New sensor guarantees “True Colour” for smartphone cameras

In the highly competitive smartphone market, photography can be a crucial battleground. In addition to the insatiable desire for better batteries, durability, storage and processing, camera quality consequent rows as a key factor when choosing a phone.

At CES 2023, Spectricity, a start-up based in Belgium, introduced a new competitor: the S1 chip.

Spectricity claims the S1 is the first truly miniaturized and mass-producible spectral image sensor for mobile devices – and the company is aiming for industry dominance. Within two years, Spectricity boldly predicts the sensor will be in every smartphone.

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The upward trend stems from a single focus: measuring true color in smartphones. According to Spectricty, not even the best smartphones can do that.

The problem stems from flaws in their white balance software, which is used to remove unrealistic tones. Our natural visual system does this remarkably well. When we see a white wall under sunlight or a fluorescent light, our brain adjusts color temperatures to make both scenes appear white. Smartphones try the same thing, but the results are often disappointing.

“None of these cameras can recognize true color.

Limited by the three RGB color channels of red, green, and blue, their automatic white balance algorithms struggle to correct for unnatural color temperatures. As a result, photos taken under incandescent lights can appear more orange than under sunlight, while shaded areas can appear bluer.

“Although there is a lot of processing power behind these cameras, they can’t see true color,” Spectricity CEO Vincent Mouret told TNW.

To solve this problem, the S1 sensor uses additional filters to analyze an object’s spectral signature. After the light source is captured in an image, the system corrects the colors accordingly.

Mouret (left) was CEO of several semiconductor startups before joining Spectricity founder Jonathan Borremans’ (right) team.

Spectricity showed TNW the effects in a live demo. The images produced by the S1 were compared to photos taken by high-end smartphone cameras under different lighting conditions.

Although demo results aren’t always reproduced in real life, the colors rendered by the S1 appeared far more consistent under different lighting.

“With our solution, you can have the same colors regardless of lighting conditions,” says Spectricity Applications Engineer Michael Jacobs.

Spectricity demo image dodges PR JanuarySpectricity expects the first smartphones with the S1 to appear in 2024.

The ambitions for the sensor go beyond better photos. Since the S1 can capture the entire visible and near-infrared range at video rates, the imager could improve numerous mobile applications. Spectricity intends to use the sensor for remote cosmetics, e-commerce, ID verification, skin health analysis and even smart gardening.

A key component of these plans is the S1’s improved rendering of skin tones. Smartphone cameras are notoriously bad when capturing darker skin, which limits the inclusivity of photos. It also blocks all apps that use skin analysis, from melanoma detection to virtual makeup.

The S1’s recognition of darker skin could expand access to the benefits.

Skin_biomarker_demoBiomarker analysis can be integrated into personalized skin care.

Smartphone giants are also driving their fortunes into color fidelity, but Specriticity says they still can’t match the S1 sensor. This confidence comes from a long and narrow scientific focus.

Spectricity started out as a spin-out from the Interuniversity Center for Microelectronics (IMEC), a research laboratory for nanoelectronics and digital technologies. This connection has helped the startup amass 19 issued patents and 66 active applications, as well as 13 PhDs among its team.

To commercialize the innovations, Spectricity has a high-volume production line in the X-FAB Foundry – which is now ready for mass production.

The S1 is currently being evaluated by major smartphone manufacturers. Midst a global decline When it comes to mobile selling, Spectricity is betting that the sensor will give them an irresistible advantage.

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