The Real Reward for CCD Development

Tuesday's National Academy of Engineering award of the prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize—and $500,000—to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith must be just the icing on the cake for these two inventors of the charge-coupled device (CCD). The bigger payoff for them, I imagine, is represented in my e-mail in box each day.

Lately, Sensors' editorial offices have been flooded with news releases concerning image sensors and their applications. CCDs dominate this news, but that technology's rival (if you can call it that), CMOS, also gets a good share of the spotlight. Although both technologies enable conversion of light to imagery, each has strengths and weaknesses that make it suitable for a different range of applications. The low-cost CMOS enables picture-taking capability of so many cell phones today, while the higher-end CCD is enabling truly phenomenal advancements in low-light photography. These are broad generalizations; Dalsa's Web site provides an excellent comparison of CCD and CMOS.

Enabling New Visions
What a thrill it must have been for Boyle and Smith to realize their idea for CCDs. And then to see it continually implemented in so many interesting ways. Sensors Executive Editor Stephanie Henkel points out that CCDs are essential to the workings of the Mars rovers, the Hubble Space Telescope, and various medical imaging devices. The technology launched the field of machine vision—image capture and analysis for parts inspection, security, and so on. And without the work of Boyle and Smith, it's quite likely nobody would think to use cameras for such down-to-earth tasks as cracking down on "fly tippers" (that is, litterers) spoiling the U.K. countryside.

It doesn't matter whether CCD, CMOS, or some other technology ultimately "wins" the image sensor game. Boyle and Smith's efforts did so much to get us to where we are today-and where we'll go from here.

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