The technology uses metasurface, which is studded with 1.6 million cylindrical posts and can be produced much like a computer chip and could find a role looking for problems in the human body and enable sensing for super-small robots.
The new system can produce crisp, full-colour images on par with a conventional compound camera lens 500,000 times larger in volume.
According to Nature Communications the tech involves a joint design of the camera’s hardware and computational processing, the system could enable minimally invasive endoscopy with medical robots to diagnose and treat diseases, and improve imaging for other robots with size and weight constraints.
Thousands of such cameras could be used for full-scene sensing, turning surfaces into cameras.
The metasurface replaces lenses and can be produced like a computer chip. Just half a millimetre wide, the metasurface is studded with 1.6 million cylindrical posts. To give a sense of scale, each post is the size of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Project senior boffin Felix Heide said a key innovation in the camera’s creation was the integrated design of the optical surface and the signal processing algorithms that produce the image. This boosted the camera’s performance in natural light conditions, in contrast to previous metasurface cameras that required the pure laser light of a laboratory or other ideal conditions to produce high-quality images.
The researchers compared images produced with their system to the results of previous metasurface cameras, as well as images captured by a conventional compound optic that uses a series of six refractive lenses. Aside from blurring at the edges of the frame, the nano-sized camera’s images were comparable to those of the traditional lens setup, which is more than 500,000 times larger in volume.