Digital image sensors are for the most part analog integrated circuits. Traditionally, analog ICs, and analog circuits in general, have been an area where a few highly-talented engineers made the breakthroughs and basked in the acclaim from their fellow engineers, if not necessarily becoming rich in the process.
Everybody who knows a lot about hi-fi knows who John Curl and Nelson Pass are and probably David Hafler, Bob Carver, Bill Johnson, Dan D’Agostino, Julius Futterman, and Jim Bongiorno. Full disclosure: I’ve been a big fan of Nelson Pass for decades, and still have a Threshold SL-10 preamp that’s been internally modified by Threshold to the FET-One circuit configuration. I also own a First Watt Aleph 1 class A power amp.
In the early days of analog ICs Bob Widlar dominated the scene, designing the fast-but-hard-to-us uA702 and the breakthrough uA709 when he was at Fairchild, decamping for National, where he designed the LM101/301 that was the design benchmark for years, and the inspiration for David Fullagar’s uA741 that’s probably the top selling op amp of all time. Bob was a larger-than-life character, and his antics on and off the job were the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. Two more Bobs, Bob Pease and Bob Dobkin, followed in his footsteps, and every circuit designer in the world knew their names.
If you asked me for a list of sensor designers, I could only come up with one name: Eric Fossum, the father of the CMOS sensor. Why is that? Are sensors so complicated that they are now designed by teams of faceless engineers? Do today’s companies grab the credit for technical breakthroughs to their corporate selves, keeping the public from knowing the engineers who made the creative leaps? Or am I just not paying attention?