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A nod of appreciation to the KIST (Korea Institute of Science and Technology)

In an effort to screen for Covid-19 in a contactless manner at a variety of building entrances, thermostats are increasingly making use of thermal-imaging sensing units, which find and record photos of the heat signatures of persons and other materials. Now more than ever, the industry for smart devices is considering how to integrate these sensing units as portable functionalities, thereby creating the additional function of measuring temperature in real time. And if this technology were used to autonomous vehicles, it could provide for safer highway travel.

Dr. Won Jun Choi’s team at KIST’s Centre for Opto-Electronic Materials and Devices, in collaboration with Prof. Jeong Min Baik’s team at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), has revealed the development of a thermal-imaging sensing unit that overcomes the existing issues of rate and operating-temperature constraints. This work establishes a sensing unit that can function at temperatures up to 100 ° C without the need for a cooling device; it is also expected to be less expensive than the simplest sensing units currently available, which could pave the way for its use in smartphones and self-driving cars.

Sensing units, when integrated into the hardware of smart gadgets and self-driving vehicles, must operate reliably and without issue at temperatures of 85 ° C and 125 ° C, respectively. Conventional thermal-imaging sensor units would need a separate cooling device to meet this criteria. Inexpensive cooling devices cannot prevent the sensing unit from failing at temperatures as high as 85 ° C, while high-end cooling devices that guarantee quality cost more than 2 million Korean won. That’s why you won’t find any thermal-imaging sensing systems in these industries.

Using a vanadium dioxide (VO2)-B film that is stable at 100 ° C, a research group comprised of members from KIST and SKKU has developed a device. This device detects and converts the infrared light produced by heat into electrical signals, eliminating the need for cooling devices, which account for more than 10% of the cost of thermal-imaging sensing units and consume significant amounts of power. The instrument acquired infrared signals at the same level at 100 ° C as it did in space. Heat signatures were detected with 3 times higher sensitivity and converted into electrical impulses as a result of creating and using an infrared absorber that can take in as much external infrared light as possible. Even at 100 ° C, the device has a reaction time of roughly 3 milliseconds, which is around 3–4 times faster than regular ones. Due to its rapid response time, the device can capture thermal images at a rate of 100 frames per second, which is far higher than the industry standard of 30 to 40 frames per second. This makes the device a promising candidate for implementation in autonomous vehicles.

The KIST’s Dr. Choi remarked, “By means of our deal with merging research in this research, we have really established an innovation that can significantly reduce the production expense of thermal-imaging sensing units. Our device’s responsiveness and performance are exceptional in comparison to those of more conventional alternatives. Because of this, we predict a rise in demand for thermal-imaging sensing units in the markets for military equipment, intelligent devices, and autonomous vehicles.

This investigation was conducted as part of the KIST-UNIST Ulsan Centre for Convergent Materials’ R&D mission and with funding from the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT). The article may be found in the current issue of Applied Surface Science, which is ranked 3.28 on the JCR.


Science of Applied Surfaces

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