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  4. Infrared cameras are put to use in a variety of situations
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NEC's infrared cameras have a myriad of applications, from disaster relief to pandemic countermeasures

NEC takes the world by storm with newly-developed infrared sensor!

  • MitaDoes NEC have any unique infrared technology?
  • SasakiThere's something I'd really like to discuss with you, but is it okay if I talk about the infrared sensors inside infrared cameras first to help explain?
  • MitaBy all means.
  • SasakiInfrared sensors are found inside infrared cameras attached to the area behind the lens and shutter. This is a crucial component that stores heat and converts it into an electrical signal. The sensors used in infrared cameras include cooled types that are cooled with liquid nitrogen, and uncooled types capable of operating at ambient temperatures. We mainly make this latter uncooled type.

FigureStructure of NEC's infrared cameras

  • MitaI see. So you're primarily focused on uncooled sensors.
  • SasakiLet's take a look at how NEC's sensors work.

FigureStructure of NEC's uncooled infrared sensors

  • SasakiThe sensor package in the diagram below contains a component called an imaging chip (sensor chip). If you zoom in on this chip, you'll see an array of small sensor pixels. As you can see, the width of each of these sensor pixels is around a quarter of the thickness of a single strand of hair.
  • MitaThat's really tiny!
  • SasakiAnd each of these sensor pixels has an extremely complex structure, as shown below.

FigurePixel structure of NEC's uncooled infrared sensors

  • MitaWow... (left speechless)
  • SasakiLet me give a basic overview of the structure of the sensor pixels. These microbolometers are the part that detect heat. When infrared rays enter here, their heat is detected and converted into an electrical signal as temperature information. By the way, can you see how the microbolometers are slightly raised up?
  • MitaIt looks like they're placed on a mounting of some kind.
  • SasakiThat's right. To detect heat, it is necessary to accumulate the heat that comes in from outside. The sensor pixels must be raised up so they can accumulate heat. This raised design also thermally isolates them to prevent heat from the circuitry below getting mixed in with external heat.
  • MitaI can't believe it's possible to make a complex structure like that with a size just a quarter of the thickness of a strand of hair.
  • SasakiSuch a complex structure was made possible by the semiconductor processing technology that NEC has cultivated. Incidentally, NEC is the only manufacturer that produces a commercial infrared imaging product like this in Japan. Other manufacturers in Japan are also researching this technology, but I don't believe they currently produce a commercial product.
  • MitaI certainly imagine it would be difficult to manufacture a product like this.
  • SasakiGetting back to your earlier question, allow me to discuss NEC's unique technology.
  • MitaThat would be great.
  • SasakiNEC currently supplies the sensors we were just discussing at a size of 23.5 microns(*) pixel. However, overseas sensors with a size of just 17 microns pixel have been brought to the market.
    *1 A micron (µm) is a unit of length equal to 1/1000 of a millimeter
  • MitaSo you mean even smaller products have come out?
  • SasakiWe have actually developed sensor pixels as small as 12 microns. That is where NEC's unique technology comes into play.
  • Mita12 microns is even smaller than the 17 microns of overseas products, right?
  • SasakiThat's right. Producing smaller sensor pixels results in lower production and material costs, making it possible to manufacture infrared cameras that are cheaper across the board. Additionally, smaller sensors enable the size of lenses to be reduced, so the infrared camera itself can also be made smaller. This allows them to be set up in a variety of locations, so infrared cameras can be installed in an even wider range of places than before.
  • MitaIt sounds like that would increase demand for them both in Japan and internationally. Keep up the good work!

NEC's infrared cameras support our lives in a variety of areas

  • MitaIn what areas are NEC's infrared cameras used right now?
  • SasakiThey are put to a range of uses. To give one examples, they are applied to disaster relief. For example, when a disaster occurs, fire department and police helicopters equipped with infrared cameras can survey fire-affected areas. Because infrared cameras capture images by detecting the heat of objects, they can support helicopter flights both at day and night. If a fire is spotted, being able to clearly display the fire source or remaining pockets of fire assists in assessing the extent of damage, and improves information-gathering capacity.
  • MitaYou see many rescue helicopters in flight after an earthquake disaster. I never knew that NEC's infrared cameras were used in them.
  • SasakiFor your information, because NEC has image processing technology and know-how in abundance, we are combining this with our infrared camera technology to refine the pictures produced and make infrared cameras even easier to use. We have had a lot of positive feedback from people in the field with regard to this.

FigureNEC's aircraft-mounted infrared cameras

  • MitaIn what other areas are they used?
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