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University Develops Tiny, Lens-Free Camera

Camera flash (Janet Goulden/Flickr)A postdoc engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York developed a microscopic camera that fits on the head of a pin, contains no lenses or moving parts, and costs pennies to make. The prototype by Patrick Gill and his colleagues is described in the current issue of the journal Optics Letters (paid subscription required).

Gill’s camera is made for applications that need a quick snapshot in places that are difficult to reach or see, such as found in medical diagnostics, surgery, or robotics. The prototype measures a 100th of a millimeter thick, and one-half millimeter on each side.

The camera provides images with resolutions of about 20 pixels across, enough resolution to shed light on previously hard-to-see objects. It is made from a flat piece of doped (modulated) silicon, which looks something like a tiny CD, with no parts that require off-chip manufacturing. As a result, it is small, light and costs just a few cents to make. Conventional small cameras on chips can cost a dollar or more and require bulky focusing optics.

The device uses the principles of Fourier transform, which is a mathematical tool that allows multiple ways of capturing the same information. Each pixel in the camera reports one component of the Fourier transform of the detected image by being sensitive to a unique blend of incident angles.  Further computations can also transform Fourier components into an image.

Read more: Cheap, Disposable Endoscope Microcamera Developed

Photo: Janet Goulden/Flickr

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