- The device could transform health care, auto manufacturing and government.A disposable camera the size of a grain of salt soon could be as much a part of the operating room toolkit as the traditional scalpel.
Called the NanEye, this tiny device eventually could wend its way into cameras, traffic lights, military equipment and a host of other items designed to protect, communicate and conduct surveillance. Developed by Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) in Berlin, Germany, in partnership with AWAIBA of Portugal and with the support of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, Germany, the micro-camera has a lens that is 1 by 1 by 1.5 millimeters—just large enough to be seen by the naked eye.
The NanEye micro-camera (Source: AWAIBA)The NanEye is inexpensive to make, so low-cost in fact that it is viewed as disposable, which changes the way in which medical facilities, researchers and others can use the device. In fact, Fraunhofer Institute originally developed the micro-camera in conjunction with AWAIBA, which manufactures digital camera sensors, for use in medical endoscopes in order to more easily and clearly view all internal areas of the human body.
An endoscope consists of a camera at the end of a tube, which contains a wire that transmits an image of a patient's organs to a computer. Doctors use the tube to manipulate the camera through parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract. Typically, an endoscope device costs about $25,000, and must therefore be sterilized and reused, further increasing the cost of maintaining the equipment. An endoscopy, which generally takes 20 minutes to 60 minutes, costs each patient between $800 and $2,000, according to Buzzle.com.
The micro-camera, slated to become available in 2012, will allow health care facilities to reduce the cost of the procedure and do more procedures each day due to reduced time allocated to cleaning the equipment.
And the small device could extend well beyond the reaches of the human body. In fact, the micro-camera's low cost, coupled with its small size, is encouraging the developers to consider other markets such as the automotive industry, where car makers could use the small cameras to replace side-view mirrors, and government, where agencies could use the tiny cameras for surveillance and national security.
The design works because Fraunhofer researchers allowed connections to occur on the back of the sensor, not on the side, meaning a wafer of lenses could be mounted and electrically wired to the sensor wafer and the stack could be broken into 28,000 devices. In the past, a wafer would be chopped into 28,000 single sensors and lenses then would be attached. As a result of the new design, each micro-camera is much smaller for a lower cost, delivering a resolution of 250 by 250 pixels at a frame rate of 44 per second.