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Disposable endoscopic camera is the size of a grain of salt


March 10, 2011

German engineers have developed a low-cost disposable endoscopic camera that is the size of a coarse grain of salt (Photo: Fraunhofer)

German engineers have developed a low-cost disposable endoscopic camera that is the size of a coarse grain of salt (Photo: Fraunhofer)

Tiny video cameras mounted on the end of long thin fiber optic cables, commonly known as endoscopes, have proven invaluable to doctors and researchers wishing to peer inside the human body. Endoscopes can be rather pricey, however, and like anything else that gets put inside peoples' bodies, need to be sanitized after each use. A newly-developed type of endoscope is claimed to address those drawbacks by being so inexpensive to produce that it can be thrown away after each use. Not only that, but it also features what is likely the world's smallest complete video camera, which is just one cubic millimeter in size.

The prototype endoscope was designed at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, in collaboration with Awaiba GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering.

Ordinarily, digital video cameras consist of a lens, a sensor, and electrical contacts that relay the data from the sensor. Up to 28,000 sensors are cut out from a silicon disc known as a wafer, after which each one must be individually wired up with contacts and mounted to a lens.

In Fraunhofer's system, contacts are added to one side of the sensor wafer while it's still all in one piece. That wafer can then be joined face-to-face with a lens wafer, after which complete grain-of-salt-sized cameras can be cut out from the two joined wafers. Not only is this approach reportedly much more cost-effective, but it also allows the cameras to be smaller and more self-contained – usually, endoscopic cameras consist of a lens at one end of the cable, with a sensor at the other.

The new camera has a resolution of 62,500 pixels, and it transmits its images via an electrical cable, as opposed to an optical fiber. Its creators believe it could be used not only in medicine, but also in fields such as automotive design, where it could act as an aerodynamic replacement for side mirrors, or be used to monitor drivers for signs of fatigue.

They hope to bring the device to market next year.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

This is great for medical, but I don\'t think that the automotive sector needs something this small just to monitor drivers or replace side mirrors (good luck with getting that one past NHTSA, by the way). It might be useful for research and development though.


If they\'re cheap enough and they get out into the regular commercial channels, i can see millions of fun uses.

Bryan Paschke

I think this is FANTASTIC IDEA, especially if it reduces medical expenses! I totally agre with Mr. Paschke!

Richard Huss

Reminds me of a SciFi story from the late 70s where tiny little cameras called scintillas were scattered everywhere during a war. The company that made them got rich selling scintillas to one side and scintilla detectors to the other side.

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Oooooh - Big Bro\' is just gonna love this, eh?

Imagine video cameras so cheap and easily hidden that you will never know when you are not being watched, recorded, analyzed, scrutinized, justified or even ignored.

Say goodbye to privacy!

Edwin Wityshyn

The uses for the automotive world mentioned are funny. I would think using them to probe engines and exhaust systems would be a more logical use for something like this in cars. There are many, many places that cameras like this would make jobs SO much easier and less invasive, not only in cars, but in HVAC systems, electronics, and quite a few other situations where we currently have to destroy something to look inside it. I wonder if there\'s a light with it, since most of these places, including inside the human body, are in complete darkness. I also wonder if there\'s some kind of control system to help it along its way twisting and turning through veins, pipes, etc...

Dave Andrews

scale up the res a bit, add LED lights and you have a cheap replacement for a laparoscope. A boon for the 3rd world. No expensive lenses or fiber optics

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