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Blog 17.11.2020

Imaging reaches for brave new horizons

Imaging is an exciting field of hi-tech innovation – and Finland is one of the countries leading the imaging revolution. Whether it’s camera technologies, machine vision or automation, Finns seem to have a definite edge. Why do Finnish companies have so much accumulated imaging expertise?
Toni Mattila

Head of Sustainable Manufacturing Finland
toni.mattila (at)


The roots of imaging excellence are really three-fold. First of all, Finland has had world-class X-ray know-how for decades. As the application range of X-ray imaging has expanded, Finnish companies have often been in the very forefront of development. Presently, advanced X-ray systems made in Finland can scan just about anything from a tooth to a truck.

Secondly, optical imaging owes greatly to the pioneering work done by Nokia's mobile phones. At the time, Nokia approached making of cameras for its cell phones very ambitiously, achieving numerous breakthroughs over the years. After Nokia left the mobile phone business, many camera specialists – especially those in Tampere – went on to launch new imaging companies with even greater range. This way the focus on quality and imagination has helped, for example, in the development of shape recognition and other essential imaging technologies.

The third reason for achieving the high level of excellence has to do with building bridges between science and business. Finland has a proud tradition of universities and research institutions really firing up the engines of economy, coming up with innovative research that has also commercial potential. In case of imaging, probably the best example of this today is the hyperspectral imaging technology.

Hyperspectral imaging is a fast, low-cost, and accurate method for identifying and distinguishing different materials based on the light reflection properties of chemical compounds. The technology has been considered by many experts as having high impact and great disruption potential.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has conducted research in hyperspectral imaging since 1993. Recently, VTT has developed hyperspectral imaging technology that takes advantage of the visible and near-infrared wavelengths to enable even affordable mobile phones to detect spectral imagery and use AI to interpret data within these images.

Hyperspectral imaging technology, with a focus on cost-efficiency and mobility, is facilitating the introduction of new AI applications into consumer devices – and there are already a half-dozen Finnish companies taking this exciting new technology forward.

What happens when the hyperspectral wave really hits? – Well, we could have drones fly over forests and determine if some of the trees are sick – or check out whether a wheat field is ready for harvesting. Food can be scanned for harmful bacteria or an imported cotton T-shirt can be verified for materials used. With hyperspectral imaging, all kinds of new information becomes readily available, possible changing the world as we know it.

One of our objectives for the Sustainable Manufacturing program at Business Finland is raising awareness with regards to imaging. It is clear that imaging solutions can be among the most formidable innovations in 2020s, but the word on imaging is not out yet. As new applications keep on emerging, this is likely to change.

For example, VTT spinoff Asqella is using imaging to change the face of security as we know it. The company has developed ARGON, a unique passive submillimeter wave camera device for concealed threat detection. What's more, in the age of Covid-19 that same technology can be used to spot people with fever in a crowd.

Imaging can also support sustainability in the sense that it can deliver a welcome boost to, for instance, forestry and agriculture. In improving resource efficiency, imaging can certainly help out a great deal.