 386 may have any size, shape and/or configuration. In some embodiments, one or more of the one or more color coatings, e.g., the color coating 382, are disposed at the top of the optics portion (see, for example, FIG. 9B). Some embodiments of the optics portion (and/or components thereof) may or may not include the one or more color coatings, one or more masks and one or more IR coatings and may or may not include features in addition thereto or in place thereof. In some embodiments, for example, one or more of the one or more color coatings, e.g., the color coating 382, are replaced by one or more filters 388 disposed in the optics portion, e.g., disposed below the lens (see, for example, FIG. 9C). In other embodiments, one or more of the color coatings are replaced by one or more dyes diffused in the lens (see, for example, FIG. 9D).
  • The one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, may or may not be identical to one another. In some embodiments, for example, the optics portions are identical to one another. In some other embodiments, one or more of the optics portions are different, in one or more respects, from one or more of the other optics portions. For example, in some embodiments, one or more of the characteristics (for example, but not limited to, its type of element(s), size, response, and/or performance) of one or more of the optics portions is tailored to the respective sensor array and/or to help achieve a desired result. For example, if a particular camera channel is dedicated to a particular color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) then the optics portion for that camera channel may be adapted to transmit only that particular color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) to the sensor array of the particular camera channel and/or to filter out one or more other colors or wavelengths. In some of such embodiments, the design of an optical portion is optimized for the respective wavelength or bands of wavelengths to which the respective camera channel is dedicated. It should be understood, however, that any other configurations may also be employed. Each of the one or more optics portions may have any configuration.
  • In some embodiments, each of the optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, comprises a single lens element or a stack of lens elements (or lenslets), although, as stated above, the present invention is not limited to such. For example, in some embodiments, a single lens element, multiple lens elements and/or compound lenses, with or without one or more filters, prisms and/or masks are employed.
  • An optical portion can also contain other optical features that are desired for digital camera functionality and/or performance. This can be things such as electronically tunable filters, polarizers, wavefront coding, spatial filters (masks), and other features not yet anticipated. Some of the new features (in addition to the lenses) can be electrically operated (such as a tunable filter) or be moved mechanically with MEMs mechanisms.
  • Referring to FIG. 10A-10F, an optics portion, such as for example, optics portion 330A, may include, for example, any number of lens elements, optical coating wavelength filters, optical polarizers and/or combination thereof. Other optical elements may be included in the optical stack to create desired optical features. FIG. 10A is a schematic representation of one embodiment of optics portion 330A in which the optics portion 330A comprises a single lens element 390. FIG. 10B is a schematic representation of another embodiment of the optics portion 330A in which the optics portion 330A includes two or more lens elements, e.g., lens elements 392A, 392B. The portions of an optics portion may be separate from one another, integral with one another, and/or any combination thereof. Thus, for example, the two lens elements 392A, 392B represented in FIG. 10B may be separate from one another or integral with one another.
  • FIGS. 10C-10F show schematic representations of example embodiments of optics portion 330A in which the optics portion 330A has one or more lens elements, e.g., lens elements 394A, 394B, and one or more filters, e.g., filter 394C. The one or more lens elements and desired optical features and/or optical elements may be separate from one another, integral with one another, and/or any combination thereof. Moreover, the one or more lens elements features and/or elements may be disposed in any configuration and/or sequence, for example, a lens-filter sequence (see for example FIG. 10C), lens-coding sequence (see for example FIG. 10D), a lens-polarizer sequence (see for example FIG. 10E), a lens-filter-coding-polarizer sequence (see for example FIG. 10F) and combinations and/or variations thereof.
  • In some embodiments, the filter 394C shown in FIG. 10C is a color filter that is made within the lenses, deposited on a lens surface or in the optical system as a separate layer on a support structure. The filter may be a single band pass or multiple bandpass filter. The coding 396C (FIG. 10D) may be applied or formed on a lens and/or provided as a separate optical element. In some embodiments, the coding 396C is used to modify the optical wavefront to allow improved imaging capability with additional post image processing. The optical polarizer 400E (FIG. 10E), may be of any type to improve image quality such as glare reduction. The polarizer 400E may be applied or formed on one or more optical surfaces and/or provided as a dedicated optical element.
  • FIGS. 10G-10H are schematic representations of optics portions in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention.
  • As stated above, the portions of an optics portion may be separate from one another, integral with one another and/or any combination thereof. If the portions are separate, they may be spaced apart from one another, in contact with one another or any combination thereof. For example, two or more separate lens elements may be spaced apart from one another, in contact with one another, or any combination thereof. Thus, some embodiments of the optics portion shown in FIG. 10G may be implemented with the lens elements 402A-402C spaced apart from one another, as is schematically represented in FIG. 101, or with two or more of the lens elements 402A-402C in contact with one another, as is schematically represented in FIG. 101. Further, a filter, e.g., 402D, may be implemented, for example, as a separate element 402D, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10G, or as a coating 402D disposed on the surface of a lens, for example, as schematically represented in FIG. 10J. The coating may have any suitable thickness and may be, for example, relatively thin compared to the thickness of a lens, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10K. Similarly, some embodiments of the optics portion shown in FIG. 10H may be implemented with the lens elements 404A-404D spaced apart from one another, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10H, or with two or more of the lens elements 404A-404D in contact with one another, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10L. The filter, e.g., filter 404E, may be implemented, for example, as a separate element 404E, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10H, or as a coating 404E disposed on the surface of a lens, for example, as schematically represented in FIG. 10M. The coating may have any suitable thickness and may be, for example, relatively thin compared to the thickness of a lens, as is schematically represented in FIG. 10N.
  • It should be understood that such techniques may be employed in combination with any of the embodiments disclosed herein, however, for purposes of brevity, such embodiments may or may not be individually shown and/or discussed herein.
  • In addition, as with each of the embodiments disclosed herein, it should be understood that any of the embodiments of FIGS. 10A-10N may be employed in combination with any other embodiments, or portion thereof, disclosed herein. Thus, the embodiments of the optics portions shown in FIGS. 10G-10N may further include a coding and/or a polarizer.
  • One or more of the camera channels, e.g., 350A-350D, may employ an optical portion that transmits a narrower band of wavelengths (as compared to broadband), for example, R, G or B, which in some embodiments, may help to simplify the optical design. For example, in some embodiments, image sharpness and focus is easier to achieve with an optics portion having a narrow color band than with a traditional digital camera that uses a single optical assembly and a Bayer color filter array. In some embodiments, the use of multiple camera channels to detect different bands of colors allows a reduction in the number of optical elements in each camera channel. Additional optical approaches such as diffractive and aspherical surfaces may result in further optical element reduction. In addition, in some embodiments, the use of optical portions that transmits a narrower band of wavelengths allows the use of color filters that can be applied directly in the optical material or as coatings. In some embodiments, the optical transmission in each band is greater than that traditionally provided by the color filters utilized with on-chip color filter arrays. In addition, the transmitted light does not display the pixel to pixel variation that is observed in color filter array approaches. Further, in some embodiments, the use of multiple optics and corresponding sensor arrays helps to simplify the optical design and number of elements because the chromatic aberration is much less in a narrower wavelength band as compared to broadband optics.
  • In some embodiments, each optical portion transmits a single color or band of colors, multiple colors or bands of colors, or broadband. In some embodiments, one or more polarizers that polarize the light, which may enhance image quality.
