Disposable film cameras have been around for quite a few years, but researchers in Germany now have developed a disposable digital camera, designed for medical usage, that measures about 1 mm cubed.
The digital camera is about the size of a coarse grain of salt, which allows it to fit on the end of an endoscope (as shown in the upper left corner of this photo). The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin, along with Awaiba GmbH, has developed the salt-sized camera.
Fraunhofer says the salt-sized camera can be manufactured inexpensively, which will allow doctors to disposed of them after one use.
The tiny camera can capture images of 62,500 pixels (0.06MP), which is far below the resolution of standard digital cameras, but will work well for shooting images of the inside of the human body.
Additionally, the entire camera fits on the tip of the endoscope. In the past, the lens was on one end of the endoscope, while the image sensor was at the other end.
A new manufacturing process makes the salt-sized microcamera – measuring about 1 mm by 1 mm by 1 mm – a possibility.
In a basic digital microcamera, the lens is connected to the image sensor by electrical contacts. Manufacturers remove each image sensor from its wafer before attaching the electrical contacts. (Depending on the size of the microcamera’s image sensors, one wafer could contain tens of thousands of image sensors for microcameras.)
The Fraunhofer researchers have simplified this process by making the electrical contacts while the image sensors are still part of the overall wafer. The researchers then can attach the lenses at the same time, meaning the cameras are created while all of the microcamera’s components are still part of the wafer, simplifying the overall manufacturing process.
Once all of the components are in place, they are separated from the wafer to create the individual microcameras. This new manufacturing process allows the microcameras to be smaller and cheaper.
”Starting in 2012, using Fraunhofer’s expertise, we will be able to bring disposable endoscopes to market for only a few euros,” says Stephan Voltz, the CEO of Awaiba GmbH. “We already have the prototype.”
Automobile manufacturers also could potentially use the salt-sized microcamera, according to researchers, eventually replacing the outside rear-view mirrors in a car, enabling better airflow around the automobile’s body.
Such small cameras have little to do with today's consumer-level digital cameras, but there's little doubt that research into such technologies will eventually trickle down to standard cameras. You might not ever carry a salt-sized digital camera -- if so, good luck finding the shutter button -- but such research likely will lead to smaller and smaller consumer-level cameras in the future.