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Tiny Camera That Could Revolutionize Surgery

A microscopic ‘pinhead’ camera has been developed that costs pennies to make and could have a host of applications, from surgery to robotics.

The device is small enough to fit on the head of a pin and contains no lenses or moving parts. It is created from pieces of silicon doped to make them sensitive to light at different angles.

US scientists at Cornell University in New York produced a working prototype just half a millimeter across that is able to resolve 20 pixel images using a clever piece of mathematics and some fast computing.

Dr Patrick Gill, who led the development group, said,“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.”

The camera could be used to help brain surgeons image neurons, or be a component in any cheap electronic system.

It could, for example, be fitted to devices that detect the angle of the sun, or micro-robots that require a simple visual system to navigate.

The camera was invented in the lab of 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, detailed online in the journal Optics Letters is 100th of a millimetre thick, and one-half millimetre on each side. The camera is just a flat piece of doped silicon, which looks something like a tiny CD, with no parts that require off-chip manufacturing. As a result, it costs just a few cents to make.

Photo Courtesy of Henrique Vicente
Photo Courtesy of charcoalmc