Charge-Coupled Device – The Electronic Eye

Willard Boyle and George Smith are two innovators who just last week got the recognition they long deserved for their contribution which quite literally changed the way we see the world. The two Nobel laureates who were presented their Nobels for Physics in Norway last week invented the charge-coupled device which most of us commonly know as the CCD which is the core technology used by digital cameras today. What is fascinating is Boyle and Smith had invented the CCD 40 years ago back in 1969 and though all these years later as they collect what is perceived to be the highest accolade in science, perhaps the bigger prize was seeing how the finger nail sized device they came up with touched the lives of so many.

One of the largest impact it’s had is in the development of the digital photo camera which almost each of us own whether in the form of an SLR camera, a point and shoot digital camera or even one that’s housed in our mobile phones.  The core CCD technology is now being used in a variety of technologies and almost all electronic and appliances firms are involved in applications around it.

To see who is active and aggressive in CCD related research, we did a broad search on CCD technology and using Patent iNSIGHT Pro came up with a couple of quick stats. The first one is the overall trend across key Assignees that shows that while Samsung and Kodak have been periodically  filing for patents in this space, recent research has subsided for other large companies such as Hyundai, Fuji and Sony. One can easily see the emergence of Hon Hai precision Co as a recent company in this space.

To confirm this further, we split the company portfolios across 5 year sets (2000-2004) and (2005-2010) to compare their trends:

The above chart shows that big companies that have renewed interest in CCD and related technologies are Siemens, Honeywell, General Electric, Philips and Xerox. The activity analysis further shows some firms building targeted portfolios such as Hong Fu Jin Precision Co, Chemimage, Avision and ASML Holdings NV.

The trends of General Electric and Hon Hai Precision clearly stand out since both do not have any filings that talk about CCDs in 2000-2004 and have 16 and 68 filings respective in the last 5 years. To find out the focus areas of these filings, we used text clustering on the individual portfolios of each company. The analysis showed that the GE filings focus on Radiation detection, Scintillators, Plasma spectroscopy and X-rays. Hon Hai Precision Co’s focus was more on camera lens for imaging, monitoring and measuring across a variety of areas right from vehicular systems to cameras.

Finally, to know the different research areas in which CCD technology has grown into and their trends we took the IPC distribution again across a 5 year period and compares the growth/decay from 2000-2004 period to 2005-2010 period. This is shown below:

To sum up, forty years into the technology life-cycle, CCD is still going strong with companies across the world still discovering new applications in various areas with the help of this device.