Interview with Markus Rossi, Chief Innovation Officer, Heptagon

Conference Producer Rob Stead speaks to Markus Rossi from Heptagon Advanced Micro Optics in the lead up to his presentation at Image Sensors 2015.

Q: Please briefly describe your background and experience in digital imaging.

A: Since 2007 I'm active in developing various optical components and modules for mobile phone and smart phones - starting from camera lenses and LED illumination, moving into camera modules and optical sensing systems and now focusing on a wide range of different components and subsystems for depth sensing products.

Q: You presentation will look at depth sensing applications and enabling technology. What is the opportunity here and why is it a significant one?

A: Depth sensing is making a strong move into mobile devices. Whereas the basic principles and methods have been demonstrated some time ago, integration in mobile devices is only possible after a significant miniaturization and power reduction steps. The computational power available in mobile devices is finally reaching the level to enable meaningful uses-cases in real time, and as an indication for that we clearly see a rapidly evolving HW and SW eco system.

Q: Can you outline the enabling hardware, and comment on the importance of image sensor design and configuration in this type of system?

A: Heptagon’s depth sensing solutions include depth measurement systems with single / small numbers of pixels as well as 3-D imaging. These systems are optimised for very robust performance, small form factor, cost and low power consumption. Achieving these goals requires unique illumination systems, small optics and - in some applications - customised or even dedicated sensors. Optimizing image sensors for 3D imaging is an opportunity, since those system typically have different optical requirement and layout.

A key aspect of Heptagon’s products their small mechanical form factor. A novel, wafer-based camera assembly technology - called “FCP” - reduces the mechanical complexity of the camera and projection modules and therefore enables high turn-over, passive alignment manufacturing methods.

Q: What are the limits of performance currently, and how do you see future materials technology/innovation extending these capabilities?

A: Among the key performance criteria of depth sensing systems are robustness and accuracy. Increasing these aspects while further miniaturising requires progress requires developments on all fronts. One example for a very important component in depth sensing is the so-called IR illuminator. Our miniature illumination systems are optimised for uniform illumination in ToF applications, pattern generators for contrast enhancement in active stereo as well as structured light systems. Each of this systems needs to be tuned for best optical performance (efficiency, contrast, …) and smallest form factor (need to fit into mobile devices). This requires special expertise in optics designs (from micro-optics to classical projector optics), manufacturing as well as assembly technology.

Q: Do you think consumers are ready to grasp this type of technology? Do you see a market pull or technology push in this market, and why?

A: Although the very clear user applications still need to be defined, we are convinced that 3D sensing will eventually greatly improve the experience in how we interact with our technology and its environment. On the technology side, many of the depth sensing systems have evolved from (low resolution) cameras and optical proximity or gesture sensors. The market pull for much accurate and sophisticated depth sensing systems has brought a strong momentum to the developments on the basic sensing, optical and mechanical components.

Q: Finally, we are very pleased to have you on board as a speaker for the conference, please let us know what you are hoping to gain from your participation?

A: Multidisciplinary interaction with other technology experts on the various aspects, challenges and solutions for innovative depth sensing solutions.