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Better than the human eye: Tiny camera with adjustable zoom could aid endoscopic imaging, robotics, night vision

Date:
January 20, 2011
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Researchers have developed a curvilinear camera, much like the human eye, with the significant feature of a zoom capability, unlike the human eye. The "eyeball camera" has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images, is inexpensive to make and is only the size of a nickel. The tunable camera holds promise for many applications, including night-vision surveillance, robotic vision and endoscopic imaging.

The deformed, hemispherical photodetector array, whose curvature can be dynamically tuned by hydraulics.
Credit: Image courtesy of Northwestern University

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are the first to develop a curvilinear camera, much like the human eye, with the significant feature of a zoom capability, unlike the human eye.

The "eyeball camera" has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images, is inexpensive to make and is only the size of a nickel. (A higher zoom is possible with the technology.)

While the camera won't be appearing at Best Buy any time soon, the tunable camera -- once optimized -- should be useful in many applications, including night-vision surveillance, robotic vision, endoscopic imaging and consumer electronics.

"We were inspired by the human eye, but we wanted to go beyond the human eye," said Yonggang Huang, Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Our goal was to develop something simple that can zoom and capture good images, and we've achieved that."

The tiny camera combines the best of both the human eye and an expensive single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with a zoom lens. It has the simple lens of the human eye, allowing the device to be small, and the zoom capability of the SLR camera without the bulk and weight of a complex lens. The key is that both the simple lens and photodetectors are on flexible substrates, and a hydraulic system can change the shape of the substrates appropriately, enabling a variable zoom.

The research is being published the week of Jan. 17 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Huang, co-corresponding author of the PNAS paper, led the theory and design work at Northwestern. His colleague John Rogers, the Lee J. Flory Founder Chair in Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois, led the design, experimental and fabrication work. Rogers is a co-corresponding author of the paper.

Earlier eyeball camera designs are incompatible with variable zoom because these cameras have rigid detectors. The detector must change shape as the in-focus image changes shape with magnification. Huang and Rogers and their team use an array of interconnected and flexible silicon photodetectors on a thin, elastic membrane, which can easily change shape. This flexibility opens up the field of possible uses for such a system. (The array builds on their work in stretchable electronics.)

The camera system also has an integrated lens constructed by putting a thin, elastic membrane on a water chamber, with a clear glass window underneath.

Initially both detector and lens are flat. Beneath both the membranes of the detector and the simple lens are chambers filled with water. By extracting water from the detector's chamber, the detector surface becomes a concave hemisphere. (Injecting water back returns the detector to a flat surface.) Injecting water into the chamber of the lens makes the thin membrane become a convex hemisphere.

To achieve an in-focus and magnified image, the researchers actuate the hydraulics to change the curvatures of the lens and detector in a coordinated manner. The shape of the detector must match the varying curvature of the image surface to accommodate continuously adjustable zoom, and this is easily done with this new hemispherical eye camera.

In addition to Huang and Rogers, other authors of the paper are Chaofeng Lu and Ming Li, from Northwestern; Inhwa Jung, Jianliang Xiao, Viktor Malyarchuk and Jongseung Yoon, from the University of Illinois; and Zhuangjian Liu, from the Institute of High Performance Computing, Singapore.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. The original article was written by Megan Fellman. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. I. Jung, J. Xiao, V. Malyarchuk, C. Lu, M. Li, Z. Liu, J. Yoon, Y. Huang, J. A. Rogers. Dynamically tunable hemispherical electronic eye camera system with adjustable zoom capability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015440108

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Better than the human eye: Tiny camera with adjustable zoom could aid endoscopic imaging, robotics, night vision." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110117152739.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2011, January 20). Better than the human eye: Tiny camera with adjustable zoom could aid endoscopic imaging, robotics, night vision. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110117152739.htm
Northwestern University. "Better than the human eye: Tiny camera with adjustable zoom could aid endoscopic imaging, robotics, night vision." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110117152739.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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