ISORG is paving the way to smart surfaces and interactive printed media


Isorg's organic photodetectors & image sensors

An organic photovoltaic technology capable of transforming light into information is paving the way to ’smart surfaces' and interactive printed media.

Isorg, a 2010 spinoff of France's CEA-Grenoble Nanomaterials Laboratory, is transforming plastic and glass into "smart surfaces," and working to create a niche for itself with its high-performance and large-area photodetectors and image sensors in printed and organic electronics.

Although spun off from CEA, the two retain close ties and, in fact, a strategic partnership. The lab works on technology development, while Isorg's role is to develop it a product and produce it in high volumes. Why pursue smart surfaces? Smart surfaces are highly desirable for a wide range of applications that include automated brightness controls capable of detecting and adjusting to ambient conditions; touchfree display screens that prevent bacterial contamination in medical applications; asset management for logistics; adding a third dimension to multimedia and gaming; as well as navigation in 3D without contact.

Isorg's photodetector technology embraces carbonbased organic materials and boasts a low-CO2 manufacturing footprint. In short, the technology involves a stack of different layers that are processed in solution onto low-cost plastic or glass substrates at ambient air pressure and temperature%u2014as opposed to using more costly vacuum and hightemperature processes tapped by the semiconductor industry. The fi rst layer is a transparent electrode. This is followed by a blend of two organic semiconductors (p-type and n-type) sandwiched between electrodes to obtain high external quantum effi ciency. Excitons generated by photons are then separated into electrons and holes, which produces an electric current. The final layer serves as an electron collector when light is passed through the transparent electrode. "Basically, our technology operates on the same premise as organic photovoltaics, but the biggest difference is that we're using the electrons as information rather than to charge a battery," says Jamet.

Isorg is developing optical sensors, with the new twist being that we're not relying on silicon, explains Laurent Jamet, business and development director of Isorg, and one of its founders (along with CEO Jean-Yves Gomez, and CFO Emmanuel Guerineau). "Rather, we're working with plastic and glass substrates. The semiconductor we use is a liquid, which is printed over the surface of the plastic or glass with large-area equipment in very thin layers on the order of a few tenths of a nanometer in thickness, and it's this layer that imparts intelligence to the surface. Once it's ’smart,' you can measure many things with optical sensors%u2014including light or shadows, color changes, to name just a few properties," he adds. As an example of its multimedia 3D navigation capabilities, the company created "Magic Pad," a smart surface with 100 sensors. Magic Pad is capable of detecting users' motion or hand position, and can sense 3D activity in a range of 30 cm, with a resolution of 100 pixels on an 80x80 mm active area. "It will be interesting to see how this will drive product innovation and design," notes Jamet.

Starting out, Isorg is targeting simple products such as smart packaging that can detect motion around a sensor. For example, they've created posters that are able of detecting people moving within its proximity. These can be combined with lights triggered by movement%u2014an excellent way to attract attention in tradeshow booths or supermarkets. Looking to the future, the company intends to move to an image sensor to increase pixels. But the overall goal is to start simple and move gradually to increasingly complex ones. This should help expand their customer base and move them into new markets, one step at a time.

What sets Isorg apart? Bottom line: Organic materials and what they're doing with them; no one else appears to be pursuing manufacturing of smart materials at the moment. Aside from CEA, the company also has strong a partnership with a large chemical company that develops materials for them, which Jamet cites as another differentiating factor for their company. "Very few companies are developing the capability to print fully printed solutions," he adds. "And the large area optical sensor is a very specific business development in that application space." In terms of manufacturing capabilities, Isorg's Class 10,000, 450 m2 cleanroom fab is dedicated to developing printing techniques for organic electronics on plastic and glass substrates. The company is currently busy preparing to prototype its organic photodetectors on this line. According to Jamet, the company's plans are for this fab to be able to produce thousands of 320x380 mm foils or glass plates by 2013.

Isorg is already in talks with customers about using its technology in the food, beverage, and cosmetics industries. Watch for their manufacturing pilot line to become operational in small volumes by Q3 2012, with full automation and large-volume production slated for 2014.

Micronews, October 2011, issue 118