Compact camera lenses are not only used for smartphones but also for medical devices that are used by doctors and medical practitioners to perform various procedures. The biggest example is the endoscopy process in which doctors insert tiny cameras into a patient’s body to capture images of internal organs. So, to design more advanced devices for such medical procedures, a team of researchers has developed a tiny “Neural Nano-Optics” camera that is as small as a grain of salt!
Researchers from the Princeton and Washington Universities detailed the micro-sized camera sensor in a recent paper published in the Nature Communications journal. In the paper. the researchers suggest that the camera is designed to develop medical devices that are used for invasive medical procedures. The advantage of the new Neural Nano-Optics camera is that it can capture images that are much clearer than the images captured by existing micro-sized cameras.
As per the researchers, despite the new camera’s tiny form factor, it can capture full-color sharp images that are similar to images captured by sensors that are nearly a million times larger. You can check out the comparison image (attached below), showcasing an image captured by an existing high-end tiny camera and an image captured by the Neural Nano-Optics camera.
“It’s been a challenge to design and configure these little nano-structures to do what you want. For this specific task of capturing large field of view RGB images, it was previously unclear how to co-design the millions of nano-structures together with post-processing algorithms,” said Ethan Tseng, a Princeton University Ph.D. student and the co-leader of the study, in an official press release.
As for the working of the salt-grain-sized camera lens, there are two differently-shaped cylindrical posts. The researchers say that it was necessary to design the posts differently to “correctly shape the entire optical wavefront”. Each of these posts acts as an optical antenna and captures the incoming light.
The captured light is then fed to a machine-learning algorithm that combines the interaction between the two posts. This enables the camera to generate a crisp and clear color image.
The researchers suggest that multiple Neural Nano-Optics cameras could be fitted on a large surface to create a camera array, which can then capture high-quality images of internal organs to help doctors better diagnose patients. Although the optical design is not new, it is the first camera system that uses surface optical technology in the front end and neural processing in the back, as per Joseph Mait, who is a former senior researcher and chief scientist at the US Army Research Lab.