Tiny, Lens-Free Camera Adds Eyes To Any Device

Tiny, Lens-Free Camera Adds Eyes To Any Device

Optical sensor that can be added to computer chips for minimal cost.

Ross Brooks
  • 28 march 2014

Taking a photograph of a famous artwork might sound impressive at first, but senior research scientist Patrick Gill, from the technology licensing company Rambus, did it with a lens-free camera that is smaller than a pencil point. Unlike traditional cameras that require lenses, the tiny camera could find a use in security systems, toys, and any other object that is too small for current camera technology.

Gill isn’t aiming for a high-resolution camera that you would find in a smartphone or point-and-shoot, instead he wants to build the smallest, cheapest, easiest-to-make optical sensor. The point is that it would still be able to capture enough information to convey what’s happening in a particular scene.


The technology uses a grating etched with a spiral pattern through which light can enter from every orientation. A sensor below this grating then captures a jumble of spirals that while not recognizable by a human, can be translated by software into something that we would recognize as an actual image.

Gordon Wetzstein, a research scientist at MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group, is optimistic about the technology, though he says it’s still not clear how well it will work. “Other than pixels getting smaller, we haven’t really seen much progress in camera sensors for a while,” he says.

Because the technology is similar to CMOS technology used in the construction of computer chips, it means the camera could be incorporated into existing chips with only a slight increase in manufacturing costs.


[h/t] MIT Technology Review
Images: Rambus, Barney Livingston via Flickr

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