Sample photo taken with the Quanta Image Sensor. It is a binary single-photon image, so if the pixel was hit by one or more photons, it is white; if not, it is black.
QEPrize winner Eric Fossum, together with engineers from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, has produced a new imaging technology that may revolutionise medical and life sciences research, security, photography and cinematography.
The new technology is called the Quanta Image Sensor, or QIS. It will enable highly sensitive, more easily manipulated and higher quality digital imaging than is currently available. The sensor can reliably capture and count single photons, generating a resolution as high as one megapixel, as fast as thousands of frames per second. Plus, the QIS can accomplish this in low light, at room temperature, using mainstream image sensor technology. Previous technology required large pixels, low temperatures or both.
Next week marks the most important day in our calendar, as we head to Buckingham Palace for the presentation of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering!
Winning engineers Eric Fossum, Nobukazu Teranishi and Michael Tompsett will each be presented with their unique, 3D printed trophy by HRH the Prince of Wales. Together with George Smith, who is unable to attend the ceremony, this year’s winners are honoured for their contribution to creating digital imaging sensors. Found in billions of digital cameras and smartphones across the world, this innovation has transformed medicine, science, communication and entertainment.
Two years ago, on a rainy Monday in October, Queen Elizabeth II handed the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering to Dr Robert Langer. Only the second person to receive the award, the chemical engineer was honoured for his life’s work in developing ways to control the release of large-molecule drugs over time.
Used by 300 pharmaceutical, chemical and biotechnology companies, and featuring in some 1000 patents, Bob’s work has touched the lives of 2 billion people worldwide. His technology has helped develop treatments for cancer, diabetes and mental illnesses. He has even worked with famed voice surgeon, Steven Zeitels, to treat vocal injuries like those suffered by Julie Andrews and Adele.
Two years after receiving the award, Bob remains delightfully humbled by his success. “It was such a tremendous honour,” he said. “Firstly, it was a thrill to meet the Queen, who was so nice, and to meet five other members of the Royal Family. It’s such a wonderful prize and it’s hard for me to believe I could receive such an honour.”
Back in the 90’s, when I was still a child, I was convinced that by the year 2000, cars would be able to fly. At that time, I was unaware of aerodynamics, and remember asking my dad if his Volvo 440 would take off if we opened the front doors. Dad laughed kindly and replied “If only it was that simple!”.
Now we are in 2017 and, to my dismay, flying cars have still not replaced regular ones. However, since then, the kid in the back of his dad’s car has become an engineer, obtained a PhD and is lecturing in computer vision and autonomous systems at Cranfield University. Today I contribute to the next exciting challenge and the future of transport systems: driverless cars.
Michael was clearly frightened. He said he’d seen a flash of light and the next thing he knew a dark curtain had come across his vision. Two hours later, he’d been sent from the emergency room to me – a trainee eye surgeon – and I was straining to get a good view of his retina to diagnose the problem. Seeing the disappointment and desperation on his face, I wished I had a way of sharing down the phone with my consultant what I had seen.
Three years later, I was working in Uganda. A young teacher called Abraham came to the eye clinic, having lost sight in his only seeing eye. Like Michael, he’d had the same symptoms of a flash then a dark curtain. This time, however, I was able to examine him and correctly diagnose a retinal detachment.
Over the years, drones have gained popularity in the engineering and construction industry. Small and simple to fly, drones can quickly snap photos from every angle, giving a bird’s eye view of inaccessible areas. But thousands of photos are meaningless without the right tools to manage them. Drone mapping technology, or ‘photogrammetry’, helps make this task easier by converting drone photos into a 3D model. However, having only the 3D model is still not practical in most engineering work, especially in infrastructure inspection and maintenance. Trik is a specialised system, creating a 3D database. This allows engineering companies to make the most of their drone data.
When Nobukazu Teranishi began tinkering with semiconductors in the University of Tokyo’s undergraduate physics lab, he never dreamed it would land him the world’s most prestigious engineering prize. As he prepares to receive his award at Buckingham Palace next month, the news of the announcement is still sinking in.
“It makes me very happy and proud to have spent 40 years developing digital imaging sensors. There are so many technologies that are indispensable to our everyday lives and I feel very lucky that our work on imaging sensors has been chosen,” he said.
Teranishi is one of four engineers responsible for creating the digital imaging sensors found in digital cameras and smartphones around the world- and above it. His innovation, the pinned photodiode, is the missing puzzle piece linking the first CCD sensors to the tiny CMOS sensors of today.
Stepping outside our office in central London, it’s impossible to miss the impact of this year’s QEPrize-winning innovation. Tourists wear expensive SLR cameras slung casually about their necks; school children gather on Westminster Bridge, all vying for a selfie in front of Big Ben; and every so often the insect-like chatter of shutters explodes from a flurry of press photographers camped outside No.10 Downing Street.
Quizzed about digital imaging, most of us will instantly think of our mobile phones. High-resolution cameras are now common-place in the pocket-sized devices we carry every day. They give us quality face time with friends a world away and can upload a hipster shot of your ‘latte art’ before it’s even begun to cool.