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1. (WO1979000876) AUTOMATIC PHOTOMASK INSPECTION SYSTEM AND APPARATUS
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Claims

1. Optical inspection apparatus for detecting differences between two like objects, comprising:
carriage means for supporting the objects to be inspected and for simultaneously moving such objects along an inspection path;
illuminator means for illuminating corresponding portions of said objects as they are moved along said path; electro-optical means for individually inspecting said illuminated portions and for developing first and second* electrical signals respectively corresponding thereto;
memory means for storing said. first and second electrical signals;
means for scanning said memory means and for electronically aligning a readout of said first signal relative to a readout of said second signal; and
means for comparing the electronically aligned signals and for indicating any differences therebetween.

2. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 1 wherein said carriage means includes
a table means having a smooth supporting surface, an object-carrying stage means disposed upon said supporting surface, and
means for driving said stage means in at least two orthogonal directions relative to said table means.

3. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 2 wherein said table means includes a central
aperture over which said stage means moves and through which said illuminator means illuminates the objects carried by said stage means.

4. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 3 wherein said carriage means further includes mean for rotating at least a portion of said stage means and t objects carried thereby about an axis normal to said supporting surface.

5. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claims 1 or 4 wherein said illuminator means includes a single source of critical illumination arid separate optic means for communicating light from said source of illumin ation to each of said corresponding portions of the objects to be inspected.

6. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 5 wherein each of said separate optical 'means includes an objective lens for collimating light received from said source of illumination, a first reflector for redirecting said beam of collimated light along a first line normal to the optical axis of said objective lens, a second reflector for again redirecting said beam of collimated light back toward said optical axis and along a second line parallel to said first line and focusing means disposed along said second line for focusing said collimated light into said corresponding portion of the object to be inspect.

7. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim.6 and including a first member for carrying said focusing means back and forth along said second line and a second member for carrying said second reflector back and forth along said second line and means coupling said first and second members together so that movement of said focusing means over a particular distance causes sai second reflector to be moved in the same direction and over a distance equal to one-half said particular distance

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8. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 1 or 4 wherein said electro-optical means includes separate optical systems for respectively collecting light from said corresponding portions of the inspected objects, and wherein each said system includes photosensitive detector means responsive to the collected light and operative to generate electrical signals commensurate therewith.

9. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 8 wherein each said separate optical system includes a movable member, an objective lens carried by said movable member for collimating light rays received from one of said objects, a variable focal length lens assembly for receiving the collimated light rays and focusing them onto an image plane, and light sensitive means for receiving the focused light rays and developing an electrical signal.

10. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 9 wherein the movable member of one of said separate optical systems is mechanically coupled to the movable member of the other of said separate optical systems such that movement of one of said members in one direction causes a like movement of the other of said members in the opposite direction.

11. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 10 wherein each said separate optical system further includes an adjustable attachment means mounting the system's objective lens to the system's movable member, focus monitoring means for determining the position of said objective lens relative to the inspected object and for developing an adjustment signal and adjustment means responsive to said adjustment signal and operative to adjust said attachment means so as to maintain said objective in a focused position relative to the inspected object.

12. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 11 wherein said focus monitoring means includes a laser for passing a narrow beam of light through at least a portion of said separate optical system and onto"a peripheral spot of the inspected object and means disposed along an optical axis of said system for detecting the position of said spot relative to a predetermined focused position and for .developing said adjustment signal
commensurate therewith.

13. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 12 and further including beam-splitting means disposed along the optical axis of said, system for coupling a portion of the imaged light into binocular means.

14. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claims 1 or 4 wherein said illuminator means includes a single source of illumination and separate optical means for communicating light from said source of illumination to each of said corresponding portions of the object to be inspected, and wherein said electro-optical means includes separate optical systems for respectively collecting light from said corresponding portions of the inspected objects, and wherein each said system includes photo-sensitive detector means responsive to the collected light and operative to generate electrical signals commensurate therewith.

15. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 14 wherein the optical means of said illuminator means and the optical systems of said electro-optical means are coupled together in such a manner that the spacing between the illuminated portions of the inspected -41- objects can be selectively varied and wherein each such optical means and optical system includes means for
maintaining its effective optical length substantially unaltered as said spacing is varied.

16. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claims 1 or 4 wherein said electro-optical means includes automatic focusing means for adjusting the, optical systems thereof such that said illuminated portions are maintained in focus as said objects are moved along said inspection path.

17. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 16 wherein said automatic focusing means includes a light source for illuminating a spot on at least one of said objects through at least a portion of an optical system of said electro-optical means, detector means for detecting the position of said spot relative to the optical axis of the optical system and for developing a correcting signal commensurate therewith, and means responsive to said correcting signal and operative to refocus the
optics of said optical system as required.

18. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 17 wherein said electro-optical means includes an optical sensor, an optical system for focusing light from one of said illuminated portions onto said optical sensor whereby said sensor is caused to generate sensor signals corresponding to said one illuminated portion, and detector means responsive to said sensor signals and operative to develop said first signal, said first signal including component signals identifying the light level of light collected from pixels distributed over said one illuminated portion.

19. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 18 wherein said detector means includes means for developing a reference light level signal, and detector means for comparing said sensor signals to said reference signal and for developing said component signals commensurate therewith.

20. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 19 wherein said detector means further includes signal processing means which considers the signal states of adjacent pixels during the process of determining the states of said component signals .

21. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 11 wherein said focus monitoring means includes a laser for passing a narrow beam of light through at least a portion of said separate optical system at an angle relative to the optical axis thereof and onto a periphera spot of the inspected object and means disposed along an optical axi *s of said system for detecting the position of said spot relative to a predetermined focused position and for developing said adjustment signal commensurate therewith.

22. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 21 wherein said focus monitoring means further includes an aperture disposed within the path of the incident laser beam so as to cause the beam spot to have a configuration., which permits unambiguous detection of out-of-focus images caused by an object surface having varying reflectivity.

23. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 7 wherein said electro-optical means includes separate optical systems for respectively collecting ligh from said corresponding portions of the inspected objects and wherein each said system includes photosensitive
detector means responsive to the collected light and
operative to generate electrical signals commensurate
therewith.

24. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 15 wherein said electro-optical means includes
separate optical systems for respectively collecting
light from said corresponding portions oϊ the inspected objects, and wherein each said system includes photo-sensitive detector means responsive to the collected light and operative to generate electrical signals commensurate therewith.

25. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 17 wherein said electro-optical means includes
separate optical systems for respectively collecting light from said corresponding portions of the inspected objects, and wherein each said system includes photosensitive
detector means responsive to the collected light and
operative to generate electrical signals commensurate
therewith.

26. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 24 wherein each said separate optical system includes a movable member, an objective lens carried by said
movable member for collimating light rays received from one of said objects, a variable focal length lens assembly for receiving the collimated light rays and focusing them onto an image plane, and light sensitive means for receiving the focused light rays and developing an electrical signal.

27. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 25 wherein each said separate optical system includes a movable member, an objective lens carried by said movable member for collimating light rays received from one of

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S - *'' said objects, a variable focal length lens assembly for receiving the collimated light rays and focusing them onto an image plane, and light sensitive means for
receiving the focused light rays and developing an
electrical signal.

28. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 7 wherein said electro-optical means includes
•automatic focusing means for adjusting the optical systems thereof such that said illuminated portions are maintained in focus as said objects are moved along said inspection path.

29. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 10 hwerein said electro-optical means includes automatic focusing means for adjusting the optical
systems thereof such that said illuminated portions are maintained in focus as said objects are moved along said inspection path.

30. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claims 1 or 4 wherein said electro-optical means includes an optical sensor, an optical system for focusing light from one of said illuminated portions onto said optical sensor whereby said sensor is caused to generate sensor signals corresponding to.said. one illuminated portion, and detector means responsive to said sensor signals and operative to develop said first signal, said first signal including component signals identifying the light level of light collected from pixels distributed over said one illuminated portion.

31. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 24 wherein said electro-optical means includes an optical sensor, an optical system for focusing light from one of said illuminated portions onto said optical sensor

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wip whereby said sensor is caused to generate sensor signals corresponding to said one illuminated portion, and detector means responsive to said sensor signals and operative to develop said first signal, said first signal including component signals identifying the light level of light collected from pixels distributed over said one illuminated portion.

32. Optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 25 wherein said electro-optical means includes an optical sensor, an optical system for focusing light from one of said illuminated portions onto said optical sensor whereby said sensor is caused to generate sensor signals corresponding to said one illuminated portion, and detector means responsive to said sensor signals and operative to develop said first signal, said first signal including component signals identifying the light level of light collected from pixels distributed over said one illuminated portion.

33. In an optical inspection apparatus including carriage means for transporting objects to be inspected, means for illuminating the objects, and means for optically inspecting the objects, an improved carriage means
comprising:
a table means having a smooth supporting surface; an object-carrying stage means disposed upon said supporting surface; and
means for driving said stage means in at least two orthogonal directions relative to said table means.

34. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 33 wherein said table means includes a central aperture over which said stage means moves and through which said illuminating means illuminates the objects carried by said stage means.

35. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 34 wherein said carriage means further includes means for rotating at least a portion of said stage means and the objects carried thereby about an axis normal to said supporting surface.

36. In an optical inspection apparatus including carriage means for transporting two like objects along an inspection path, means for illuminating corresponding portions of the objects, and -electro-optical means for individually inspecting the illuminated portions, an improved electro-optical means comprising:- first and second separate optical systems for respectively collecting light from the corresponding portions of the inspected objects; and
photosensitive detector means responsive to the collected light and operative to generate electrical signals commensurate therewith.

37. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 36 wherein each said separate optical system includes a movable member, an objective lens carried by said movable member for collimating light rays received from one of said objects, a variable focal length lens assembly for receiving the collimated light rays and focusing them onto an image plane, and light sensitive means for receiving the focused light rays and developing an electrical signal.

38. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 37 wherein the movable member of one of said separate optical systems is mechanically coupled to the movable member of the other of said separate optical systems such that movement of one of said members in one direction causes a like movement of the other of said members in the opposite direction.

39. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 38 wherein each said separate optical system
further includes an adjustable attachment means mounting the system's objective lens to the system's movable
member, focus monitoring means for determining the position -of said objective lens relative to the inspected object and for developing an adjustment signal and adjustment means responsive to said adjustment signal and operative to adjust said attachment means so as to maintain said objective in a focused position relative to the inspected object.

40. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 39 wherein said focus monitoring means includes a laser for passing a narrow beam of light through at
least a portion of said separate optical system and
onto a peripheral spot of the inspected object and
means disposed along an optical axis of said system for detecting the position of said spot relative to a predetermined focused position and for developing said
adjustment signal commensurate therewith.

41. In an optical inspection apparatus including carriage means for transporting two like objects along an inspection path, illuminator means for illuminating corresponding portions of the objects, and electro-optical means for individually inspecting the illuminated portions, an improved illuminator means comprising:
a single source of illumination; and
a first and second separate optical means for communicating light from said source to each of said
corresponding portions of the object to be inspected,
each of said optical means including,
an objective lens for collimating
light received from said source of
illumination, a first reflector for redirecting said beam of collimated light along a first line normal to the optical axis of said objective lens,
a second reflector for again redirecting said beam of collimated light back
toward said optical axis and along a second lens parallel to said first line, and
focusing means disposed along said
second line for focusing said collimated
light onto said corresponding portion of
the object to be inspected.

42. In an optical inspection apparatus as recited in claim 40 and including a first member for carrying said focusing means back and forth along said second line and a second member for carrying said second reflector back and forth along said second line and means coupling said first and second members
together so that movement of said focusing means over a particular distance causes said second reflector to be moved in the same direction and over a distance equal to one-half said particular distance.

43. Optical inspection apparatus for detecting differences between two like objects, comprising:
carriage means for supporting the objects to be inspected and for simultaneously moving such objects along an inspection path;
illuminator means for illuminating corresponding portions of said objects as they are moved along said path;
electro-optical means for individually inspecting said illuminated portions and for developing first and second electrical signals respectively corresponding thereto;

means for digitizing said first and second signals;
means for individually storing the digitized first and second signals in a manner which corresponds to their positional relationship to the scanned objects with the result being that electronic maps of said first and second objects are provided;
means for correlating the stored map of said first signal relative to said second signal to achieve best fit;
means for comparing the correlated first and second signals and for defining a particular class of differences therebetween as a defect; and
means for displaying said defects.