Small camera the size of a grain of salt takes high-resolution color images

Researchers at Princeton and the University of Washington have developed a tiny camera, the size of a grain of salt, that can take sharp, color images. It’s made up of a metasurface that captures light, which could be magnified to turn entire surfaces into sensors.

The device looks like little more than a transparent panel with a circular pattern engraved inside. This half-millimeter wide circle contains 1.6 million cylinders, each carefully designed to bend light the right way so that the grating as a whole shapes the optical wavefront. The signal processing algorithms then produce an image from this data.

The resulting images are much sharper than other small sensors. In tests, the team showed that the new sensor captured images measuring 720 x 720 pixels in color, capturing wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm in natural light, with a spatial resolution of 214 line pairs per mm. It has a 40-degree field of view and an f-number of 2, and the researchers say the snaps are comparable to those captured by a conventional compound camera lens that’s half a million times the size of their new sensor.

A comparison of images taken by a tiny old image sensor (left) and the team’s new metasurface sensor (right)

Princeton University

Post-processing algorithms do a lot of the heavy lifting to improve image quality, and they were designed with the metasurface to make sure they work well together.

Another advantage is that the devices are simple to produce, which means they should be relatively easy to scale for production. They are made of silicon nitride, and the nanostructures on the surface can be produced by deep ultraviolet lithography, a technique already used to make semiconductors.

If they were to be mass produced, the team says the devices could be used for medical imaging in the body, giving small robots better vision, or even turning virtually anything into a camera by lining a surface. with thousands of these sensors.

“We could turn individual surfaces into ultra high resolution cameras, so you wouldn’t need three cameras on the back of your phone anymore, but the entire back of your phone would become a giant camera,” says Felix. Heide, senior. author of the study. “We can think of completely different ways of building devices in the future. “

The research was published in the journal Nature Communication.

Source: Princeton University

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