  • In certain embodiments, e.g., if an optical portion transmits multiple bands of colors or broadband, a color filter array (e.g., a color filter array with a Bayer pattern) may be disposed between the lens and the sensor array and/or the camera channel may employ a sensor array capable of separating the colors or bands of colors.
  • In some embodiments, an optical portion may itself have the capability to provide color separation, for example, similar to that provided by a color filter array (e.g., a Bayer pattern or variation thereof).
  • In certain embodiments, a wide range of optics material choices are available for the optical portions, including, for example, but not limited to, molded glasses and plastics.
  • In some embodiments, one or more photochromic (or photochromatic) materials are employed in one or more of the optical portions. The one or more materials may be incorporated into an optical lens element or as another feature in the optical path, for example, above one or more of the sensor arrays. In some embodiments, photochromatic materials may be incorporated into a cover glass at the camera entrance (common aperture) to all optics (common to all camera channels), or put into the lenses of one or more camera channels, or into one or more of the other optical features included into the optical path of an optics portion over any sensor array.
  • Some embodiments employ an optics design having a single lens element. Some other embodiments employ a lens having multiple lens elements (e.g., two or more elements). Lenses with multiple lens elements may be used, for example, to help provide better optical performance over a broad wavelength band (such as conventional digital imagers with color filter arrays on the sensor arrays). For example, some multi-element lens assemblies use a combination of single elements to help minimize the overall aberrations. Because some lens elements have positive aberrations and others have negative aberrations, the overall aberrations can be reduced. The lens elements may be made of different materials, may have different shapes and/or may define different surface curvatures. In this way, a predetermined response may be obtained. The process of determining a suitable and/or optimal lens configuration is typically performed by a lens designer with the aid of appropriate computer software.
  • Some embodiments employ an optics portion having three lens elements or lenslets. The three lenslets may be arranged in a stack of any configuration and spaced apart from one another, wherein each of the lenslets defines two surface contours such that the stack collectively defines six surface curvatures and two spaces (between the lenslets). In some embodiments, a lens with three lenslets provides sufficient degrees of freedom to allow the designer to correct all third order aberrations and two chromatic aberrations as well as to provide the lens with an effective focal length, although this is not a requirement for every embodiment nor is it a requirement for embodiments having three lenslets arranged in a stack.
  • In that regard, FIGS. 11A-11B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens 410 used in an optics portion adapted to transmit red light or a red band of light, e.g., for a red camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the lens 410 includes three lenslets, i.e., a first lenslet 412, a second lenslet 414 and a third lenslet 416, arranged in a stack 418. The lens 410 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light to produce an image in an image area at an image plane 419. More particularly, the first lenslet 412 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light. The second lenslet 414 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the first lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light. The third lenslet 416 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the second lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light to produce the image in the image area at the image plane 419.
  • FIGS. 12A-12B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens 420 used in an optics portion adapted to transmit green light or a green band of light, e.g., for a green camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the lens 420 includes three lenslets, i.e., a first lenslet 422, a second lenslet 424 and a third lenslet 426, arranged in a stack 428. The stack 428 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light to produce an image in an image area at an image plane 429. More particularly, the first lenslet 422 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light. The second lenslet 424 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the first lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light. The third lenslet 426 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the second lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light to produce the image in the image area at the image plane 429.
  • FIGS. 13A-13B are schematic and side elevational views, respectively, of a lens 430 used in an optics portion adapted to transmit blue light or a blue band of light, e.g., for a blue camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the lens 430 includes three lenslets, i.e., a first lenslet 432, a second lenslet 434 and a third lenslet 436, arranged in a stack 438. The lens 430 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light to produce an image in an image area at an image plane 439. More particularly, the first lenslet 432 receives light from within the field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light. The second lenslet 434 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the first lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light. The third lenslet 436 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the second lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light to produce the image in the image area at the image plane 439.
  • FIG. 14 is a schematic view of a lens 440 used in an optics portion adapted to transmit red light or a red band of light, e.g., for a red camera channel, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. The lens 440 in this embodiment may be characterized as 60 degree, full field of view. In this embodiment, the lens 440 includes three lenslets, i.e., a first lenslet 442, a second lenslet 444, and a third lenslet 446, arranged in a stack 448. The lens 440 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light to produce an image in an image area at an image plane 449. More particularly, the first lenslet 442 receives light from within a field of view and transmits and/or shapes at least a portion of such light. The second lenslet 444 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the first lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light. The third lenslet 446 receives at least a portion of the light transmitted and/or shaped by the second lenslet and transmits and/or shapes a portion of such light to produce the image in the image area at the image plane 449.
  • FIGS. 15A-15F are schematic representations of some other types of lenses that may be employed. More particularly, FIGS. 15A-15E are schematic representations of other lenses 450-458 that include a stack having three lenslets 450A-450C, 452A-452C, 454A-454C, 456A-456C, 458A-458C. FIG. 15F is a schematic representation of a lens 460 having only one lens element. It should be understood however, that an optics portion may have any number of components and configuration.
  • FIGS. 16A-16C are representations of one embodiment of a sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A, and circuits connected thereto, e.g., 470-476. The purpose of the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A, is to capture light and convert it into one or more signals (e.g., electrical signals) indicative thereof, which are supplied to one or more of the circuits connected thereto, for example as described below. Referring to FIG. 16A, the sensor array includes a plurality of sensor elements such as for example, a plurality of identical photo detectors (sometimes referred to as “picture elements” or “pixels”), e.g., pixels 480 1,1-480 n,m. The photo detectors, e.g., photo detectors 480 1,1-480 n,m, are arranged in an array, for example a matrix type array. The number of pixels in the array may be, for example, in a range from hundreds of thousands to millions. The pixels may be arranged for example, in a 2 dimensional array configuration, for example, having a plurality of rows and a plurality of columns, e.g., 640×480, 1280×1024, etc. However, the pixels can be sized and dimensioned as desired, and can be distributed in any desired pattern. Pixels that are distributed without any regular pattern could even be used. Referring to FIG. 16B, a pixel, e.g., pixel pixels 480 1,1, may be viewed as having dimensions, e.g., x and y dimensions, although it should be recognized that the photon capturing portion of a pixel may or may not occupy the entire area of the pixel and may or may not have a regular shape. In some embodiments, the sensor elements are disposed in a plane, referred to herein as a sensor plane. The sensor may have orthogonal sensor reference axes, including for example, an x axis, a y axis, and a z axis, and may be configured so as to have the sensor plane parallel to the xy plane XY and directed toward the optics portion of the camera channel. Each camera channel has a field of view corresponding to an expanse viewable by the sensor array. Each of the sensor elements may be, for example, associated with a respective portion of the field of view.
  • The sensor array may employ any type of technology, for example, but not limited to MOS pixel technologies (meaning that one or more portions of the sensor are implemented in “Metal Oxide Semiconductor” technology), charge coupled device (CCD) pixel technologies or combination of both (hybrid) and may comprise any suitable material or materials, including, for example, silicon, germanium and/or combinations thereof. The sensor elements or pixels may be formed in any suitable manner.
  • In operation, the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A, is exposed to light, for example, on a sequential line per line basis (similar to scanner) or globally (similar to conventional film camera exposure). After being exposed to light for certain period of time (exposure time), the pixels, e.g., pixels 480 1,1-480 n,m, may be read out, e.g., on a sequential line per line basis.
