Rambus Lensless Smart Sensor: A Tiny Image Sensor Designed For IoT

Remember Rambus? The company that developed RDRAM (Rambus DRAM). No? That's not surprising; we haven't heard much from them in the past decade since RDRAM stopped being Intel's standard for memory. Well, apparently the company has been quite busy over the years, with RDRAM and its successor XDR DRAM, currently being used in PlayStation 2 and 3.

We were surprised to see Rambus at Mobile World Congress promoting its new solid state Lensless Smart Sensor (LSS), a tiny, no bigger than a human hair, image sensor. It is designed for use in Internet of Things (IoT) devices like SmartCity sensors, automotive sensors and even wearables to capture image data, such as gestures, and also to accurately measure distances. The images above and below show how LSS captures and images data differently that traditional sensors.

When we met with Rambus reps, we were told that they had presented the concept of this technology at last year's CES with a prototype unit. At MWC 2015 they had a demo of the final LSS in action, which they were able to show us.

The video below from Rambus goes into more detail about the high-level idea behind this technology and its potential applications.

Rambus Lensless Smart Sensors

And this video, which we shot at MWC, is a detailed demonstration of the LSS that shows how it can be used to read gestures and measure distances. We also discuss some real-world use cases for the sensor.

Rambus Lensless Smart Sensor Demo at MWC 2015

Above is a shot of a development board with the LSS in the middle. While this setup, which is being used to show off the sensor's capabilities, is quite large, as mentioned before, the sensor itself is tiny. The picture below shows it in comparison to the tip of a ballpoint pen.

It is also incredibly power-efficient due to its small size and simplicity, so it can be used in devices that wouldn't normally have the resources available to them to power an image sensor for something like gesture recognition. I think that LSS will have applications in a lot of wearable technology too, from smartwatches to smartglasses, since power consumption and size are key for those products.

The other important announcement Rambus made at MWC was their Partners-in-Open-Development (POD) program. The initial partners are product strategy and design firm, Frog, and product design and prototype firm, IXDS.

Partners in the POD program will be able to acquire a development kit (shown above) that includes either an Arduino, Raspberry PI or Intel Galileo board along with the LSS test chip, apps, firmware and SDK.

While on the surface the Rambus Lensless Smart Sensor isn't exactly a sexy product -- it's not the latest mobile SoC that is going to find its way into your latest smartphone -- it is an important product. Tiny sensors such as these are going to be used in always-on, always-connected smart devices that are going to improve every part of our daily lives in the near future. And Rambus' Lensless Smart Sensor will help create that future.

Follow Alex Davies @alexbdavies. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • tburns1
    But of course, any images the sensor takes of you will be considered their IP. Any subsequent pictures you take of yourself will be considered patent infringement and YOU WILL BE SUED! I wonder if they will try to patent light itself ...
    9
  • derekullo
    Apple already sued light after it bounced off the original iPhone without paying royalties.
    9
  • warezme
    How did Rambus go from a patent troll that produced nothing and earning cash from law suites to making something? Did they buy a company with all their ill gotten booty.
    5