This is a gigapixel camera. Credit: Duke University Imaging and Spectroscopy Program
By synchronizing 98 tiny cameras in a single device,
electrical engineers from Duke University and the University of Arizona
have developed a prototype camera that can create images with unprecedented
The camera’s resolution is five times better than 20/20 human
vision over a 120 degree horizontal field.
The new camera has the potential to capture up to 50 gigapixels
of data, which is 50,000 megapixels. By comparison, most consumer cameras are
capable of taking photographs with sizes ranging from 8 to 40 megapixels.
Pixels are individual “dots” of data—the higher the number of pixels,
the better resolution of the image.
The researchers believe that within five years, as the
electronic components of the cameras become miniaturized and more efficient,
the next generation of gigapixel cameras should be available to the general
Details of the new camera were published online in Nature.
The team’s research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
The camera was developed by a team led by David Brady,
Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Electric Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School
of Engineering, along with scientists from the University
of Arizona, the University
of California – San Diego, and Distant Focus Corp.
“Each one of the microcameras captures information from
a specific area of the field of view,” Brady said. “A computer
processor essentially stitches all this information into a single highly
detailed image. In many instances, the camera can capture images of things that
photographers cannot see themselves but can then detect when the image is
“The development of high-performance and low-cost
microcamera optics and components has been the main challenge in our efforts to
develop gigapixel cameras,” Brady said. “While novel multiscale lens
designs are essential, the primary barrier to ubiquitous high-pixel imaging
turns out to be lower power and more compact integrated circuits, not the
The software that combines the input from the microcameras
was developed by an Arizona team led by
Michael Gehm, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the
University of Arizona.
“Traditionally, one way of making better optics has
been to add more glass elements, which increases complexity,” Gehm said.
“This isn’t a problem just for imaging experts. Supercomputers face the
same problem, with their ever more complicated processors, but at some point
the complexity just saturates, and becomes cost-prohibitive.”
“Our current approach, instead of making increasingly
complex optics, is to come up with a massively parallel array of electronic
elements,” Gehm said. “A shared objective lens gathers light and
routes it to the microcameras that surround it, just like a network computer
hands out pieces to the individual work stations. Each gets a different view
and works on their little piece of the problem. We arrange for some overlap, so
we don’t miss anything.”
The prototype camera itself is two-and-half feet square and
20 in deep. Interestingly, only about three percent of the camera is made of
the optical elements, while the rest is made of the electronics and processors
needed to assemble all the information gathered. Obviously, the researchers
said, this is the area where additional work to miniaturize the electronics and
increase their processing ability will make the camera more practical for
“The camera is so large now because of the electronic
control boards and the need to add components to keep it from overheating,”
Brady said, “As more efficient and compact electronics are developed, the
age of hand-held gigapixel photography should follow.”
Source: Duke University