At Aptina, we’re the synthesis of foundational CMOS image sensor technology, stunning innovation, and second-to-none manufacturing quality. We’re the aggregate of three of the industry’s most innovative companies. We trace our history to the beginning of the development of CMOS image sensors. We take pride in where we’ve been, and we look forward to our future.
The Birth of Digital Imaging: 1969
In 1969, Drs. Willard Boyle and George Smith developed the charge-coupled device (CCD) while they were both researchers in the Semiconductor Components Division at Bell Laboratories.
Boyle and Smith’s invention sparked the digital imaging revolution. But like many first generation technologies, the CCD had several shortcomings, including a complicated, unique, and therefore expensive manufacturing process, dependency on powerful and separate processors, and relatively slow readout.
A Step Toward Imaging Efficiency: Up to 1995
While at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Eric Fossum conducted the research that made CMOS image sensors practical for space applications in which it has several advantages over CCDs, including a requirement for less power and less susceptibility to radiation damage in space. (NASA report)
Dr. Fossum’s research led to the development of CMOS active-pixel sensors that included many on-chip functions, allowing for more portability, lower power consumption, and complete miniature imaging systems. Dr. Fossum and several of his JPL coworkers took this technology public and formed the Photobit Corporation.
Photobit, a Leader in Imaging Solutions: 1995 to 2001
Photobit was effectively the first company to commercialize CMOS image sensors. The company had design wins with leading manufacturers like, Logitech for its popular QuickCam™ Express, Basler AG for high-speed machine vision solutions, Schick Technologies for dental radiography, and was the world's leading supplier of CMOS imagers to the automotive industry thanks to Gentex's successful solutions, like their automatic-dimming mirrors.
Micron Brings Manufacturing Processing Prowess: 2001
In 2001 Micron Technology, a leading manufacturer of semiconductor memory acquired Photobit, integrated the company’s cadre of imaging engineers, and brought new scale to the CMOS imaging business.
The combination of Photobit’s foundational technology and Micron’s semiconductor processes was nothing short of magical. In general, DRAM processes and CMOS image sensor processes are very similar. Plus, the new Micron Imaging Group found that there was another advantage to DRAM. DRAM memory cells, which are strikingly similar to pixels had long been designed to hold a charge. Because of this memory processes produce very low noise cells and therefore high-quality imagers. Most imagers at the time were produced using logic semiconductor processes, which are generally designed to move charges about quickly with little regard for the system noise they produce. Thus, in a few generations CMOS image quality rose to parity and even superiority to CCD quality. Put another way, thanks to Micron’s manufacturing, if you compared a modern Aptina CMOS imager to a CCD with similar sized pixels, you’d find that in most cases the Aptina CMOS sensor offers better image quality.
In December 2006, the then Micron Imaging Group took another step toward imaging dominance, acquiring Avago Technologies' image sensor business, which included nearly 90 top-notch imaging engineers. These engineers had been rapidly advancing CMOS technology and Micron saw the deal as an opportunity to leap ahead of the competition.
The World’s Leading Supplier: 2006 and 2007
In 2006, Micron's Imaging Group also became the world's leading supplier of CMOS image sensors. Micron CMOS sensors were designed into one of every three camera phones on Earth in 2006 and 2007.
The Aptina Era Begins
In 2008, Micron saw yet another strategic opportunity. Its imaging business while similar to DRAM at the fab level, demanded a new focus on sales and marketing. So Micron created Aptina, a division that is the world's foremost imaging solutions provider and the imaging company with perhaps the industry's brightest future.