  • In some embodiments, circuitry sometimes referred to as column logic, e.g., column logic 470, is used to read the signals from the pixels, e.g., pixels 480 1,1-480 n,m. Referring to FIG. 16C, a schematic representation of a pixel circuit, in some of such embodiments, the sensor elements, e.g., pixel 480 1,1, may be accessed one row at a time by asserting one of the word lines, e.g., word line 482, which run horizontally through the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A. Data may passed into and/or out of the sensor elements, e.g., pixel 480 1,1, via bit lines which run vertically through the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A.
  • It should be recognized that pixels are not limited to the configurations shown in FIGS. 16A-16C. As stated above, each of the one or more sensor arrays may have any configuration (e.g., size, shape, pixel design).
  • The sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, may or may not be identical to one another. In some embodiments, for example, the sensor arrays are identical to one another. In some other embodiments, one or more of the sensor arrays are different, in one or more respects, from one or more of the other sensor arrays. For example, in some embodiments, one or more of the characteristics (for example, but not limited to, its type of element(s), size (for example, surface area), and/or performance) of one or more of the sensor arrays is tailored to the respective optics portion and/or to help achieve a desired result. For example, if a particular camera channel is dedicated to a particular color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths), the sensor array for that camera channel may be adapted to have a sensitivity that is higher to that particular color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths) than other colors or wavelengths and/or to sense only that particular color (or band of colors) or wavelength (or band of wavelengths). In some of such embodiments, the design, operation, array size (for example, surface area of the active portion of the array), shape of the pixel of a sensor array (for example, the shape of the active area (surface area of the pixel that is sensitive to light) of the pixel) and/or pixel size of a sensor array (for example, the active area of the surface of the pixel) is determined, selected, tailored and/or optimized for the respective wavelength or bands of wavelengths to which the camera channels are dedicated. It should be understood, however, that any other configurations may also be employed. Each of the one or more sensor arrays may have any configuration (e.g., size and shape).
  • As described herein, each sensor array may be, for example, dedicated to a specific band of light (visible and/or invisible), for example, one color or band of colors. If so, each sensor array may be tuned so as to be more efficient in capturing and/or processing an image or images in its particular band of light.
  • In this embodiment, the well depth of the photo detectors across each individual array is the same, although in some other embodiments, the well depth may vary. For example, the well depth of any given array can readily be manufactured to be different from that of other arrays of the sensor subsystem. Selection of an appropriate well depth could depend on many factors, including most likely the targeted band of visible spectrum. Since each entire array is likely to be targeted at one band of visible spectrum (e.g., red) the well depth can be designed to capture that wavelength and ignore others (e.g., blue, green).
  • Doping of the semiconductor material in the color specific arrays may enhance the selectivity of the photon absorption for color specific wavelengths.
  • In some embodiments, the pixels may be responsive to one particular color or band of colors (i.e., wavelength or band of wavelengths). For example, in some such embodiments, the optics portion may include lenses and/or filters that transmit only the particular color or band of colors and/or attenuate wavelength or band of wavelengths associated with other colors or band of colors. Is some others of such embodiments, a color filter and/or color filter array is disposed over and/or on one or more portions of one or more sensor arrays. In some other embodiments, there is no color filter or color filter array disposed on any of the sensor arrays. In some embodiments, the sensor array separates colors or bands of colors. In some such embodiments, the sensor array may be provided with pixels that have multiband sensing capability, e.g., two or three colors. For example, each pixel may comprise two or three photodiodes, wherein a first photodiode is adapted to detect a first color or first band of colors, a second photodiode is adapted to detect a second color or band of colors and a third photodiode is adapted to detect a third color or band of colors. One way to accomplish this is to provide the photodiodes with different structures/characteristics that make them selective, such that first photodiode has a higher sensitivity to the first color or first band of colors than to the second color or band of colors, and the second photodiode has a higher sensitivity to the second color or second band of colors than to the first color or first band of colors. Another way is to dispose the photodiodes at different depths in the pixel, which takes advantage of the different penetration and absorption characteristics of the different colors or bands of colors. For example, blue and blue bands of colors penetrate less (and are thus absorbed at a lesser depth) than green and green bands of colors, which in turn penetrate less (and are thus absorbed at a lesser depth) than red and red bands of colors. In some embodiments, such a sensor array is employed even though the pixels may see only one particular color or band of colors, for example, to in order to adapt such sensor array to the particular color or band of colors. Indeed, a layer of material that attenuates certain wavelengths and passes other wavelengths may be disposed on or integrated into the surface of the photodiode. In this way, each pixel function as a plurality of photodiodes that is adapted to sense multiple wavelengths.
  • FIG. 17A is a schematic plan view of a portion of a sensor array, e.g., a portion of sensor array 310A, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. The portion of the array includes six unit cells, e.g., cells 490 i,j-490 i+2,j+1. Each unit cell has a pixel region, e.g., unit cell 490 i+2,j+1 has a pixel region 492 i+2,j+1. The pixel region may be, for example, but is not limited to, a p implant region. The sensor elements, e.g., pixels 492 i,j-492 i+2,j+1, may be accessed one row at a time by asserting one of the word lines, e.g., word lines 494, which may run, for example, horizontally through the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A. Power may be provided on power lines, e.g., power lines 496, which may for example, run vertically through the sensor array. Data may passed into and/or out of the sensor elements, e.g., pixels 492 i,j-492 i+2,j+1, via bit lines, e.g., bit lines 498, which may run, for example, vertically through the sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A. Reset may be initiated via reset lines, e.g., reset lines 500, which may run, for example, horizontally through the sensor array.
  • In some embodiments, each sensor array has 1.3 M pixels. In such embodiments, three camera channels may provide an effective resolution of about 4 M pixels. Four camera channels may provide an effective resolution of about 5.2 M pixels.
  • In some other embodiments, each sensor array has 2 M pixels. In such embodiments, three camera channels may provide an effective resolution of about 6 M pixels. Four camera channels may provide an effective resolution of about 8 M pixels.
  • It should be recognized that the sensor arrays are not limited to the design shown in FIG. 17A. As stated above, each of the one or more sensor arrays may have any configuration (e.g., size, shape, pixel design).
  • FIG. 17B is exemplary schematic cross section of the implant portion of a pixel having a single well to capture all wavelengths.
  • For example, FIG. 17C is exemplary schematic cross section of an implant portion of a pixel having a well formed “deep” in the semiconductor (for example, silicon) such that the depth of the implant is adapted or suitable to improve capture or collect of light having wavelengths in the range associated with the color red (among others). As such, the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 17C includes a deep implant formation of the junction to create a high efficiency red detector in which photons are collected, detected or captured deep in the semiconductor. In this embodiment, it may be advantageous to employ a color filter or optical filtration of the light prior to incidence on the pixel in order to substantially attenuate light having wavelengths associated with colors other than red (photons having wavelengths in the range associated with red).
  • The well depth of the pixel or photo detector may be predetermined, selected and/or designed to tune the response to the photo detector. In this regard, with reference to FIG. 17D, a pixel “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths in the range associated with the color blue is illustrated. The exemplary schematic cross section of an implant portion of a pixel includes a well formed “near the surface” in the semiconductor (for example, silicon) such that the depth of the implant is adapted or suitable to improve capture or collect of light having wavelengths in the range associated with the color blue. Accordingly, relative to FIG. 17C, a shallow junction is formed in the semiconductor which is optimized for collecting, detecting or capturing wavelengths in the range associated with the color blue near the surface of the detector (relative to FIG. 17C). As such, in this embodiment, a filter may be omitted due to selectively implanting the region at a particular depth. That is, filter material may be unnecessary as both green and red photons pass through the collection region collecting, detecting or capturing mainly the blue signal (photons having wavelengths in the range associated with the color blue).
