Organic chips, but not the kind with sea salt. On the left the sensor is used in plain old visible light mode. By changing the electric charge applied to the chip, visible and near-infrared light are captured simultaneously, shown on the right.

Panasonic has been developing organic sensors for a while now and has just announced a new breakthrough: an organic CMOS chip that can capture visible and near-infrared (NIR) light simultaneously without sacrificing resolution.

There are sensors available now that can image both near-infrared and visible light, but they sacrifice one out of every four pixels to NIR capture. As a result, resolution of the final image suffers. Panasonic's new chip makes use of two organic layers: the top layer is sensitive to visible light and the bottom layer is sensitive to near-infrared light. By changing the voltage applied to the layers, it's possible to choose whether the lower layer is active or not. This means it can switch between visible and visible+NIR imaging frame by frame, which is useful in machine vision applications where subjects may be moving quickly.

The image on the left is recorded with color imaging mode, the right shows the scene in NIR imaging mode. The new sensor could be used for night vision and surveillance.

Alternatively, it allows for the creation of security cameras that capture visible light during the day then switch to visible+NIR for a full-resolution 'night vision' mode after dark.

It's great news too if your job relies on checking things that aren't visible to the human eye, like checking things on an assembly line that are out of sight, but this sensor is unlikely to ever be used in a consumer digital camera. Still, it's promising to see that Panasonic's experiments in creating chips made of something besides silicon are paying off.

If nothing else, separating the capture medium from the readout mechanism makes it easier to implement a global shutter design, since the light-sensitive layer can be switched on and off independently, rather than being constrained by the (sequential) read-out process.