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Thursday March 10, 2011 2:26 pm

World’s smallest camera is the size of a grain of salt

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Cameras, Design, Science

fraunhofer microcamera

Think your webcam is small? Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have developed a camera that's no larger than a grain of salt. The "microcamera" (shown below next to a syringe) has the potential to re-invent medical cameras used to navigate surgeries as well as some aspects of cars and consumer electronics.

"At 1x1x1 millimeters, this camera is as small as coarsely ground grain of salt—the smallest camera that we are aware of," Stephan Voltz, CEO of image-sensor developer Awaiba, said in a Fraunhofer press release.

Part of the challenge for creating effective microcameras is the manufacturing process, which requires that image sensors be created in bulk on a single wafer, then separated and attached to individual lenses. Fraunhofer says it's found a way to mount lenses in bulk on top of the sensor wafer, simplifying—and cheapening—the process, at least for this microcamera.

The Fraunhofer Institute says the primary application for such a camera would be for medical endoscopes, the cameras attached to tubes that assist in surgeries and internal examinations. Endoscopes are relatively expensive and need to be sterilized after every procedure. According to Fraunhofer, the new microcamera would be so inexpensive that it would be disposable—doctors would use it for just one procedure and throw it away.

Fraunhofer describes the image as "razor sharp" but gives a resolution of 62,500 pixels, or roughly 1/20 of a megapixel, well south of even cheap cellphone cameras. Still, for something so tiny, virtually any picture is impressive, and further development may boost the spec the megapixel range.

Besides medicine, the microcamera has applications in vehicles and electronics. In cars, microcameras could help replace side-mounted mirrors, reducing wind resistance. And eye-tracking devices like the recently announced eye-controlled laptop prototype from Lenovo, which was criticized for its added bulk, would benefit from more compact camera technology.

This article, written by Peter Pachal, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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