Researchers Develop Lens-Free Pinhead-Sized Camera


ITHACA, New York ~ (Optics Letters/ ~ Researchers at Cornell University have developed a camera that contains no lens or moving parts, and can fit on the head of a pin.

The device was invented by Alyosha Molnar, Cornell Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and developed by a group led by Patrick Gill, a postdoctoral associate. Their working prototype, which was detailed in the online journal Optics Letters, is1/100th of a millimeter thick and ½ a millimeter on each side. The picture resolution is about 20 pixels across; not portrait-quality but enough to show images from hard-to-reach places. “It’s not going to be a camera with which people take family portraits, but there are a lot of applications out there that require just a little bit of dim vision,” Gill said.

Gill’s microcamera is simply a flat wafer of doped silicon, which looks much like a tiny CD, with no parts that require off-chip manufacturing. This results in a cost of pennies to manufacture a unit which is incredibly small and lightweight, as opposed to conventional small cameras on chips that cost a dollar or more and require bulky optics for image focusing. Scientists will continue to improve on the camera’s resolution and efficiency and envision a myriad of applications for their invention. It could be included in any cheap electronic system for example, detecting the angle of the sun or a micro-robot that requires a simple visual system for navigation. The project was funded by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health.

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