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Precision optics deliver next-gen endoscopes

16 Jun 2015

Tiny CMOS imaging module generates high-quality video from a distal diameter of just 1.6 millimeters.

A trio of companies has collaborated to develop a tiny new CMOS imaging module designed specifically for endoscopes.

Sensor specialist OmniVision Technologies – the subject of a $1.9 billion buy-out led by a Chinese private equity group – collaborated with US-headquartered Precision Optics Corporation (POC) and the Japanese firm Fujikura, which is producing the module.

Fujikura says that the new design, currently shipping in sample volumes and set for a production ramp next year, delivers “magnificent” image quality despite boasting the smallest footprint in the industry.

More specifically, it produces 400x400 pixel images at a rate of 30 frames per second from a package with an outer diameter of just 1.6 mm, and is said to be suitable for a wide range of endoscopic devices from bronchoscopes for lung examinations to laparoscopes used in keyhole surgery applications.

"This camera module has been designed specifically for medical applications with stringent bio-compatibility, sterilization and electrical requirements," said Shingo Ishii, group leader of the medical business development division at Fujikura.

He adds that the module’s very small footprint and power efficiency are critical features for such applications, and hailed the “exceptional” image quality made possible by incorporating OmniVision's new OV6946 sensor and POC's micro precision lens.

POC’s chief executive Joe Forkey said: “We believe this will be a large and growing market, and are thrilled to be at the technological forefront with world-class partners. All three companies share the goal of making small, high quality, and re-usable endoscopes for minimally invasive medical procedures the standard wherever possible.”

Micro precision
Based in Gardner, Massachusetts, POC can produce lenses with a diameter of just 0.2 mm with its “micro precision” techniques, said to match the optical quality of traditional ground optics at close to the lower cost of gradient-index (GRIN) components.

According to the company’s own literature, these devices can provide a field of view as wide as 120 degrees, a critical factor for endoscopy applications. It showed a pre-release, demonstration version of the tiny camera module for at the SPIE Photonics West exhibition earlier this year, noting that it had the “highest resolution of any camera module with diameter in the 1-2 mm range”.

Speaking last month following POC’s latest quarterly financial results, Forkey said that he saw a “a strong pipeline of opportunities”, particularly in the area of micro-optics and optical micro-assemblies designed specifically for small CMOS-based medical camera systems. The company also showed off the innovation at last week’s Medical Design and Manufacturing (MD&M) event, held in New York City.

OmniVision’s sales of sensors have long been dominated by the consumer electronics market, and particularly smart phone applications in recent years, but the firm has been touting the medical sector as one that is ripe for growth.

Tehzeeb Gunja, one of its senior marketing and business development managers, said of the Fujikura/POC collaboration: "Working alongside two companies with such a rich history of producing exceptional medical imaging technology is truly a privilege."

Gunja added: "To reduce patient trauma and shorten recovery time, doctors are turning to smaller, re-usable endoscopes to deliver the images and video required during a medical procedure.

"Currently, there are no other image sensors available that offer the level of high performance and image quality in such a compact and power-efficient form factor." The OV6946 chip is also available in sample quantities, with a volume ramp penciled in for the third quarter of this year.

Fujikura video: the POC micro camera:

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