On The Move


Cameras, cameras everywhere

Cameras are around us, everywhere we go we see cameras. More often than not, we don’t see cameras but cameras powered by image sensors enable others to see us and take our picture. When cameras first came out, they were stand-alone analog devices that required film that had to be developed for you to enjoy the picture you took. The pictures were taken mostly for personal purposes and enjoyment. Today, with the advancement of digital technology and image sensors capabilities, you have many image sensors embedded in many devices and used not only for traditional camera usage of leisure and personal enjoyment.

Here’s a nice picture of a “field camera” from 1880 (cameras built to be used outside of the studio i.e. mobile camera), picture courtesy of piercevaubel.com

Field Camera

We can compare the older version of mobile camera to what is sold today for example a 5 mega-pixels camera cellphone from LG which was introduced in 2008 (~130 years after the older mobile camera):

LG KM900 Camera Phone

Cameras are in every med-range to high-end cellular phone offering a variety of resolutions. All smartphones employ at least one camera and those being introduced today and in the future offer two cameras. Here’s a good example of Google’s Nexus S phone employing two cameras http://www.google.com/nexus/#/features.

Google’s Nexus S phone

Other phones have already high pixel rate (5 mega-pixels and above) or even high-definition (HD) cameras like this Nokia N8 phone, see video here:

Who would have thought you could film HD video on your cellphone? Some will ask why, but the answer is simple – it’s the one thing you typically always have with you that can capture the moment immediately.

The use of two cameras and two or more displays can be found not only in cellular phones but also in other mobile applications enabling enhanced user experience. Here’s a Digital Still Camera (DSC) product with dual displays, one at the back for the person operating the camera (the photographer) to see what the picture looks like and one at the front for the person who’s picture is being taken to see how she/he look like before the picture is taken. I’m familiar with this DSC product as it uses the low power FPGA I introduced into the market in 2006 and helped win this design (here’s a link to more information if you’re interested Digital camera differentiates itself by adding a second display). One might think that the next step will be having two cameras to take the picture of the photographer as well. One application would be to identify who took the picture and take credit for the wonderful picture taken or a person to blame for capturing a lousy picture …

A picture I took last year (the clouds are visible…). I consider this as art 🙂

So what’s coming next?

It’s obvious that cameras will be in all voice-capable devices (cellular-enabled or any other communication technology) except for the ultra-low-cost cellphone category. At the High-end there will be more adoption of high pixel rate and HD cameras as well as two or more cameras in the near future. And longer term move to 3D capable-cameras to enhance the user experience and match the 3D image capability on screen and TV.

In general, cameras will continue to be adopted beyond mobile electronics and we’ll see them more at home and many consumer electronics to fulfill functions like gesture-based device control and accessories to home-based electronics.

What’s the connection to MIPI?

Cameras  (or technically, Image Sensor ICs) used in mobile electronics typically use MIPI CSI-2 protocol especially with cameras using a medium to high pixel rate. The benefits of implementing this standard, scalable, low-power and high-performance interface drives volume and economies-of-scale, hence, long term, we’ll see more MIPI-enabled Image Sensor ICs.

MIPI is helping drive the continued innovation we see today and particularly usage of image sensors in mobile electronics. The MIPI CSI-2 protocol combined with the D-PHY serial interface used is a high-performance serial interconnect bus for mobile applications connecting camera sensors to digital imaging modules such as a host processor or image processor. We’re seeing increased adoption of this protocol as the de-facto standard providing an efficient low-power, low pin count interface and scalability to meet the needs of multi-megapixel cameras.

In the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I plan to look at mobile products utilizing Cameras and displays and later report what the latest trends I saw and seems to stick.

Let me know your feedback and thoughts about this topic.

Here’s some other stuff that while most aren’t driven by the MIPI protocol, I still found pretty interesting and hope you do too.

Common uses of image sensors or cameras in electronics today are:

–          Security, surveillance, face recognition, military applications

–          Traffic, weather and street cameras

–          Car rear, side and front views for smart collision avoidance

–          Computer, netbooks, web-cam

–          Gaming either handheld or accessory to home gaming system

–          Smartphones, cellular phone

–          Tablets, MIDs

–          Medical diagnostic applications

–          Video conferencing systems

–          And yes I almost forgot… cameras used for the classic purpose of taking photographs and videos with digital still cameras, digital video cameras and professional-grade cameras

As a matter of fact, there are probably many more uses even today for cameras which I neglected here. I found a few examples of not-so-common use of cameras for the average consumer but apparently there is a market for that. These handheld devices help the consumer observe their dental and ear hygiene on screen. Check out a product by Miharu here

Dental and ear hygiene device

Happy new year everyone!

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