  • With reference to FIG. 17E, the pixel or photo detector may be “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with the color red. Here, the well region is formed and/or confined at a depth that is associated primarily with wavelengths of the color red.
  • With reference to FIG. 17F, the pixel or photo detector may be “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with the color green. Here, the well region is formed and/or confined at a depth that is associated primarily with wavelengths of the color green.
  • Notably, the pixel or photo detector may be “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with any color. In this regard, the well region of the pixel or photo detector is formed and/or confined at a depth that is associated primarily with wavelengths of the color to be captured or collected. In these embodiments, the specific regions for collection can be formed by buried junctions within the semiconductor base material. In this case by varying the buried junction depth and shape, wavelength selectivity can be achieved. Together with the optical path further selectivity and wavelength responsivity can allow for single or multiple band pass detectors.
  • The pixel or photo detector may be “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with more than one color. For example, with reference to FIG. 17G, a first pixel (located on the left) includes well regions formed and/or confined at a depth that are associated primarily with wavelengths of the colors red (deep) and blue (more shallow). As such, this pixel or photo detector is “tuned” to capture or collect incident photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with two colors. The pixel on the right includes a well region formed and/or confined at a depth that is associated primarily with wavelengths of one color, here green. The sensor array may include one, some or all of the pixels (located on the left or the right). Moreover, the sensor array may include a pattern of both types of pixels.
  • Notably, the pixel or photo detector may be “tuned” to capture, collect or respond to photons having wavelengths primarily in the range associated with any two or more colors (provided that such colors are sufficiently spaced to permit appropriate sensing). (See for example, FIG. 17H-blue and green sensed via the pixel located on the left and green and red sensed via the pixel located on the right).
  • There are many embodiments related to tuning the depth of the well and/or region of the pixel or photo detector, for example,
  • λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G/B) color filter array on individual pixels
  • λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G/B) photodiodes in individual pixels
  • λ3/λ1 (e.g. RIB) photodiodes in one pixel, λ2 (e.g. G) in one pixel
  • λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G/B) photodiodes in one pixel
  • λ4/λ2 (e.g. R/G1) photodiodes in one pixel, λ3/λ1 (e.g. G2/B) in one pixel
  • λ4/λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G2/G1/B) color filter arrays on individual pixels
  • λ4/λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G2/G1/B) photodiodes in one pixel
  • λ4/λ3/λ2/λ1 (e.g. R/G2/G1/B) photodiodes in individual pixels
  • Note: wavelength bands from λ1 to λ4 represent increasing wavelengths and can range from the UV to IR (e.g. 200-1100 nm for silicon photodiodes)
  • All embodiments for related to tuning the depth of the well and/or region of the pixel or photo detector, are intended to fall within the scope of the present invention and, as such, may be implemented in any of the embodiments described and illustrated herein.
  • In sum, since each array of photo detectors is separate from the other, and unlike conventional arrays which can only be processed in a like manner due to the proximity of adjacent photo detectors, various implant and junction configurations may be achieved by this invention. Using one or more of the techniques and/or embodiments described above or a combination of filters and wavelength specific detectors, various photo detector topologies can be achieved.
  • The configuration of a sensor array (e.g., number, shape, size type and arrangement of sensor elements) may impact the characteristics of the sensed images. For example, FIGS. 18A-18B are explanatory representations depicting an image being captured by a portion of a sensor array, e.g., 310A. More particularly, FIG. 18A is a explanatory view of an image of an object (a lightning bolt) striking a portion of the sensor array. In this example, the photon capturing portions (or active area), e.g., photon capturing portion 502, of the sensor elements are represented generally represented by circles although in practice, a pixel can have any shape including for example, an irregular shape. For purposes of this example, photons that strike the photon capturing portion or active area of the pixel or photo detector (e.g., photons that strike within the circles XX) are sensed and/or captured thereby. FIG. 18B shows the portion of the photons, e.g., portion 504, that are captured by the sensor in this example. Photons that do not strike the sensor elements (e.g., photons that striking outside circles XX) are not sensed/captured.
  • FIGS. 19A-19B are explanatory representations depicting an image being captured by a portion of a sensor, e.g., sensor array 310A, that has more sensor elements and closer spacing of such elements than is provided in the sensor of FIG. 18A. More particular, FIG. 19A shows an image of an object (a lightning bolt) striking the sensor. For purposes of this example, photons that strike the photon capturing portion, e.g., photon capturing portion 506, are sensed and/or captured thereby. FIG. 19B shows the portions of the photons, e.g., portion 508, that are captured by the sensor in this example. Notably, the sensor of FIG. 19A captures more photons than the sensor of FIG. 18A.
  • FIGS. 20A-20B are schematic representations of a relative positioning provided for an optics portion, e.g., optics portion 330A, and a respective sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310A, in some embodiments. In that regard, it should be understood that, although, FIGS. 20A-20B shows the optics portion having an axis, e.g., axis 510A, aligned with an axis, e.g., axis 512A, of the sensor array, some embodiments may not employ such an alignment. In addition, in some embodiments, the optics portion and/or the sensor array may not have an axis.
  • FIG. 21 is a schematic representation of a relative positioning provided for four optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, and four sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, in some embodiments. Although FIG. 21 shows each of the optics portions, e.g., optics portion 330B, having an axis, e.g., axis 510B, aligned with an axis, e.g., axis 512B, of the respective sensor array, e.g., sensor array 310B, it should be understood that some embodiments may not employ such an alignment. In addition, in some embodiments, the one or more of the optics portions and/or one or more of the sensor arrays may not have an axis.
  • In some embodiments, the optics portion is generally about the same size as the respective sensor array, and may therefore differ from one another in size and shape depending upon the dimensions of the underlying array. There is, however, no requirement that a given optics portion cover all, or only, the underlying array. In some alternative embodiments an optics portion could cover only a portion of an array and/or could extend beyond the array.
  • FIGS. 22A-22B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of one embodiment of an image device 520 in or on which one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, may be disposed and/or integrated, and the image areas of the respective optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the image device 520 has first and second major surfaces 522, 524 and an outer perimeter defined by edges 526, 528, 530 and 532. The image device 520 defines the one or more regions, e.g., regions 534A-534D, for the active areas of the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, respectively. The image device further defines one or more regions, e.g., regions 536A-536D, respectively, and 538A-538D, respectively, for the buffer and/or logic associated with the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, respectively.
  • The image device may further define one or more additional regions, for example, regions 540, 542, 544, 546 disposed in the vicinity of the perimeter of the image device (e.g., extending along and adjacent to one, two, three or four of the edges of the image device) and/or between the regions for the sensor arrays. In some embodiments, one or more electrically conductive pads, e.g., pads 550, 552, 554, 556, one or more portions of the processor, one or more portions of additional memory, and/or any other types of circuitry or features may be disposed in one or more of these regions, or portions thereof. One or more of such pads may be used in supplying one or more electrical signals and/or from one or more circuits on the image device to one or more other circuits located on or off of the image device.
