Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new curved light image sensor that promises to provide a thinner camera profile on devices. Today, the backside cameras on the iPhone 6 and 6s models annoyingly protrude. Today's invention is designed to use fewer components that will deliver a lower profile design. A recent MacRumors report noted that "On the iPhone 7, the camera is said to sit flush with the rear casing, enabled by a thinner camera module."
Apple's Patent Background
Optical systems, such as image capture systems, are included in a variety of electronic devices, such as digital cameras, cellular telephones, digital media players, computers, and tablet computing systems. An image capture system often uses one or more image sensors, such as a CCD image sensor or a CMOS image sensor, to capture images and video. An image sensor includes a large number of pixels formed in a pixel array on the surface of a substrate. Typically, an optical system is positioned in front of the image sensor 100 to focus or direct light onto the pixel array. When light is incident on the pixel array, the image sensor converts the light captured by the pixels into electrical signals to capture an image.
The flat surface of the image sensor may narrow the field of light that can be received by the pixel array. The optical system compensates for this narrow field of view by including multiple lenses that widen the field of view and flatten the image onto the flat surface of the image sensor. The optical system may also correct for aberrations in an image that can result from the flat surface. However, the type and number of lenses used in an optical system can increase the complexity of the optical system. A complex optical system may increase the cost, size, and weight of the image capture system, which in turn may make an electronic device that includes the image capture system more expensive.
Apple's Invention: Curved Light Sensor
Apple's invention covers a curved light sensor and methods for fabricating a curved light sensor. The substrate of a curved light sensor has a given radius of curvature. An optical system that directs or focuses light onto the curved light sensor can be designed to complement the curved light receiving surface of the curved light sensor. The optical system may use fewer components based on the curved light sensor. Thus, the curved light sensor can reduce the complexity of an optical system because fewer lenses and/or other components may be used in the optical system. The reduced complexity may lower the cost of the optical system and of the optical system. Additionally or alternatively, a curved light sensor can reduce the z-height of an optical system, which can be advantageous for thinner electronic devices such as cellular telephones, tablet computing devices, and digital media players.
A curved light sensor includes one or more layers of a stress film on at least one surface of the light sensor. A layer or layers of the stress film may be patterned to have a pattern that creates a desired stress imbalance in the sensor substrate. The pattern in the stress film can produce different compressive and/or tensile stresses that cause the image sensor substrate to bend or curve. The pattern in the stress film is designed to produce a predetermined or given radius of curvature in the substrate.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a simplified block diagram of an optical system that includes a curved light sensor; FIG. 8 illustrates a curved image sensor.
See Apple's patent application 20160050379 for more details. The application was originally filed in Q3 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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