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Cheap, Disposable Endoscope Microcamera Developed

Endoscope microcamera (Awaiba GmbH)Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) in Berlin and sensor manufacturer Awaiba GmbH in Nuremberg, Germany have developed a microcamera for endoscopes that provides sharp images, but can be made cheaply enough to be disposable. Endoscopes are instruments to examine the interior of body cavities and organs, and have made possible a number of minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Endoscopes, however, are expensive and, because of their use in multiple procedures, they need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected each time used. The IZM researchers have a developed a new manufacturing process for endoscope microcameras that can sharply reduce their cost, thus making the devices disposable.

Digital camera systems consist of two components: a lens and a sensor that transforms the image into electrical signals. Electrical contacts on the sensor allow access to these signals and to the information in the image. Due to the way they are manufactured, these contacts are located between the sensor and the lens.

The sensors are manufactured simultaneously in large numbers, like computer chips. About 28,000 image sensors fit onto one wafer and until recently, each one was sawed out, wired, and mounted on the lens. That means wiring and mounting the 28,000 sensors individually, one at a time.

The IMZ/Awaiba team streamlined this process by developing a new way to access the electrical contacts. The contacts of each individual image sensor are not connected on the side but rather, simultaneously, with all sensors via their reverse side while still connected as a wafer.

That means device makers no longer must connect the individual lenses. Instead, they connect the lenses with the image sensor wafers as lens wafers. And then the stack of wafers is sawed apart into individual microcameras.

Another advantage of the new process is the microcamera supplies razor-sharp pictures even with very thin endoscopes. Current technology puts the lens was at the tip of the endoscope and the sensor at the other end of a glass fiber strand. The new microcamera, combining both lens and sensor, is small enough to go on the tip of the endoscope. It has a resolution of 62,500 pixels and transmits the image information through the endoscope over an electrical cable.

Stephan Voltz, CEO of Awaiba GmbH, says the company has already built a prototype (pictured above) and expects to bring the disposable endoscopes to market next year.

Read more: High-Res Optics Developed for Imaging Under the Skin

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