German engineers have created a camera no bigger than a grain of salt, that could change the future of health imaging – and clandestine surveillance.
Using 3D printing, researchers from the University of Stuttgart built a three-lens camera, and fitted it on to the end of an optical fibre the width of two hairs.
Such technology could be used as a minimally intrusive endoscope for exploring inside the human body, the engineers reported in the journal Nature Photonics.
It could also be deployed in almost invisible security monitors, or mini-robots with “autonomous vision”.
Three-dimensional printing – also known as additive manufacturing – makes 3D objects by depositing layer after layer of materials such as plastic, metal or ceramic.
Owing to manufacturing limitations, lenses cannot currently be made small enough for key uses in the medical field, said the team, which believes its 3D printing method may represent “a paradigm shift”.
It took only a few hours to design, manufacture and test the tiny eye, which yielded “high optical performances and tremendous compactness”, the researchers reported.
The compound lens is just 100 micrometres (0.1mm) wide. It can focus on images from a distance of 3mm, and relay them over the length of a 1.7m optical fibre to which it is attached.
The “imaging system” fits comfortably inside a standard syringe needle, said the team, allowing for delivery into a human organ or even the brain.
“Endoscopic applications will allow for noninvasive and nondestructive examination of small objects in the medical as well as the industrial sector,” they wrote. – AFP