This insanely small camera will make spying on everyone easier than ever

Almost invisible, millions of these cameras will be spying on us in the no-too-distant dystopian future
This insanely small camera will make spying on everyone easier than ever

See that thing to the left of the 10 cent coin? That's a typical smartphone camera module.

Now look left again. That's also a camera. Scary, isn't it?

Ludicrously small - and for all intents and purposes, practically invisible - research scientists at Rambus have worked technological magic by creating a camera with a sensor smaller than the tip of a pencil. But how?

The secret lies in the lens. Or rather the complete lack of one.

This insanely small camera will make spying on everyone easier than ever

Instead of a traditional camera lens, a 200 micron wide image sensor is used to map light, before a processor sorts out what it thinks the final image should look like, after analysing the collected light.

Traditional lenses work by focusing each point of light onto a sensor, which is then sorted out into a final shot by an imaging processor.

This new approach instead uses a grating etched with a spiral pattern, which allows light to enter from every orientation.

After passing through the etched grating, light is split into a spiral pattern, where it then lands on a CMOS sensor. 

Specialised software is then able to translate this spherical pattern into a recognisable image.

Different algorithms are used by the processor to create final images at various resolutions, and so far the highest resolution sensor can process images with 128 x 128 pixels.

Clearly there's plenty of progress to be made when it comes to image quality, but these are encouraging first steps towards the ultimate spy cam.

The ultimate aim is to reduce bulk in all kinds of gadgets from smart glasses to watches, although smartphone cameras aren't expected to adopt the tech anytime soon, given their far superior picture quality.

For budding spies and totalitarian governments though, this could very well be the future of all-encompassing surveillance.

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[MIT via designboom]