  • In some embodiments, the major outer surface defines one or more support surfaces to support one or more portions of a support, e.g., support 320. Such support surfaces may be disposed in any region, or portion thereof, e.g., regions 540-546, however in some embodiments, it is advantageous to position the support surfaces outside the active areas of the sensor array so as not to interfere with the capture of photons by pixels in such areas.
  • The one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, produce image areas, e.g., image areas 560A-560D, respectively, at an image plane.
  • The image device, sensor arrays and image areas may each have any size(s) and shape(s). In some embodiments, the image areas are generally about the same size as the respective sensor arrays, and therefore, the image areas may differ from one another in size and shape depending upon the dimensions of the underlying sensor arrays. Of course, there is no requirement that an image area cover all, or only, the underlying array. In alternative embodiments an image area could cover only a portion of an array, and could extend beyond the array.
  • In this embodiment, the image areas, e.g., image areas 560A-560D, extend beyond the outer perimeter of the sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, respectively. The image device has a generally square shape having a first dimension 562 equal to about 10 mm and a second dimension 564 equal to about 10 mm, with each quadrant having a first dimension 566 equal to 5 mm and a second dimension 568 equal to 5 mm. Each of the image areas has a generally circular shape and a width or diameter 570 equal to about 5 millimeters (mm). Each of the active areas has a generally rectangular shape having a first dimension 572 equal to about 4 mm and a second dimension 574 equal to about 3 mm. The active area, may define for example, a matrix of 1200×900 pixels (i.e., 1200 columns, 900 rows).
  • FIGS. 23A-23B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of the image device and image areas in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, the image device 520 has one or more pads, e.g., 550-556, disposed in a configuration that is different than the configuration of the one or more pads in the embodiments shown above. The image device 520, sensor arrays, and image areas 560A-560D may have, for example, the same shape and dimensions as set forth above with respect to the embodiment of the image device shown in FIGS. 22A-22B.
  • FIGS. 24A-24B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of the image device 520 and image areas in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, the image device 520 has a vertically extending region, disposed between the sensor arrays, that is narrower than a vertically extending region, disposed between the sensor arrays, in the embodiment of the image device shown in FIGS. 22A-22B. Horizontally extending regions 542, 546, disposed along the perimeter are wider than horizontally extending regions 542, 546, disposed along the perimeter of the image device 520 shown in FIGS. 22A-22B. The image device 520 may have, for example, the same shape and dimensions as set forth above with respect to the embodiment of the image device shown in FIGS. 22A-22B.
  • FIGS. 25A-25B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of the image device 520 and image areas, e.g., image areas 560A-560D, in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, the image areas, e.g., image areas 560A-560D, do not extend beyond the outer perimeter of the sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, respectively. The image device 520 and the sensor arrays may have, for example, the same shape and dimensions as set forth above with respect to the embodiment of the image device 520 shown in FIGS. 22A-22B.
  • FIGS. 26A-26B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of the image device and image areas in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, regions 540-546 disposed between the sensor arrays and the edges of the image device are wider than the regions 540-546 disposed between the sensor arrays and the edge of the image device in the embodiments of FIGS. 22A-22B. Such regions may be used, for example, for one or more pads, one or more portions of the processor, as a seat and/or mounting region for a support and/or any combination thereof.
  • In addition, in this embodiment, a horizontally extending region 564 disposed between the sensor arrays is wider than the horizontally extending region 546 between the sensor arrays in the embodiment of FIGS. 22A-22B. Such region 546 may be used, for example, for one or more pads, one or more portions of the processor, as a seat and/or mounting region for a support and/or any combination thereof. The image device and the sensor arrays may have, for example, the same shape and dimensions as set forth above.
  • As with each of the embodiments disclosed herein, this embodiment may be employed alone or in combination with one or more of the other embodiments disclosed herein, or portions thereof.
  • To that effect, for example, FIGS. 27A-27B are a schematic plan view and a schematic cross sectional view, respectively, of the image device 540 and image areas 560A-560D in accordance with another embodiment. This embodiment of the image device 520 and image areas 560A-560D is similar to the embodiment of the image device and image areas shown in FIGS. 26A-26B, except that the image areas, e.g., image areas 560A-560D, do not extend beyond the outer perimeter of the sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, respectively.
  • FIG. 28A is a schematic perspective view of a support 320 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. The support 320 may have any configuration and may comprise, for example, but is not limited to, a frame. FIGS. 28B-28D are enlarged cross sectional views of the support 320. Referring to FIGS. 28A-28D, the optics portions of the one or more camera channels, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, are supported by one or more supports, e.g., the support 320, which position(s) each of the optics portions in registration with a respective sensor array, at least in part. In this embodiment, for example, optics portion 330A is positioned in registration with sensor array 310A. Optics portion 330B is positioned in registration with sensor array 310B. Optics portion 330C is positioned in registration with sensor array 310C. Optics portion 330B is positioned in registration with sensor array 310B. Optics portion 330D is positioned in registration with sensor array 310D.
  • In some embodiments, the support 320 may also help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate light “cross talk” between the camera channels and/or help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate “entry” of light from outside the digital camera apparatus.
  • In some embodiments, the support 320 defines one or more support portions, e.g., four support portions 600A-600D, each of which supports and/or helps position a respective one of the one or more optics portions. In this embodiment, for example, support portion 600A supports and positions optics portion 330A in registration with sensor array 310A. Support portion 600B supports and positions optics portion 330B in registration with sensor array 310B. Support portion 600C supports and positions optics portion 330C in registration with sensor array 310C. Support portion 600D supports and positions optics portion 330D in registration with sensor array 310D.
  • In this embodiment, each of the support portions, e.g., support portions 600A-600D, defines an aperture 616 and a seat 618. The aperture 616 defines a passage for the transmission of light for the respective camera channel. The seat 618 is adapted to receive a respective one of the optics portions (or portion thereof) and to support and/or position the respective optics portion, at least in part. In this regard, the seat 618 may include one or more surfaces (e.g., surfaces 620, 622) adapted to abut one or more surfaces of the optics portion to support and/or position the optics portion, at least in part, relative to the support portion and/or one or more of the sensor arrays 310A-310D. In this embodiment, surface 620 is disposed about the perimeter of the optics portion to support and help position the optics portion in the x direction and the y direction). Surface 622 (sometimes referred to herein as “stop” surface) positions or helps position the optics portion in the z direction.
  • The position and/or orientation of the stop surface 622 may be adapted to position the optics portion at a specific distance (or range of distance) and/or orientation with respect to the respective sensor array. In this regard, the seat 618 controls the depth at which the lens is positioned (e.g., seated) within the support 320. The depth may be different for each lens and is based, at least in part, on the focal length of the lens. For example, if a camera channel is dedicated to a specific color (or band of colors), the lens or lenses for that camera channel may have a focal length specifically adapted to the color (or band of colors) to which the camera channel is dedicated. If each camera channels is dedicated to a different color (or band of colors) than the other camera channels, then each of the lenses may have a different focal length, for example, to tailor the lens to the respective sensor array, and each of the seats have a different depth.
  • Each optics portion may be secured in respective seat 618 in any suitable manner, for example, but not limited to, mechanically (e.g., press fit, physical stops), chemically (e.g., adhesive), electronically (e.g., electronic bonding) and/or combination thereof. The seat 618 may include dimensions adapted to provide a press fit for the respective optics portion.
