In a development that may revolutionise individual medical imaging (as well as other fields) German engineers have created a camera that is no larger than a grain of salt.
Using 3D printing, researchers from the University of Stuttgart have built a camera that has three lenses which fits into the end of an optical fibre the width of two hairs.
The main application for this technology could be as a minimally-intrusive camera for endoscopes for exploring inside the human body.
3D printing makes three-dimensional objects by depositing layer after layer of materials such as plastic, metal or ceramic. Due to manufacturing limitations, lenses cannot currently be made small enough for key uses in the medical field, the team said, which believe 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 (0.1 millimetres) wide, and 120 micrometres with its casing. It can focus on images from a distance of 3.0mm, and relay them over the length of a 1.7-metre 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 non-invasive and non-destructive examination of small objects in the medical, as well as the industrial, sector,”.
The compound lens can also be printed onto image sensor other than optical fibres, such as those used in digital cameras.