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The physical properties of detectors based on intraband optical absorption in quantum dots is described and examined in the interest of providing a competitive alternative infrared (IR) detector technology. These quantum dot detectors are an extension of quantum well infrared photodetectors and are expected to have a large performance advantage. A model is developed for quantum dot infrared photodetectors based on fundamental performance limitations enabling a direct comparison between IR materials technologies. A comparison is made among HgCdTe, quantum well, and quantum dot IR detectors, where quantum dots are expected to have the potential to outperform quantum wells by several orders of magnitude and compete with HgCdTe. In this analysis, quantum dots are expected to possess the fundamental ability to achieve the highest IR detector performance if quantum dot arrays with high size uniformity and optimal bandstructure may be achieved. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.