  • The aperture (or portions thereof) may have any configuration (e.g., shape and/or size) including for example, cylindrical, conical, rectangular, irregular and/or any combination thereof. The configuration may be based, for example, on the desired configuration of the optical path, the configuration of the respective optical portion, the configuration of the respective sensor array and/or any combination thereof.
  • It should be understood that the support 320 may or may not have exactly four support portions, e.g., support portions 600A-600D. In some embodiments, for example, the support includes fewer than four support portions (e.g., one, two or three support portions) are used. In some other embodiments, the support includes more than four support portions. Although the support portions, 630A-630D are shown as being identical to one another, this is not required. Moreover, in some embodiments, one or more of the support portions may be isolated at least in part from one or more of the other support portions. For example, the support 320 may further define clearances or spaces that isolate the one or more inner support portions, in part, from one or more of the other support portions.
  • The support 320 may comprise any type of material(s) and may have any configuration and/or construction. In some embodiments, for example, the support 320 comprises silicon, semiconductor, glass, ceramic, plastic, or metallic materials and/or a combination thereof. If the support 320 has more than one portion, such portions may be fabricated separate from one another, integral with one another and/or any combination thereof. If the support defines more than one support portion, each of such support portions, e.g., support portions 600A-600D, may be coupled to one, some or all of the other support portions, as shown, or completely isolated from the other support portions. The support may be a solid device that may offer a wide range of options for manufacturing and material, however other forms of devices may also be employed. In some embodiments, for example, the support 320 comprises a plate (e.g., a thin plate) that defines the one or more support portions, with the apertures and seats being formed by machining (e.g., boring) or any other suitable manner. In some other embodiments, the support 320 is fabricated as a casting with the apertures defined therein (e.g., using a mold with projections that define the apertures and seats of the one or more support portions).
  • In some embodiments, the lens and support are manufactured as a single molded component. In some embodiments the lens may be manufactured with tabs that may be used to form the support.
  • In some embodiments, the support 320 is coupled and/or affixed directly or indirectly, to the image device. For example, the support 320 may be directly coupled and affixed to the image device (e.g., using adhesive) or indirectly coupled and/or or affixed to the image device via an intermediate support member (not shown).
  • The x and y dimensions of the support 320 may be, for example, approximately the same (in one or more dimensions) as the image device, approximately the same (in one or more dimensions) as the arrangement of the optics portions 330A-330D and/or approximately the same (in one or more dimensions) as the arrangement of the sensor arrays 310A-310D. One advantage of such dimensioning is that it helps keep the x and y dimensions of the digital camera apparatus as small as possible.
  • In some embodiments, it may be advantageous to provide the seat 618 with a height A that is the same as the height of a portion of the optics that will abut the stop surface 620. It may be advantageous for the stop surface 622 to be disposed at a height B (e.g., the distance between the stop surface 622 and the base of the support portion) that is at least as high as needed to allow the seat 618 to provide a firm stop for an optics portion (e.g., the lens) to be seated thereon. The width or diameter C of the portion of the aperture 616 disposed above the height of the stop surface 622 may be based, for example, on the width or diameter of the optics portion (e.g., the lens) to be seated therein and the method used to affix and/or retain that optics portion in the seat 618. The width of the stop surface 622 is preferably large enough to help provide a firm stop for the optics portion (e.g., the lens) yet small enough to minimize unnecessary blockage of the light transmitted by the optics portion. It may be desirable to make the width or diameter D of the portion of the aperture 616 disposed below the height of the stop surface 622 large enough to help minimize unnecessary blockage of the light transmitted by the optics portion. It may be desirable to provide the support with a height E equal to the minimum dimension needed to result in a support sturdy enough to support the one or more optics portions to be seated therein, in view of the considerations above, and may be advantageous to space the one or more apertures 616A-616D of the one or more support portions 600A-600D by a distance F that is as small as possible yet large enough that the support will be sturdy enough to support the optics portions to be seated therein. The support may have a length J and a width K.
  • In some embodiments, it is desirable to provide the seat 618 with a height A equal to 2.2 mm, to provide the stop surface 622 at a height B in the range of from 0.25 mm to 3 mm, to make the width or diameter C of the portion of the aperture above the height B of the stop surface 622 equal to approximately 3 mm, to make the width or diameter D of the lower portion of the aperture approximately 2.8 mm, to provide the support portion with a height E in the range from 2.45 mm to 5.2 mm and to space the apertures apart by a distance F of at least 1 mm. In some of such embodiments, it may be desirable to provide the support with a length J equal to 10 mm and a width K equal to 10 mm. In some other embodiments, it may be desirable to provide the support with a length J equal to 10 mm and a width K equal to 8.85 mm.
  • In some embodiments, one or more of the optics portions, e.g., optics portion 330A, comprises a cylindrical type of lens, e.g., a NT45-090 lens manufactured by Edmunds Optics, although this is not required. Such lens has a cylindrical portion with a diameter G up to 3 millimeters (mm) and a height H of 2.19 mm. In such embodiments, it may be desirable to employ a support having the dimensions and ranges set forth in the paragraph above.
  • In some embodiments, the support has a length J equal to 10 mm and a width K equal to 10 mm. In some other embodiments, it may be desirable to provide the support with a length J equal to 10 mm and a width K equal to 8.85 mm.
  • FIG. 29A is a schematic cross sectional view of a support 320 and optics portions, e.g., 330A-330D, seated therein in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, the optics portions have an orientation that is inverted compared to the orientation of the optics portions in the embodiment of FIGS. 7A-7C.
  • FIG. 29B is a schematic cross sectional view of a support and optics portions, e.g., 330A-330D, seated therein in accordance with another embodiment. In this embodiment, each of the optics portions includes a single lens element having a shank portion 702A-702D, respectively. The support 320 has an orientation that is inverted compared to the orientation of the support in the embodiment of FIGS. 6A-6C, such that the optics portions are seated on stop surfaces 622A-622D, respectively, that face in a direction away from the sensor arrays (not shown).
  • It should be understood that the features of the various embodiments described herein may be used alone and/or in any combination thereof.
  • FIGS. 30A-30D show a support 320 having four support portions 600A-600D each defining an aperture, e.g., aperture 616A-616D, for a respective optics portion, wherein the seat, e.g., seat 618A, defined by one or more of the support portions, e.g., support portion 600A, is disposed at a depth 710A that is different than the depths, e.g., depth 710C, of the seat, e.g., seat 618C, of one or more other support portions, for example, to adapt the one or more support portions to the focal length of the respective optics portions. As stated above, the position and/or orientation of the stop surface 622 may be adapted to position the optics portion at a specific distance (or range of distance) and/or orientation with respect to the respective sensor array. In this regard, the seat 618 controls the depth at which the lens is positioned (e.g., seated) within the support 320. In some embodiments, one of the optics portions is adapted for blue light or a band of blue light and another one of the optics portions is adapted for red light or a band of red light, however other configurations may also be employed.
  • FIGS. 31A-31D show a support 320 having four support portions 600A-600D each defining an aperture 616A-616D and a seat 618A-618D, respectively, for a respective optics portion, wherein the aperture, e.g., aperture 616A, of one or more of the support portions, e.g., support portion 600A, has a diameter 714A that is less than the diameter 714C of the aperture 616 of one or more of the other support portions, e.g., support portion 600C.
  • As with each of the embodiments disclosed herein, this embodiment may be employed alone or in combination with one or more of the other embodiments disclosed herein, or portions thereof. In that regard, in some embodiments, the seat defined by one or more of the support portions is at a depth that is different than the depths of the seats of the other support portions so as to adapt such one or more support portions to the focal length of the respective optics portions, as in the embodiment of the support shown in FIGS. 30A-30D.
