Qualcomm Invests in Mobile Phone Camera Technology

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Qualcomm's European venture capital fund has invested in Anteryon, a Dutch maker of miniature camera modules, the companies said on Monday.

Terms of the investment have not been disclosed, but it was the way Anteryon manufactures camera modules that piqued Qualcomm's interest, according to a statement.

The company has developed a manufacturing technology that starts with an 8-inch glass wafer from which Anteryon can get up to 4,000 camera lenses, according to CEO Gert Jan Bloks. Then, a layer of polymer is molded on top of the glass to give the lens the right shape, he said.

Manufacturing lenses in this way is cheaper than traditional methods, because it is more automated and requires fewer employees, according to Bloks. However, the technology can only be mass produced in low resolutions. Today, Anteryon can manufacture camera modules with a VGA resolution, and before the end of the year a 2-megapixel module will be ready, Bloks said.

What Anteryon has in store for the future is much more exciting, and makes it easier to understand why Qualcomm wanted to invest. The small size of the camera will make it possible to put more than one module in a phone at the same time. That will let phones equipped with Anteryon's lenses take 3D pictures and take pictures in the dark using infrared light, according to Bloks, who expects the these kinds of features will show up in phones by 2012. To make this possible, the processing from Qualcomm's chipsets are also needed, Bloks said.

The money from Qualcomm and a number of other investors will be used to increase manufacturing capabilities, according to Anteryon.

Anteryon started as a Philips Electronics business unit, but was spun off in 2006 and acquired private investors.

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