For many years, the Thermal Imaging market has been driven by the high volume consumer market. The first signs of
this came with the launch of night vision systems for cars, first by Cadillac and Honda and then, more successfully by
BMW, Daimler and Audi. For the first time, simple thermal imaging systems were being manufactured at the rate of
more than 10,000 units a year. This step change in volumes enabled a step change in system costs, with thermal imaging
moving into the consumer’s price range.
Today we see that the consumer awareness and the consumer market continues to increase with the launch of a number
of consumer focused smart phone add-ons. This has brought a further step change in system costs, with the possibility to
turn your mobile phone into a thermal imager for under $250.
As the detector technology has matured, the pixel pitches have dropped from 50μm in 2002 to 12 μm or even 10μm in
today’s detectors. This dramatic shrinkage in size has had an equally dramatic effect on the optics required to produce
the image on the detector. A moderate field of view that would have required a focal length of 40mm in 2002 now
requires a focal length of 8mm. For wide field of view applications and small detector formats, focal lengths in the range
1mm to 5mm are becoming common.
For lenses, the quantity manufactured, quality and costs will require a new approach to high volume Infra-Red (IR)
manufacturing to meet customer expectations. This, taken with the SwaP-C requirements and the emerging requirement
for very small lenses driven by the new detectors, suggests that wafer scale optics are part of the solution. Umicore can
now present initial results from an intensive research and development program to mold and coat wafer level optics,
using its chalcogenide glass, GASIR®.