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Exclusive Interview with Terry Gilton, Vice President of Advanced Technology, Aptina

Smithers Apex interviews Terry Gilton the Vice President of Advanced Technology at Aptina in the lead up to his presentation at Image Sensors Americas 2014

Q. Please briefly describe your background in digital imaging.

I got my start in digital imaging working on scientific applications in graduate school in the late 80's. This was fundamentally advanced lithography, but led to a lifetime hobby in photography and astronomy. When Micron Technology decided to investigate CMOS Image Sensors I was involved in process R&D, which led eventually to my position as VP of Technology for Aptina as we spun off as a new company.

Q. What are the major growth areas in the image sensor business in 2014/5?

Along with general market growth in the volume segments, there is a trend towards physically larger sensors to improve all around performance. While the pixel-count war is not dead, the top mobile OEMS have seen the light. Smaller pixels matter, but are being seen as enablers for unique features rather than just a way to use more power and memory, while larger pixels are getting the credit they deserve for image quality.

Q. Your role encompasses advanced technology, which advanced technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on the supply chain in the coming years?

Stacking of pure pixel arrays onto ASICS is going to be a very important change to the supply chain. 
Packaging of image sensors into camera modules is in an innovation phase now. Things like curved sensors will have an interesting impact on optical design, and could enable some changes in the module that will allow new technologies to flourish. Multi-chip solutions are going to become more popular, and advances in heat management are going to drive camera performance.

With pixel shrinks and the demand for greater performance, I believe that pixel level optics (color filters, micro lenses and pixel-scale light path engineering) is changing quickly. It used to be just spinning on some organics, but it is now much more complex and essential to the sensor's overall performance.

Q. Mobile applications have been the catalyst for huge growth in this industry in recent time. Some say with up to 10 cameras per vehicle, that automotive could be even bigger - how important is automotive as an application and what are the challenges there from a sensor perspective?

Cameras are enabling safety and convenience applications that have only been dreamed of in the recent past. Self-driving cars are upon us, and cars are being marketed based on their ability to perceive the world.

Since we have been in the automotive imaging space since practically the beginning, we have seen some interesting challenges for sensor makers. One of which is that the automotive environment typically is more demanding in terms of sensor reliability. Another is that a good portion of automotive applications benefit from a broader light spectrum than typical photographic usage. Too, camera makers in this space really care about power consumption. Not necessarily for the same reasons as mobile users, but mostly because of heat management.

Q. There's currently a lot of discussion about stacked chip sensors, do you believe this is the future of image sensors design?

It is an important and necessary part of our future. In CIS product development, there is always the tricky question of the system partition: how much functionality is on the sensor, versus how much is elsewhere? Stacking creates another fantastic option, but it does not provide the final answer to the question. We therefore feel that it is important to invest in R&D in the entire sensor lifecycle, from image processing through optics.

Q. And finally, we are delighted to have you participating as a speaker, what are you hoping to gain from your attendance at the event?

Learn what others in the field are excited about as well as get a feel for the new directions folks are seeing. Of course, my thoughts are only opinions based on my experience, and having access to different backgrounds and opinions is very important.