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Meet the Prototype Camera With a Billion Megapixels

Hal McClure Posted by Hal McClure in Features July 16th, 2012

 Take 98 tiny cameras and synchronize them into one device and what do you get? A resolution five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120- degree horizontal field.

 Engineers at Duke University and the University of Arizona have developed a prototype camera that can create images with amazing detail. They believe the camera could capture up to 50 gigapixels—that’s 50,000 megapixels—or a billion pixels.

 Most consumer cameras can take  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 $25 million project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense. The military is interested in high-resolution cameras as tools for aerial or land-based surveillance.

The prototype camera is two-and-half feet square and 20 inches deep—and 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.

The Duke group installed nearly 100 microcameras, each with a 14-megapixel sensor, on the outside of a small sphere about the size of a football. The setup yields nearly 100 separate—but accurately focused—images. A computer connected to the sphere then stitches them together to create a composite whole

The researchers believe that within five years the next generation of gigapixel cameras should be available to the general public as the electronic components of the cameras become miniaturized and more efficient.

The secret of the Duke device is a spherical lens, a design first proposed in the late 19th century. Although very effective spherical lenses exist naturally—the human eye, for example—researchers have long found it tricky to accurately focus images using lab-made versions.

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