Researchers Create Cameras the Size of a Grain of Salt

Imagine cameras so small they could be injected into your body via a syringe: medical imaging becomes less invasive and more capable. A team of researchers has created a camera that can do just that. 

Timo Gissibl, Simon Thiele, Alois Herkommer, and Harald Giessen of the University of Stuttgart announced the breakthrough in a recent paper in which they demonstrate from design to manufacturing a process that 3D prints lenses 120 micrometers in diameter. For perspective, that's just a bit larger than the diameter of a human hair. The lenses can be printed with one to three optical elements and are connected via optical fiber to a normal camera sensor. However, the most exciting part of the research is the fact that these were produced on a commercially available 3D printer, meaning their realization is not confined to a highly specialized research lab.

The team was even able to place the system on an LED, making it a complete solution for imaging inside a body or small machines. Next steps will be improving image quality via lens coatings and more complex optical designs, including the potential for zoom and adjustable focus lenses. Giessen notes that in the future: “The time from the idea, the optics design, a CAD model, to the finished 3D printed micro-objectives is going to be less than a day." Indeed, it's fascinating technology with a lot of potential.