SAN MATEO, Calif. Stanford University spin-off Pixim Inc. has chosen the ARM 9E as the image-processing engine for its image sensor.
The Pixim part is based on a patented image-capture and signal-processing technology called the Digital Pixel System (DPS). Billed as the next-generation CMOS image sensor technology, DPS offers "high resolution, a high dynamic range and a high frame rate that no CCD or CMOS image sensor has been able to achieve," said marketing vice president John Monti. The digital signal architecture is also said to be inherently more noise-immune than conventional CMOS image sensors, making it suitable for integrating image-processing circuitry to create a single-chip digital camera.
By licensing the ARM 9E family of processors for integration into its own platform, Pixim hopes to see its DPS technology designed into mainstream digital cameras, for which the ARM architecture is becoming an increasingly pervasive image-pr ocessing engine.
Pixim's ultimate goal is to design a camera-on-chip that would integrate the DPS sensor, an ARM-based image processor, memory and such custom intellectual property as compression algorithms and I/O.
The startup plans to preview an ARM-based demonstration system for selected customers. The objective is to show how well a DPS-based image sensor works with an ARM processor, according to Robert Siegel, Pixim's vice president of marketing and business development.
While Pixim is betting on ARM to penetrate the imaging market, ARM also appears to hold high hopes for Pixim's technology. The core developer has just announced a Series C investment in Pixim.
"This is a strategic investment for us," said Bruce Beckloff, segment manager of digital imaging at ARM. Noting that digital imaging is becoming one of the fastest-growing core market segments for ARM, Beckloff said, "By going with a technology that hasn't been exploited on the market yet, we hope to gain the first-mover advantag e. We also hope to help revolutionize imaging technology."
Beckloff called 2001 "a breakout year" for ARM, with 201 million units shipped in the first half alone. "We currently have more than 20 design wins in the digital-still-camera market, through OEMs ranging from Toshiba to Kodak," he said. Both the ARM7 and ARM9 families have scored design wins in digital cameras.
While ARM has habitually scoured diverse markets for design-in opportunities, it's only rarely made strategic investments in other companies. Besides Pixim, ARM has invested in LinkUp Systems, a system-on-chip company for Internet and consumer electronics devices, and Cambridge Silicon Radio, a Bluetooth SoC company.
Pixim calls several features unique to its DPS architecture. For one, each pixel has an analog/digital converter, and all the A/Ds operate in parallel. Digital data is directly read out of the image sensor array. An A/D converter in each pixel enables massively parallel conversion and high-speed digital readout, elim inating typical analog readout bottlenecks, Pixim says.
The ability to accomplish multiple fast reads without destroying data not only enables high-speed imaging applications but also allows the taking of pictures with a far higher dynamic range. Multicapture capability allows all pixels to receive optimal exposure with an ideal signal-to-noise ratio. With one click, the DPS sensor can capture and measure the charges in the pixels repeatedly, at high speed.
Pixim plans to launch a DPS-based camera-on-chip integrated with an ARM 9 in the first half of 2002.