The next step in image sensor technology as created by Sony appears to be bending the way they see the world. Sony is inventing a set of curved CMOS image sensors that are curved, creating a surface which is able to capture images far more like a human eye than any flat image sensor could.
An interesting way to think about this shift in thinking is that it’s similar to what Apple did when they introduced the iMac. They hired Jeff Goldblum to speak about how every computer (at the time) was beige. The least interesting color in the world - why create a high-powered machine in beige?
The eye is not flat, so why capture images with technology that’s flat? Sony suggests here that the images we’re capturing with cameras are not nearly as realistic as they could be.
Sony R&D Platform device manager Kazuichiro Itonaga spoke this week at the Symposium on VLSI Technology in Honolulu, Hawaii. There he showed a curved CMOS sensor system which was 1.4 times more sensitive at its center and 2 times as sensitive along its edge than a non-curved sensor of the same size.
A camera must work with a lens, which is curved. As the sensor’s photodiodes are all aimed inward, rather than flat and facing forward, light is distributed from the (curved) lens to the sensor straight on at any point, rather than obliquely. A curved sensor also allows for a larger aperture and flatter lenses to be used.
While this is not the first time that a curved image sensor has been created, it is the first time a company as large as Sony has produced a model ready for mass production. According to Sony, they’ve created 100 full-size sensors with accuracy, leading them to believe that they’re ready to create a curved sensor for a next-generation camera.
John Rogers, professor of material science and engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is also part of a group that’ve created a curved image sensor. Their sensor is part of a "dynamically tunable hemispherical electronic eye camera system" that also works with adjustable zoom.
We’ll expect Sony's curved-CMOS sensors to be appearing in our full-sized cameras and smartphone/tablet cameras within the next few years.