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Grenoble start-up licenses Siemens' hybrid sensors

24 Jun 2011

Formed just last month, NikkoIA aims to manufacture hybrid organic-inorganic near-infrared detectors for medical and security use.

NikkoIA, a start-up company in Grenoble, France, is planning to disrupt the visible and near-infrared detector market by manufacturing novel hybrid sensors developed by the engineering giant Siemens.

The two companies have just signed a licensing agreement, with NikkoIA gaining exclusive access to Siemens’ work on hybrid organic-inorganic materials that are said to be much simpler and cheaper to produce than the InGaAs sensors currently used in many near-IR applications, and with the detector wavelength range extending to 3 µm. InGaAs devices are manufactured using high-end compound semiconductor deposition equipment.

Joachim Wecker, who heads up Siemens’ organic electronics development, said of the agreement: “We wanted to make the most out of ten years of research and experience on these organic photodetectors and photodiodes. NikkoIA’s founding team convinced us that they are the right people for this.”

That founding team comprises president and CEO Alain Jutant, VP of engineering and manufacturing Hugues Lebrun, and VP of sales and marketing David Richard.

The company, officially formed just last month, is currently owned by private investors, with no equity interest from Siemens, although it is yet to raise any of the significant capital that would be needed to set up a volume manufacturing operation. David Richard, co-founder and VP of marketing and sales at NikkoIA, told optics.org that investment discussions were in progress, and made the long-term plan clear:

“In the short term, we rely on Siemens’ facilities for prototyping, and we have firm plans to build a manufacturing facility in the Grenoble area,” he said.

Richard added that the company has already launched initial products based on the Siemens technology – two different types of 256 x 256 pixel near-IR sensors. Initial applications are expected in medicine, specifically subcutaneous imaging.

Hybrid technology
Richard says that the combination of both organic and inorganic materials in the detector structure enables precise tuning of the spectral sensitivity range, at either specific wavelengths or across a broadband range, as well as providing sensors that are much cheaper to produce than existing InGaAs chips, among other advantages:

“In addition, InGaAs sensors usually require at least to stabilize the sensor temperature, or even to cool it through the use of Peltier elements, which add cost and complexity,” said Richard. “Thanks to the simple deposition processes, we can manufacture large-area matrix sensors, or sensors featuring very small pixels, which is quite difficult and very expensive with InGaAs technology.”

Exactly what kind of deposition process is used Richard won’t say for now, although the company’s suggestion that the thin-film structures can be produced on not just standard electronic substrates, but also in very large formats up to several hundred square inches in area suggests that the method is not a conventional vapor deposition process used in semiconductor production. NikkoIA also says that the process will be compatible with future printed electronics methods.

As well as transferring what is described as “an extensive patents portfolio” to NikkoIA, Siemens has also shared processing know-how with the start-up to speed up the industrialization process. The company will also be able to draw on strong electronics expertise in the Grenoble area. For example Sofradir, which specializes in high-end infrared sensors used in military and space applications, was originally spun out of the CEA Grenoble site 25 years ago and still has a major manufacturing base in the region.

NikkoIA will also look to target security applications as it commercializes the Siemens technology, with CEO Jutant saying: “Our products enable more intuitive and less invasive systems and solutions in the medical, security and user interfaces markets. Our markets are clearly identified and the first feedback from our target customers is very encouraging.”

CHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.First Light ImagingIridian Spectral TechnologiesHÜBNER PhotonicsMad City Labs, Inc.Universe Kogaku America Inc.LaCroix Precision Optics
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