  • In some embodiments, one of the optics portions is adapted for blue light or a band of blue light and another one of the optics portions is adapted for red light or a band of red light, however other configurations may also be employed.
  • FIG. 32 is a schematic cross-sectional view of a digital camera apparatus 300 and a printed circuit board 720 of a digital camera on which the digital camera apparatus 300 may be mounted, in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D are seated in and/or affixed to the support 320. The support 320 is disposed superjacent a first bond layer 722, which is disposed superjacent an image device, e.g., image device 520, in or on which the one or more sensor portions, e.g., sensor portions 310A-310D, are disposed and/or integrated. The image device 520 is disposed superjacent a second bond layer 724 which is disposed superjacent the printed circuit board 110.
  • The printed circuit board includes a major outer surface 730 that defines a mounting region on which the image device is mounted. The major outer surface 730 may further define and one or more additional mounting regions (not shown) on which one or more additional devices used in the digital camera may be mounted. One or more pads 732 are provided on the major outer surface 730 of the printed circuit board to connect to one or more of the devices mounted thereon.
  • The image device 520 includes the one or more sensor arrays, e.g., sensor arrays 310A-310D, and one or more electrically conductive layers. In some embodiments, the image device further includes one, some or all portions of the processor for the digital camera apparatus. The image device 520 further includes a major outer surface 740 that defines a mounting region on which the support 320 is mounted.
  • The one or more electrically conductive layers may be patterned to define one or more pads 742 and one or more traces (not shown) that connect the one or more pads to one or more of the one or more sensor arrays. The pads 742 are disposed, for example, in the vicinity of the perimeter of the image device 520, for example, along one, two, three or four sides of the image device. The one or more conductive layers may comprise, for example, copper, copper foil, and/or any other suitably conductive material(s).
  • A plurality of electrical conductors 750 may connect one or more of the pads 742 on the image device 520 to one or more of the pads 732 on the circuit board 720. The conductors 750 may be used, for example, to connect one or more circuits on the image device to one or more circuits on the printed circuit board.
  • The first and second bond layers 722, 724 may comprise any suitable material(s), for example, but not limited to adhesive, and may comprise any suitable configuration. The first and second bond layers 722, 724 may comprise the same material(s) although this is not required. As used herein, a bond layer may be continuous or discontinuous. For example, a conductive layer may be an etched printed circuit layer. Moreover, a bond layer may or may not be planar or even substantially planar. For example, a conformal bond layer on a non-planar surface will be non-planar.
  • A plurality of optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D are seated in and/or affixed to the support.
  • In some embodiments, the digital camera apparatus 300 has dimensions of about 2.5 mm×6 mm×6 mm. For example, the thickness may be equal to about 2.5 mm, the length may be equal to about 6 mm and the width may be equal to about 6 mm. In some of such embodiments, the digital camera apparatus has one or more sensor arrays having a total of 1.3 M pixels, although other configurations may be employed (e.g., different thickness, width, length and number of pixels).
  • In some embodiments, one or more of the circuits on the image device 520 may communicate with one or more devices through one or more wireless communication links. In some such embodiments, the image device 520 may define one or more circuits for use in such wireless communication link and/or one or more mounting regions for one or more discrete devices employed in such wireless communication link(s).
  • The digital camera apparatus 300 may be assembled and mounted in any manner. FIGS. 33A-33F shows one embodiment for assembling and mounting the digital camera apparatus. Referring to FIG. 33A, initially, the image device 520 is provided. Referring to FIG. 33B, a first bond layer 722 is provided on one or more regions of one or more surfaces of the image device 520. Such regions define one or more mounting regions for the support. Referring to FIG. 33C, the support 520 is thereafter positioned on the bond layer 722. In some embodiments, force may be applied to help drive any trapped air out from between the image device and support. In some embodiments, heat and/or force may be applied to provide conditions to activate and/or cure the bond layer to form a bond between the image device 520 and the support 320. Referring to FIG. 33D, one or more optics portions, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D may thereafter be seated in and/or affixed to the support 320. Referring to FIG. 33E, a bond layer 724 is provided on one or more regions of one or more surfaces of the printed circuit board 720. Such regions define one or more mounting regions for the digital camera apparatus 300. Referring to FIG. 33F, the digital camera apparatus 300 is thereafter positioned on the bond layer 724. One or more electrical conductors 750 may be installed to connect one or more of pads 742 on the image device to one or more pads on circuit board 732.
  • In some embodiments, the electrical interconnect between component layers may be formed by lithography and metallization, bump bonding or other methods. Organic or inorganic bonding methods can be used to join the component layers. The layered assembly process may start with a “host” wafer with electronics used for the entire camera and/or each camera channel. Then another wafer or individual chips are aligned and bonded to the host wafer. The transferred wafers or chips can have bumps to make electrical interconnect or connects can be made after bonding and thinning. The support substrate from the second wafer or individual chips is removed, leaving only a few microns material thickness attached to the host wafer containing the transferred electronics. Electrical interconnects are then made (if needed) between the host and the bonded wafer or die using standard integrated circuit processes. The process can be repeated multiple times.
  • FIGS. 33G-33K are schematic views of a digital camera apparatus, mechanical mountings and electrical connections employed in accordance with further embodiments of the present invention. More particularly, FIG. 33G is a schematic perspective view of the digital camera apparatus 300. FIG. 33H is a schematic elevational view of the digital camera 300 mounted to a major lower surface of a printed circuit board 720. One or more electrical conductors 750 are used to connect pads 732 on the printed circuit 720 to pads on the major outer surface of the image device 520.
  • FIG. 33H is a schematic elevational view of the digital camera 300 mounted to a major lower surface of a printed circuit board 720. The support 320 is disposed in a through hole defined by the printed circuit board. One or more electrical conductors 750 connect pads 732 on the printed circuit 720 to pads on the major outer lower of the image device 520.
  • FIG. 33I is a schematic elevational view of the digital camera 300 mounted to a major lower surface of a printed circuit board 720. The support 320 is disposed in a through hole defined by the printed circuit board. A bump bond 752 connects one or more of the pads 742 on the surface 740 of the image device 520 to pads 732 on the major lower surface of the printed circuit board 720.
  • FIG. 33J is a schematic elevational view of the digital camera 300 mounted to a major upper surface of a printed circuit board 720. One or more electrical conductors 750 connect pads 732 on the printed circuit 720 to pads 742 on the major outer surface 740 of image device 520.
  • FIG. 33I is a schematic elevational view of the digital camera 300 mounted to a major lower surface of a printed circuit board 720. The support 320 is disposed in a through hole defined by the printed circuit board. A bump bond 752 connects one or more pads on a major lower surface of the image device 520 to pads on the major upper surface of the printed circuit board 720.
  • In some embodiments, the manufacture of the optical stacks, and image sensors are done on a single wafer, fabricated on separate wafers (perhaps up to two wafers: one for the IC, and one for optics) and bonded together at the wafer level. It is also possible to use pick and place methods and apparatus to attach the optical assemblies to the wafer IC, or the image sensor die and other assemblies can be assembled individually.
