Cambridge Mechatronics sees the bigger picture
Cambridge technology is set to transform the global smartphone camera market in a potential multi-billion dollar play.
The Chinese market alone could yield a massive payback for Cambridge Mechatronics Ltd – formerly 1Limited – which owns the IP on game-changing actuators that are set to bring unprecedented sharpness to smartphone-generated pictures and videos. Founder and CSO Dr Tony Hooley told Business Weekly: “The potential market is vast.”
The company has tied up a collaboration agreement with a major US partner to manufacture the new Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) lens motors. Extensive tests specified by the company’s module integrator and handset customers have proved the reliability of the technology and paved the way for customers to confidently design the actuator into their own products.
The breakthrough underpins CML’s plans for the OIS lens motors to be shipping inside smartphone handsets in early 2014. Throughout 2014, the company and its partners could be shipping single figure millions of devices a month.
The technology allows photographers to enjoy blur-free pictures and shake-free videos. A gyroscope sensor is used to measure the shake motion of the camera: optical components are then moved to compensate for this motion which stabilises the imaging system.
Once the sole preserve of high-end digital stills cameras, OIS technology is destined to become an integral part of smartphone cameras. OIS functionality for smartphones is particularly beneficial due to the unique characteristics and design constraints of miniature cameras.
Smartphone camera lens apertures are small which restricts the amount of light that can enter the camera itself. The image sensor pixels are also miniaturised to minimise this high-value component’s size and cost.
This combination means each camera pixel receives very little light compared to digital stills cameras. This explains why many photographs taken on smartphone cameras are disappointing when taken in low light conditions. The OIS system is used to stabilise the camera and increase exposure times to provide sharp, bright photos.
The smartphone market is currently around one billion units per annum and almost all contain at least one camera. The smartphone market is expected to climb to over 1.5 billion units in 2017.
Dominic Webber, CML’s director of marketing, said: “The technology has been three years in development although we had a springboard with our Auto-Focus solution which went into the market in 2010. Both use our smart-metal control technology.
“We believe OIS will revolutionise the smartphone camera marketplace; we have a great platform in place to swiftly scale up production globally. We have excellent networks of partners globally and our US manufacturing partner, who we cannot name at this stage, has enormous capacity and reach.
“It is an understatement to say we have engineered an international opportunity: the Chinese smartphone market is particularly exciting for us. It is enjoying huge growth and shipment volumes are three times that in the US.”
Webber said that CML hits the Chinese market’s wish-list in terms of cutting-edge technology and cost sensitivity.
“We have a new wow factor but our technology also comes at a highly competitive price. And with our partners we have the headroom to engineer even more cost erosion through collective economies of scale. We have many USPs in the new product.
“The pace of growth will depend on the rate and timing of product adoption.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Tony Hooley