Camera the Size of
Grain of Salt May Make Procedures Less Invasive for Senior Citizens
inexpensive that doctors can dispose of endoscopes after using them
March 14, 2011 –
Senior citizens, accustomed to having tiny cameras explore inside their
bodies, will welcome the announcement today of a micro-camera no larger
than a grain of salt that will provide razor-sharp pictures for
endoscopes. And, the cost may be so low that the endoscopes are
gone through amazing advancements in recent years. Microcameras on the
tip of endoscopes supply images from the inside of the human body in
ever higher resolution, which often makes it possible to identify tumors
at an early stage.
date have some downsides, since they are expensive and, because of their
multiple usages, have to be put through time-consuming and exhaustive
cleaning procedures every time they are used.
might be solved by this new microcamera that the Fraunhofer Institute
for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) in Berlin, Germany has
“We can produce
microcameras so inexpensively with our technology that doctors can
dispose of endoscopes after using them only once,” says Martin Wilke, a
scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute. He says this is made possible by
a new type of manufacturing process.
participating in this development is Awaiba GmbH and the Fraunhofer
Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena,
systems consist of two components: a lens and a sensor that transforms
the image into electrical signals. Electrical contacts on the sensor
allow access to these signals and therefore also to the information of
the image. Due to the way they are manufactured, these contacts are
located between the sensor and the lens. The sensors are manufactured
simultaneously in large numbers, like computer chips.
Wilke says, “you
have to think of a book full of postage stamps where many thousand
stamps are printed in one step. If you want to use them, you have to
separate one from another. Instead of a sheet of paper, with image
sensors you have a circular disc of silicon that is known as a wafer.”
image sensors fit onto one wafer and until recently, each and every one
was sawed out, wired and mounted on the lens that was still missing.
That means wiring them 28,000 times and mounting them just as often.
have streamlined this process by developing a new way to access the
electrical contacts. Now, the wiring process is faster and the entire
camera system is smaller. The trick lies in the fact that they do not
reach the contacts of each individual image sensor via the side any more
but rather, simultaneously, with all sensors via their reverse side
while they are still connected as a wafer.
That means that
you no longer have to mount the individual lenses. Instead, you can
connect them with the image sensor wafers as lens wafers. Only then is
the stack of wafers sawed apart into individual microcameras. Another
upside is the fact that it supplies razor-sharp pictures even with very
To date, the
camera systems built into them had to be divided because of their size.
The lens was at the tip of the endoscope and the sensor at the other end
of the glass fiber strand. The new microcamera is small enough for the
tip of the endoscope. It has a resolution of 62,500 pixels and transmits
the image information through the endoscope via an electrical cable.
who is the CEO of Awaiba GmbH, says that “at 1.0 times 1.0 times 1.0
millimeters, this camera is as small as coarsely ground grain of salt –
the smallest camera that we are aware of.”
It is not only
medical technology, but also the automotive industry that is interested
in this tiny camera. Presently, they are researching the possibility of
replacing outside rearview mirrors on cars with microcameras. This would
reduce flow resistance and energy consumption. Beyond this, installed in
fittings, this camera would be able to calculate the driver’s eye
movements and prevent him from nodding off for a few seconds.
Voltz is happy
about the wide range of possible applications: “Starting in 2012, using
Fraunhofer’s expertise, we will be able to bring disposable endoscopes
to market for only a few euros – we already have the prototype.”
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