Duke demonstrates 50 gigapixel camera

Synchronizing multiple cameras in a single device with a processor that stitches the overlapping shots into a single highly detailed image, a prototype camera that creates images with unprecedented detail, Duke University reports.

The viewer can zoom in on portions of an image to see extraordinary detail, long after a photo is taken. “The camera’s resolution is five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120 degree horizontal field” and 50 degrees vertical, the university reports. With 98 14-megapixel sensors, the AWARE-2 device has the potential to capture up to 50 gigapixels of data, Duke says. Most consumer cameras and phones capture from 5–40 megapixels. The prototype takes about 18 seconds to shoot a black-and-white frame and record the data.

Made by electrical engineers from Duke and the University of Arizona, the prototype camera is 2.5 feet square, 20 inches deep, and weighs about 100 pounds. Only about three percent of the camera is made of optical elements, Duke says; the rest is electronics and processors to assemble the gathered information.

Gigapixel cameras are not brand new — but, as reported in Nature, the key to Duke device is a 2.4-inch ball-shaped lens. A spherical lens design was first proposed in the late 19th century and modeled after that in the human eye. Also important was a new system of parallel processors. “The development of high-performance and low-cost microcamera optics and components has been the main challenge in our efforts to develop gigapixel cameras,” a lead scientist says. “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 optics.”

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 public. “As more efficient and compact electronics are developed, the age of hand-held gigapixel photography should follow,” Duke reports. Devices like the prototype might cost about $100,000 each to make, but with large-scale manufacturing, future cameras could be only $1,000.

The potential implications for such how such resolution could change how we capture a scene are huge. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “If the Duke device can be shrunk to hand-held size, it could spark an alternative approach to photography. Instead of deciding where to focus a camera, a user would simply shoot a scene, then later zoom in on any part of the picture and view it in extreme detail.”

Before it reaches consumers, the technique could impact airport security, military surveillance and sports coverage. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) supported the research.


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