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Tiny camera outsees the human eye

BioPhotonics
Apr 2011
Compiled by BioPhotonics staff

EVANSTON, Ill. – A camera resembling the human eye but with a superhuman zoom function is now a reality, and it is only the size of a nickel.

The curvilinear “eyeball” camera, developed by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images and is inexpensive to make. Once optimized, the tunable camera is suitable for applications including night-vision surveillance, robotic vision, endoscopic imaging and consumer electronics.

The scientists were inspired by the human eye but wanted to take the technology one step further. Their goal was to develop a simple camera that could zoom in on a subject and capture high-quality images. Combining the advantages of the human eye with those of an expensive single-lens reflex camera with a zoom lens, the tiny camera features the simple lens of a human eye, allowing it to remain small. However, it also has the zoom capability of a single-lens reflex camera, but without the bulk or weight of a complex lens.

Whereas earlier “eyeball” cameras had rigid detectors, the simple lens and photo-detector of this camera are on flexible substrates, and a hydraulic system can change the shape of the substrate to enable variable zoom.

The research was published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan. 18, 2011 (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015440108).



GLOSSARY
camera
A light-tight box that receives light from an object or scene and focuses it to form an image on a light-sensitive material or a detector. The camera generally contains a lens of variable aperture and a shutter of variable speed to precisely control the exposure. In an electronic imaging system, the camera does not use chemical means to store the image, but takes advantage of the sensitivity of various detectors to different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. These sensors are transducers...
zoom lens
An optical system of variable focal length, the focal plane remaining in a fixed position. This result is achieved by moving some of the components of the system along the lens axis, other components remaining stationary.  
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