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onsemi grows sensing portfolio with SWIR Vision Systems

03 Jul 2024

Acquisition of North Carolina startup gives the chip maker access to low-cost, high-resolution infrared sensors.

SWIR Vision Systems, the Research Triangle Institute spin-out that has developed award-winning infrared short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors and cameras based around colloidal quantum dots (CQDs), has been acquired by the semiconductor manufacturer onsemi.

Arizona-headquartered onsemi, which mainly produces electronic devices used in power management applications, also has a sensor division - which SWIR Vision Systems will now become part of.

The Durham, North Carolina, startup’s technology uses CQDs based on lead sulfide to extend the normal wavelength detection range of silicon CMOS sensors to around 2 µm, meaning that for many applications they can be used instead of more expensive indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) devices, which are much more difficult to manufacture.

onsemi said in a release announcing the deal: “With this acquisition, onsemi will combine its silicon-based CMOS sensors and manufacturing expertise with the CQD technology to deliver highly integrated SWIR sensors at lower cost and higher volume.

“The result [will be] more compact, cost-effective imaging systems that offer extended spectrum and can be used in a wide array of commercial, industrial and defense applications.”

Prism Award
Established in 2018, SWIR Vision Systems based its approach partly on CQD development work carried out as part of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program “Wafer-scale Infrared Detectors” (WIRED).

That effort showed that CQDs could be deposited to form arrays of p-n heterojunctions using low-temperature and low-cost processing techniques. In contrast, InGaAs devices require epitaxial growth on expensive indium phosphide (InP) substrate wafers and complex integration with silicon ICs.

And although InGaAs sensors still offer a significantly higher quantum efficiency - meaning better performance in low-light conditions - the SWIR Vision Systems alternative is well suited to applications across industrial machine vision, automotive, agriculture, and security markets.

Following initial seed funding from parent firm RTI International, in 2021 the firm attracted around $5 million from investors including the Keiretsu Forum angel network.

At the time, CEO George Wildeman said: “The reception we've encountered in the industry has been extraordinary. We look forward to expanding our business in the industrial imaging market, while working with the world’s top automotive and consumer electronics companies to explore applications of our fully scalable CMOS-based SWIR sensor solutions.”

Shortly after that injection of cash, SWIR Vision Systems’ Acuros eSWIR camera beat off competition from Emberion and Stratio to win a 2022 Photonics Prism Award, in the “better sensing” category.

6MP cameras
In 2023 the firm released its latest offering, a 6 megapixel version of the Acuros family featuring a 7 µm pixel pitch. The "SWIR" version detects light at wavelengths up to 1700 nm, with the "eSWIR" extending that range to 2100 nm.

“These advanced SWIR sensors are able to see through dense materials, gases, fabrics and plastics, which is essential across many industries, particularly for industrial applications such as surveillance systems, silicon inspection, machine vision imaging and food inspection,” commented onsemi.

Autonomous vehicle imaging is another potential growth area, with the enhanced spectral response said to offer better visibility in difficult conditions such as extreme darkness, thick fog, or winter glare.

onsemi says that the SWIR Vision Systems team will now be integrated within its “Intelligent Sensing Group”, and continue to operate out of North Carolina.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the additional business is not expected to have any meaningful impact on onsemi’s near-term financial performance - the Nasdaq-listed company previously said that it was expecting to post sales of around $1.7 billion for the June quarter.

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