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Researchers develop a camera the size of a salt grain


Princeton and Washington University researchers have developed a camera the size of a coarse grain of salt. Typically, images captured by these types of nano cameras are of poor quality. However, this team of researchers has developed a method for producing sharp full-color images comparable to those produced by conventional cameras 500,000 times their size.


Using imaging hardware and computational processing, the camera is able to produce images that are simply breathtaking when compared to previous state-of-the-art equipment. The primary innovation is a technology known as "metasurface."


In conventional cameras, light rays are focused into an image through a series of curved lenses. An integrated circuit-sized metasurface is only half a millimeter wide and contains 1.6 million cylindrical posts, but it is only half a millimeter wide and contains 1.6 million cylindrical posts. These microscopic columns are about the size of a single human immunodeficiency virus in terms of size.


"Each post has a distinct geometry and functions in a manner similar to that of an optical antenna," according to Phys.org. A variation in each post's design is required to correctly shape the entire optical wavefront, according to the researchers.


Machine learning algorithms extract information from the interactions of the posts with light, and the resulting images have a higher resolution and a wider field of view than any other comparable metasurface camera that has been developed so far.


Furthermore, previous cameras of this type produced images only using pure laser light and other laboratory conditions, whereas the current model does not. It is more practical to use this device because it can capture images in natural light due to the fact that the optical surface of the device is integrated with the signal processing algorithms. According to the researchers, it has the potential to be used in minimally invasive medical procedures as well as compact sensors for small robotic devices.


It was like night and day when the scientists compared the images captured with their technology to those captured using previous methods, and the results were astounding.


Also tested was a traditional camera with a compound optic composed of six refractive lenses, and the images were comparable, with the exception of some edge blurring, according to the research team.


"Designing and configuring these small microstructures to do what you want has proven to be a difficult task," said Ethan Tseng, a Princeton Ph.D. student who was a co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications. There are millions of these tiny microstructures in this task, and it's unclear how to design them in the most efficient manner for this specific task of capturing large field of view RGB images.


They created a computer simulation to test various nano-antenna configurations in order to determine the best post configurations for each configuration. In contrast, creating a model with 1.6 million posts can take up "massive" amounts of RAM and time to complete. As a result, the simulation was scaled down in order to more accurately approximate the image rendering capabilities of the metasurface.


The team's next goal is to increase the computational capabilities of the technology. It is a given that they will strive to improve image quality, but they also want to incorporate object detection and other sensing capabilities to make the camera suitable for medical and commercial applications.


As previously mentioned, endoscopy and robotics are two practical applications for metasurfaces that are currently being explored. Most people would agree that eliminating the camera bump on smartphones would be a more exciting application.


Felix Heide, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University, explained, "We could convert individual surfaces into ultra-high-resolution cameras, eliminating the need for three cameras on the back of your phone in favor of a single giant camera." "In the future, we can envision entirely new methods of fabricating devices," says the researcher.

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