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Micro camera sees through smoke, fog and darkness

The CalibirTM project won top honors in the Technological Partnership category at the ADRIQ 25th Innovation Award Gala, on November 19, 2015. From left: Pierre Normand, Canada Foundation for Innovation; Normand Bourbonnais, C2MI; Oussama Moutanabbir, École Polytechnique de Montréal; Paul Charette, Université de Sherbrooke; Marc Faucher, Jean-Sebastien Poirier and Francois Lewis from Teledyne Dalsa and Pascal Monette, GM, Association pour le développement de la recherche et de l'innovation du Québec

Firefighters entering a burning building, and search and rescue teams at sea will be among the first to benefit from a new military-grade technology that uses infrared light to see through smoke, fog and even the dark of night.

On track for commercial launch in 2016, the new This link will take you to another Web site CalibirTM camera from Teledyne DALSA was designed and manufactured in partnership with the MiQro Innovation Collaborative Centre (C2MI), Canada’s largest electronics systems research and development centre. Teledyne DALSA (Canada’s largest manufacturer of semiconductor wafers) and C2MI are neighbours in Bromont, Quebec, a key factor in their ability to collaborate.

“C2MI is a world-class MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) fabrication and packaging facility. Having local access to these advanced technologies is critical to our projects,” says Marc Faucher, Director of Product Development Solutions at Teledyne DALSA.

C2MI is also the only facility in Canada to offer wafer level packaging (WLP). This cutting-edge assembly process streamlines production by combining the fabrication of electronic “wafers” with packaging them into chips, making it possible to mass manufacture faster, lighter and smaller electronic products with high performance and low-cost packaging. It’s a radical departure from current practices in which the semiconductor foundry sends the wafers to other plants for packaging.

“It’s not just fine-tuning something that already exists; it’s throwing out the rule book and starting again from scratch,” says Université de Sherbrooke’s Paul Charette, one of the lead researchers on the project. “We’re bringing to the table new materials and new fabrication processes that allow us to obtain the same performance at a fraction of the cost.”

Until now, the cost and complexity of infrared sensor technology has made potential products out of reach to all but military customers. With new materials and fabrication processes, the sensors can now be made affordable and compact enough for civilian applications, including heat loss detection in buildings, industrial equipment management systems, environmental monitoring and water testing systems and heat-sensitive goggles for firefighters, to name a few. It could one day even be integrated into smartphones.

“With such a camera, you could find out rapidly which portion of a wall, window or door in your house is letting heat escape,” says Faucher. “It could also be installed as a night vision system on cars to alert drivers of cyclists, pedestrians or animals on the road.”

The current CalibirTM design is about the size of an ice cube and will shrink even further with these advanced fabrication processes. CalibirTM is Teledyne DALSA’s first in what will be a family of infrared-based products.

The industry-led project tapped into the materials science, imaging and electronics integration expertise of five researchers and 10 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Université de Sherbrooke and École Polytechnique de Montréal. At C2MI, industry experts work alongside university researchers.

“Many of my students on that project work full time at C2MI,” says Dr. Charette. “It helps the students more clearly understand the problem companies are trying to solve and they learn the culture of industrial R&D. And because everyone’s on site, there’s a lot of useful back and forth that exceeds the boundaries of the project.”

“C2MI makes it easier to network with suppliers, contractors and especially some of the brightest young minds across Canada,” adds Faucher. “These students work with our engineering teams on projects with important commercial applications. Some of those former students are now employees at our company.”

Teledyne DALSA expects to hire another 300 employees in Quebec when the new product family reaches $100 million in annual revenue. The global market for infrared sensors and detectors is forecast to hit US$1.3 billion by 2020, according to market research firm BBC Research.

Several countries are working to advance WLP, and C2MI is giving Canadian companies a distinct competitive edge, says Dr. Charette. “We’re in a race and the first ones to the finish line will be in great demand. We’re confident that with C2MI’s advantage we have the team to get there first.”