The Fraunhofer Institute and Awaiba have developed a tiny camera that could have a big future
The Fraunhofer Institute has developed a camera that is as small as a pinhead. It is a tiny cube measuring just a millimetre.
The camera has been developed for medical uses but its applications could stretch far beyond. Used in sensors, it could be installed in cars to assist bump-free parking and may even find applications in computers and phones.
“If you think about very, very small cameras, you will find dozens of applications,” commented Michael Töpper, a project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin.. “Just think about the camera in the phone: 10 years ago everybody was laughing. ‘Who needs a camera in a phone?'”
Not High Resolution But Looks Promising
At the recent Cebit Expo in Germany, Lenovo and Tobii demonstrated a computer that is controlled by detecting eye movement – using the microcamera could progress this technology further.
Despite the size, the microdevices are capable of producing images with a 25 kilopixel resolution (0.025 megapixels). This would not be good enough for standard photography but is a revolution in the medical imaging world.
Endoscopy, internal examinations with a small camera, is uncomfortable and invasive for the patient. Using Fraunhofer’s camera could greatly reduce the size of the probe and reduce the need for anaesthetics.
Developed in conjunction with image specialists at Awaiba, the microcamera is designed to be commercially produced on wafers – in a similar process used to produce microchips. Each wafer would hold 25,000 cameras, each with a tiny lens.
Production on this scale would bring down the cost far enough for the cameras to be disposable. Once sterilised and used, the cameras could be thrown away removing the need to thoroughly sterilise current endoscopes for reuse.
At the moment, Awaiba is testing the cameras and plans to start commercial production within the next two years.
Fraunhofer also has an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen that doubles as a camera. Used in mobile phones, these screens could improve teleconferencing. Not only would it remove the extra electronics used to mount a front-facing camera, but it would also improve the conferencing experience. The user would be looking directly at the screen and the camera would look directly at them.
This would remove the parallax offset that makes the phone user appear to be distracted in current smartphone systems. With a screen-camera, both communicators would get the feeling they are looking directly at each other, creating a more realistic experience.