  • In embodiments that employ MEMS, manufacture of the optical stacks, MEMs and image sensors may be done on a single wafer, fabricated on separate wafers (perhaps up to three wafers: one for the IC, one for MEMs and one for optics) and bonded together at the wafer level. It is also possible to use pick and place methods and apparatus to attach the optical assemblies and MEMs to the wafer IC, or the image sensor die and other assemblies (MEMs and optical stack) can be assembled individually.
  • FIG. 34 is a schematic cross section view of a support that may be employed to support one or more lenses having three lens elements, e.g., lenses 410, 430 (FIGS. 11A-11B, 13A-13B), and to position such lenses in registration with a respective sensor array, at least in part, in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the support 320 defines one or more support portions, e.g., four support portions 600A-600D, each of which supports and/or helps position a respective one of the one or more optics portions.
  • In some embodiments, the support may also help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate light “cross talk” between the camera channels and/or may also help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate “entry” of light from outside the digital camera apparatus.
  • Each of the support portions 600A-600D defines an aperture 616 and a plurality of seats 618-1 to 618-3. More particularly, support portion 600A defines an aperture 616A and seats 618-1A to 618-3C. Support portion 600B defines an aperture 616B and seats 618-1B to 618-3B. Support portion 600C defines an aperture 616C and seats 618-1C to 618-3C. Support portion 600D defines an aperture 616D and seats 618-1D to 618-3D. Referring for example, to support portion 600A, the aperture 616A defines a passage for the transmission of light for the respective camera channel. Each of the plurality of seats 618-1A to 618-3A is adapted to receive a respective one of the lenslets of the respective optics portion (or portion thereof) and to support and/or position the respective lenslet, at least in part. In this regard, each of the seats 618-1A to 618-3A may include one or more surfaces (e.g., surfaces 620-1A to 620-3A, respectively, and surfaces 622-1A to 622-3A, respectively) adapted to abut one or more surfaces of the respective lenslet to support and/or position the lenslet, at least in part, relative to the support portion and/or one or more of the sensor arrays 310A-310D. In this embodiment, each of the surfaces 620-1A to 620-3A is disposed about the perimeter of the respective lenslet to support and help position such lenslet in the x direction and the y direction). Each of the surfaces 622-1A to 622-3A (sometimes referred to herein as “stop” surface) positions or helps position the respective lenslet in the z direction.
  • The positions and/or orientations of the stop surfaces 622-1A to 622-3A may be adapted to position the respective lenslet at a specific distance (or range of distance) and/or orientation with respect to the respective sensor array. In this regard, the seats 618-1A to 618-3A control the depth at which each of the lenslets is positioned (e.g., seated) within the support. The depth may be different for each lenslet and is based, at least in part, on the focal length of the lens. For example, if a camera channel is dedicated to a specific color (or band of colors), the lens or lenses for that camera channel may have a focal length specifically adapted to the color (or band of colors) to which the camera channel is dedicated. If each camera channels is dedicated to a different color (or band of colors) than the other camera channels, then each of the lenses may have a different focal length, for example, to tailor the lens to the respective sensor array, and each of the seats have a different depth.
  • In this embodiment, each of the support portions includes an elongated portion adapted to help position the respective optics portions at a desired distance from the respective sensor arrays. In this embodiment, the elongated portions extend in an axial direction and define walls 760, which in turn define the lower portions of apertures, respectively, which help limit, minimize and/or eliminate light “cross talk” between the camera channels and help limit, minimize and/or eliminate “entry” of light from outside the digital camera apparatus.
  • In some embodiments, the a spacer is provided, separately fabricated from the support portions and adapted to be disposed between the support portions and the one or more sensor arrays to help position the one or more optics portions at a desired distance from the one or more sensor arrays. In some of such embodiments, the spacer and support collectively define one or more passages for transmission of light, help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate light “cross talk” between the camera channels and/or help to limit, minimize and/or eliminate “entry” of light from outside the digital camera apparatus.
  • The support 320 may comprise any type of material(s) and may have any configuration and/or construction. In some embodiments, for example, the support 320 comprises silicon, semiconductor, glass, ceramic, plastic, or metallic materials and/or a combination thereof. If the support 320 has more than one portion, such portions may be fabricated separate from one another, integral with one another and/or any combination thereof. If the support defines more than one support portion, each of such support portions, e.g., support portions 600A-600D, may be coupled to one, some or all of the other support portions, as shown, or completely isolated from the other support portions.
  • The support 320 may be a solid device that may offer a wide range of options for manufacturing and material, however other forms of devices may also be employed. In some embodiments, for example, the support 320 comprises a plate (e.g., a thin plate) that defines the support and one or more support portions, with the apertures and seats being formed by machining (e.g., boring) or any other suitable manner. In some other embodiments, the support 320 is fabricated as a casting with the apertures defined therein (e.g., using a mold with projections that define the apertures and seats of the one or more support portions).
  • Each optics portion, e.g., optics portions 330A-330D, may be secured in the respective seats in any suitable manner, for example, but not limited to, mechanically (e.g., press fit, physical stops), chemically (e.g., adhesive), electronically (e.g., electronic bonding) and/or any combination thereof. In some embodiments, each of the seats 618-1A to 618C-3A has dimensions adapted to provide a press fit for the respective lenslets.
  • Notably, the lenslets of the optics portions may be assembled into the support in any suitable manner.
  • FIGS. 35A-35C show one embodiment for assembling the lenslets of the optics portions in the support. Referring to FIG. 35A, in this embodiment, the support 320 is turned upside down and the bottom lenslets 410C, 430C of each lens 410, 430, respectively, is inserted into the bottom of a respective aperture, seated in a respective seat 618-3 and affixed thereto, if desired. Referring to FIG. 35B, the support 320 is thereafter turned right side up and the middle lenslet 410B, 430B, of each lens 410, 430, respectively, is inserted into the top of the respective aperture, seated in a respective seat 618-2 and affixed thereto, if desired. Referring to FIG. 35C, thereafter, the top lenslet 410A, 430A, of each lens 410, 430, respectively, is inserted into the top of the respective aperture, seated in a respective seat 618-1 and affixed thereto, if desired. In some embodiments, the top lenslet and the middle lenslet are built into one assembly, and inserted together.
  • In this particularly embodiment, it may be advantageous to insert the bottom lenslet through a bottom portion of the aperture because the stop surface for the bottom lenslet faces toward the bottom of the aperture. Similarly, it may be advantageous to insert the top lenslet and the middle lenslet through a top portion of the aperture because the stop surface for the top lenslet and the stop surface for the middle lenslet each face toward the top portion of the aperture.
  • It should be understood however, that any suitable configuration may be employed. In some embodiments, for example, the stop surface for the middle lenslet may face toward the bottom portion of the aperture, such that the middle lenslet may be inserted into the support portion through the bottom portion of the aperture, e.g., prior to inserting the bottom lenslet into the support. In some other embodiments, each of the stop surfaces may face in one direction, such that all of the lenslets are inserted through the same portion of the aperture.
  • In some embodiments, the lens and support are manufactured as a single molded component. In some embodiments the lens may be manufactured with tabs that may be used to form the support.
  • In some embodiments, the support 320 is coupled and/or affixed directly or indirectly, to the image device. For example, the support 320 may be directly coupled and affixed to the image device (e.g., using adhesive) or indirectly coupled and/or or affixed to the image device via an intermediate support member (not shown).
  • The x and y dimensions of the support 320 may be, for example, approximately the same (in one or more dimensions) as the image device, approximately the same (in one or more dimensions) as the arrangement of the optics portions 330A-