A step towards a biomimetic “electric eye”

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Georgia State University researchers have successfully designed a new type of machine vision device that incorporates a novel vertical stacking architecture and enables greater depth of color recognition and micro-level scalability.

“This work is the first step towards our final destination – to develop a microscale camera for microrobots,” said Assistant Professor of Physics Sidong Lei, who led the research. “We illustrate the fundamental principle and feasibility of building this new type of image sensor with a focus on miniaturization.”

Lei’s team was able to lay the foundation for the biomimetic computer vision device, which uses synthetic methods to mimic biochemical processes, using nanotechnology.

“It is well known that more than 80% of information is captured by vision in research, industry, medicine and our daily lives,” he says. “The ultimate goal of our research is to develop a microscale camera for microrobots that can penetrate narrow spaces that are intangible by current means, and open new horizons in medical diagnosis, environmental study, manufacturing, archaeology, etc.”

This biomimetic “electric eye” advances color recognition, the most critical vision function, which is being missed in current research due to the difficulty of scaling down mainstream color-sensing devices. Conventional color sensors generally adopt a side color detection channel layout and consume a large amount of physical space and provide less accurate color detection.

Researchers have developed the unique stacking technique which offers a new approach to material design. He says van der Waals’ solid-state vertical color sensing structure provides accurate color recognition capability that can simplify optical lens system design for downscaling machine vision systems.

Ningxin Li, graduate student of Dr. Lei’s Functional Materials Studio who was part of the research team, says recent advances in technology make the new design possible.

“The new functionality achieved in our image sensor architecture is entirely dependent on the rapid advances in van der Waals semiconductors over the past few years,” Li says. “Compared to conventional semiconductors, such as silicon, we can precisely control the structure, thickness and other critical band parameters of the van der Waals material to detect red, green and blue colors.”

The vertical solid-state van der Waals color sensor (vdW-Ss) represents a new class of materials, in which individual atomic layers are held together by weak van der Waals forces. They are one of the most important platforms for discovering new physics and designing next-generation devices.

“The ultra-thinness, mechanical flexibility and chemical stability of these new semiconductor materials allow us to stack them in arbitrary orders. Thus, we actually introduce a three-dimensional integration strategy in contrast to the current layout of planar microelectronics. The higher integration density is the main reason why our device architecture can accelerate camera downscaling,” Li says.

The technology is currently patent pending with Georgia State’s Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization (OTTC). The OTTC anticipates that this new design will be of great interest to certain industry partners. “This technology has the potential to overcome some of the major drawbacks encountered with current sensors,” said OTTC Director Cliff Michaels. “As nanotechnology advances and devices become more compact, these smaller, highly sensitive color sensors will be incredibly useful.”

Researchers believe the discovery could even lead to breakthroughs in helping the visually impaired one day.

“This technology is crucial for the development of biomimetic electronic eyes as well as other neuromorphic prosthetic devices,” Li said. colored elements for the visually impaired in the future.”

Lei says his team will continue to advance these advanced technologies using what they learned from this discovery.

“It’s a big step forward, but we still face scientific and technical challenges, such as wafer-scale integration. Commercial image sensors can embed millions of pixels to deliver high-definition images, but this has not yet been implemented in our prototype,” he says. “This large-scale integration of van der Waals semiconductor devices is currently a critical challenge for the entire research society. With our collaborators nationwide, this is where our team focuses its efforts.

New to research is published in ACS Nano.


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