ULIS’ thermal imaging technology brings distinct advantages such as low weight, low power consumption and high image resolution to military gear, including handheld goggles, thermal weapon sights, and thermal cameras used in ground vehicle situation awareness. The company currently supplies its uncooled infrared imaging sensors to the French army’s FELIN program and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), in particular the Nexter that has been deployed in Afghanistan.
ULIS’ thermal imaging sensors rely on amorphous silicon microbolometer technology to convert infrared (IR) radiation into visible images. This enables targets to be identified during the day and night, as well as in bad weather conditions, over distances of several kilometers, depending on the optics in the thermal camera.
European Leader in Uncooled IR Imaging Sensors
for Military Applications
A subsidiary of Sofradir and GE Equity, ULIS specializes in the design and manufacture of high quality IR imaging sensors for both commercial and military applications. It ranks among the top three in the world for uncooled IR imaging sensors delivered, and the only company out of the top three to use amorphous silicon microbolometer technology to make IR imaging sensors.
The high spatial uniformity of ULIS’ microbolometer technology, a key parameter for high-resolution imaging, makes its IR imaging sensors particularly effective for military applications, allowing soldiers to locate and identify targets faster and more accurately during the day and night, and through fog and smoke.
By relying on amorphous silicon, a robust and reliable semiconductor material proven for its industrial production capacity, ULIS achieves large-scale manufacturing, which is one of its differentiators in the market. This large-scale production capacity is enabling it to meet the growing demand from commercial and defense markets for IR equipment that consumes little power, is low weight and affordable.
Integration of Thermal Imaging Sensors into Military Equipment
In addition to the quality of its IR imaging sensors, thermal equipment makers turn to ULIS because of its unique business model. As a merchant supplier, ULIS focuses purely on making IR imaging sensors. The company isn’t in the business of making IR systems (such as cores, modules and cameras), so it doesn’t compete with its customers.
This assures customers full access to ULIS’ latest technological developments and recent IR product improvements. Moreover, as the only company in Europe specializing in uncooled IR sensors, it has taken a leading role in creating a specialized support team solely dedicated to helping customers use IR technology. The task of integrating thermal imaging sensors isn’t easy for newcomers to IR technology.
Military Infrared Imaging Sensors - Microbolometer Technology
Infrared imaging sensors are made up of pixels that absorb thermal radiation. Each pixel acts like a thermometer. Each one will then increase in temperature, whereupon the temperature difference can be measured. ULIS’ microbolometer technology is based on this temperature variation measurement. This method of measuring temperature variation means that the sensors using ULIS' microbolometer technology do not need cooling, unlike other technologies used to produce high sensitivity IR detectors, such as Mercury Cadmium Telluride and Indium Antimonide. These other IR technologies require cooling to maintain the IR chip at a low temperature to counter dark current, which keeps the IR detector working efficiently. Foregoing the necessity of a cooling system makes ULIS’ uncooled infrared imaging sensors more affordable and highly suitable for large-volume applications. These include thermographic cameras used in building inspection and preventive maintenance, surveillance cameras, enhanced night vision driving and military applications, including handheld goggles.
Growth and Development
Founded in 2002 as a spin-off from CEA-Leti, a leading European micro- and nanotechnologies R&D centre as well as Sofradir, a leading manufacturer of cooled IR detectors, ULIS began operations with a legacy of more than 40 years of infrared technology know-how and a long-established silicon manufacturing infrastructure. Located in Veurey-Voroize, France (close to major hi-tech center Grenoble), ULIS employs 140 staff and has access to close to 500 scientists and engineers from the CEA-Leti with which it continues to have a strong R&D partnership. This partnership includes a recent collaboration on a EUR 26M project to develop a new line of infrared sensors to fill an unmet need in applications trying to maximize energy efficiency.
With the exception of 2009, ULIS has achieved double-digit compound growth since its founding and revenues reached EUR 45M in 2011. The company was among one of the first to deploy its IR sensors in cameras used to conduct health checks at Asian airports during the 2003 SARS outbreak. IR cameras using ULIS products were also used for health check monitoring at Chinese airports during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Today, its product lines include military-grade IR sensors that are used in handheld goggles, thermal cameras for ground vehicle situation awareness and other military gear.
ULIS’ Large Format IR Image Sensors Offer Higher Resolution and More Cost Savings
Similar to all manufacturers, the pressure to lower costs is unrelenting. Reducing the pixel pitch size while improving gains in performance has been ULIS’ main thrust. It has accomplished a steady reduction in the pixel pitch size of its IR imaging sensors from 35 micron to 25 micron and then to 17-micron and lower. For example, ULIS’ 17-micron 1024 x 768 IR imaging sensors, introduced two years ago, use one of the largest uncooled IR sensor formats available. It doubles the number pixels in the array over earlier IR models. With a smaller pixel pitch size come two major advantages:
- Improved image resolution, as one can squeeze more pixels onto an IR imaging sensor.
- Smaller IR imaging sensors, which benefit system integrators by freeing up design space and bring cost-savings to the overall IR system.
Other cost-saving measures undertaken by ULIS include switching from metallic to ceramic IR sensor packaging, as well adopting new development and production techniques.
All of these advances progressively make ULIS’ IR products more affordable and accessible to a wide-range of industry applications and attractive to procurers of military equipment increasingly turning to products that have their roots in the commercial world.
For more information, visit: http://www.ulis-ir.com
ULIS launches megapixel thermal image sensor offering large panoramic field of view and fast-target detection
ULIS Launches Megapixel Thermal Image Sensor offering large panoramic field of view and fast-target detection