Apple Reveals Advances being made to Camera VSCELs to better Capture High-End Video with more Detail and more
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to adjustments and advancements made to vertical-cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL's). Apple introduced the ability to record ultra-high resolution videos such as 4K videos with the iPhone 6s. However as cameras evolve Apple is able to eliminate elements that could possibly result in a thinner camera construction while delivering better capture detail in HD videos and more.The importance of high-definition video capture is listed in Apple's patent claim #2 in terms of priority.
One of the side benefits of the latest VCSEL design is that it eliminates parts that could allow the camera to naturally be thinner. Whether that translates to reducing iPhone camera bump or eliminates it entirely is unknown at this time.
To confirm this point, Apple notes in patent point #034:
"In some embodiments, a fixed optical element, such as a lens (or group of lenses), may be included in a camera and an image sensor of the camera may be adjusted relative to the fixed optical element in order to focus or otherwise adjust the camera. In such embodiments, actuator components for adjusting a position of the optical element may be omitted thus reducing a thickness and/or weight of the camera."
Apple isn't only attempting to reduce the makeup of the camera but how it communicates to deliver sharper video images. Apple notes in patent point #036:
"In some embodiments, light source modules integrated into an image sensor and light sensors integrated into an electrical backplane assembly may be capable of high signal modulation rates.
For example, in some embodiments a light source module and light sensor may be capable of communicating a gigabyte per second of data or more.
Also, in some embodiments sets of light source modules and corresponding light sensors may communicate image data in parallel to increase a data transmission rate of image data between an image sensor of a mobile device camera and another component of the mobile device, such as an electrical backplane that includes a processor component.
Such high data transmission rates may enable high-definition videos to be captured by an image sensor and communicated to a processing component."
The faster data transfers are due to future VCSEL being able to use multiple photonic communication links. Photonic communication or photonic signal communication is touched on in patent points #30, 31, 44 and 59.
Photonic communication links are mentioned twice in patent point #059 associated with Apple's patent FIG. 3A as presented below.
Apple's patent FIG. 3A above illustrates an image sensor comprising light source modules; FIG. 3B illustrates a light source module at least partially embedded in a silicon substrate of an image sensor.
Lastly on photonic communication links, Apple notes in patent point #59: "In some embodiments, an aggregation component may aggregate image data received from pixelated image sensors included in an image capture portion of an image sensor. For example, aggregation component #304 may aggregate image data received from pixelated image sensors of image capture portion #302. In some embodiments, an aggregation component, such as aggregation component may further distribute aggregated image data across more than one photonic communication link to communicate the image data to a processing component.
For example, aggregation component may distribute image data to laser driver #306 to be communicated via light source module #310 and communicate image data to laser driver #308 to be communicated via light source module #312. In some embodiments, image data for a given image may be sent in parallel to a processing component via multiple photonic communication links.
Earlier this year Apple supplier Finisar introduced VCSELs For Depth-Sensing At Photonics West 2018 where they talked about next-gen VCSEL's using analogue photonic links and microwave photonics. The top VCSEL applications for Finisar today include facial recognition (our cover graphic is from Finisar), augmented reality, in-vehicle sensing and LIDAR. Apple's focus on allowing users to capture higher quality imagery with their Photonic links is a unique application.
The improved camera VCSELs could be used in many devices beyond iDevices such as all Macs, Apple TV, a high-end TV and more.
Apple's patent application 20180367767 was filed back in June 2018. Some of the original work dates back to June 2017. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
You could view more of Apple's patent figures here.