Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

New Thayer Spin-Off Aims to Revolutionize Digital Imaging

by Kristen Senz
August 2018 • CoolStuff

Professor Eric Fossum and colleagues have started a new company to commercialize their revolutionary imaging technology that could ultimately rival Fossum’s most famous invention, the CMOS image sensor, found in billions of cameras and smartphones worldwide.

Gigajot Technology, based in Pasadena, California, aims to bring a variety of products to market using the Quanta Image Sensor (QIS) which makes it possible to produce sharp images in extremely low light. Fossum and his cofounders invented QIS technology in Fossum’s lab at Dartmouth. They intend to target high-end scientific research and medical imaging markets at first, but could eventually compete in much larger consumer markets where the CMOS sensor Fossum invented in the 1990s continues to dominate.

Gigajot cofounders at the NAE gala
(l to r) Gigajot cofounders Jiaju Ma Th'17, Saleh Masoodian, and Professor Eric Fossum at the 2017 National Academy of Inventors Gala. 

“QIS is a platform technology,” says Gigajot CEO Saleh Masoodian, a 2017 Dartmouth engineering PhD graduate who cofounded the company with Fossum and fellow Thayer alum and Gigajot CTO Jiaju Ma Th'17. “Down the road, there are additional markets we can serve, such as security, automotive, and other niche applications.”

QIS technology employs tiny pixels known as “jots” that are sensitive to even the smallest amount of light — a single photon. Masoodian led the research team in developing an energy-efficient readout circuit, using charge transfer amplification, that is capable of operating at high speeds and sensing weak signals at low light. This enhanced capacity enables QIS to quickly translate image data while keeping power consumption relatively low.

“Not only can our imager capture the photons in a very dim scene, but also it can resolve the number of photons and give you a much better quality picture,” says Masoodian, adding that the sensors can be manufactured using current CMOS processes, which he says translates to a high production yield at lower costs.

QIS diagram

Gigajot recently received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation and some early funding from the US Department of Energy to develop QIS for use in medical and scientific imaging applications, including microscopy. Masoodian says he hopes to see the company launch its first product-ready QIS camera for use in these niche markets within the next two to three years.

Gigajot also is working with NASA on an SBIR contract to develop QIS technology for space imaging, which currently uses mostly electron multiplying charge coupled device (EMCCD) image sensors. Those EMCCD sensors operate at lower speeds and need to be cooled down to reduce signal noise. Capable of operating at room temperature, QIS technology provides at least five times better low-light imaging performance than EMCCD imagers, says Masoodian, and more than 10 times more sensitivity than most CMOS image sensors used in today’s cameras.

For further information, please email contact@gigajot.tech.

Tags: entrepreneurship, faculty, innovation

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