Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have developed a camera that’s no larger than a grain of salt. The microcamera, as 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.
Stephan Voltz, CEO of image-sensor developer Awaiba, said in a Fraunhofer press release that this microcamera, which measures 1x1x1 millimeters, is as small as coarsely ground grain of salt and the smallest camera he is aware of. 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 primary application of this camera would be for medical endoscopes, the cameras attached to tubes that assist in surgeries and internal examinations. Though endoscopes are relatively expensive, the new microcamera would be so inexpensive that it would be disposable as doctors would use it for just one procedure.
This camera gives a resolution of 62,500 pixels, or roughly 1/20 of a megapixel. 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 would benefit from more compact camera technology.