Tiny camera fits on the head of a pin

Reconstructed Mona Lisa.jpg Photo: Alyosha Molnar Lab/Cornell University

A team working at Cornell university has built a microscopic camera with no lenses or moving parts. Costing "a few cents" to manufacture, the inventors claim it could revolutionize surgery and robotics.

Created from pieces of silicon doped to make them sensitive to light at different angles, the device has been dubbed the Planar Fourier Capture Array and applies the principles of the Fourier transform to compute images from the captured data.

Led by postdoctoral associate Patrick Gill, the group is working to improve the sensor, which generates images just a few pixels wide. Pictured above is a photograph of the Mona Lisa taken with the device.

"It's not going to be a camera with which people take family portraits, but there are a lot of applications out there that require just a little bit of dim vision," Gill said in a press release.

The work is funded by DARPA and the National Institutes of Health.


  1. Vernor Vinge’s Novella “The Peace War” features spherical spy devices that utilize Fourier transforms that make the entire surface a lens. Cool.

  2. I think we all know the real reason for putting a camera on the head of a pin is to get upskirt shots of dancing angels.

  3. This would probably have decent applications in motion sensors and/or trail cams as well. Let the low-powered pinhead camera determine if there’s anything to capture and fire up the big one if there is.

  4. the inventors claim it could revolutionize surgery and robotics.

    So it’ll perform better surgery via the NIH after it makes better killing machines via DARPA?

    1. Yes.

      While DARPA is mandated to make ‘better killing machines’ a lot of positive tech spins out of it. Lets not forget the internet, or the GPS receiver that fits in my phone. DARPA’s also working on self driving cars and remote surgical robots that ostensibly will improve the efficacy of our military forces, but will also go on to improve technology in a larger sense. They also support a whole lot of basic research that gets released to the public domain which everyone can benefit from. It’s a pretty fascinating branch of our department of defense.

      1. Lets not forget the internet

        Let’s not… It was ARPA with MIT in tow… not DARPA. But, I guess it doesn’t really matter…

        More efficient killing machines cost lives and money. I want my tax money to go into researching sustainable energy and getting the fuck out of every other country filled with people we exploit, destroy, rampage, murder and terrorize for energy resources.

        I want my tax money to go towards a true single payer system for healthcare so we can save 44,000 American lives every year plus countless others who suffer in agony without treatment. These people won’t ever get that camera in surgery with our current “health” care system, Spor. They just get the privilege to suffer and die in the richest country in the world.

        Sorry, DARPA is not my fucking hero. They are another part of the wasteful, disgusting, expensive problem. Kid yourselves all you want because of shiny new toys that we could develop WITHOUT pouring yet even more money into the insanely corrupt military-industrial complex, but it doesn’t change the reality that it’s another brick in the wall.

        It’s likely that in the few minutes you just read this, another American without health insurance just died. And over 12 more will die today.

        Once again… super thrilled so much tax money goes to DARPA. I’ve dealt personally with the military and homeland security in the past and I’ve walked away from lucrative contracts because they were unethical. I would have made me a filthy amount of money, but I’ve got something better than that… I look in the mirror just fine.

  5. “a lot of applications out there that require just a little bit of dim vision” – like surgery!!

  6. “Planar Fourier Capture Array”

    For the love of Gods, step AWAY from the nomenclature desk, sciencey-types.
    Seriously. PFCA. Pee. Eff. Sea. Ay. Pifca. Peefcay.

    Nope. Not rolling off the tongue. At all.

    Great quasi-nano-silicon-doping-at-an-angle guys, really. Revolutionary. Can’t wait until it invades my body or the locker room. (thanks!) Really, great work, snark aside.

    But can you PLEASE try something that rolls off the tongue, before your tech goes wide?

    You get TWO consonants with every vowel. That’s IT. (well, S-H, C-R, etc., are freebies). So, regrettably, you need to choose between your children, Planar or Fourier. One must die.

  7. Or cover the surface of your spy widget with a distributed array of these things and let the computer hack out a detailed image from the combination of outputs; cover or destroy a few and the image is degraded, not eliminated. Or create tiny wireless cams and sprinkle them in an area of interest, and let the computer show you the equivalent point of view of any position within the area.

  8. The ‘back-field array’ compiles interference patterns instead of a focused image. Considering the computing horse-power that it takes to convert a single interference pattern into an image we can understand (that’s the Fourier Transform part), I wouldn’t worry about moving pictures any time soon. But if they can build a bigger array, the backyard astronomers and the 3-D microscopists are going to have some fun! Good for holography too.

  9. For a surgeon in a 3rd world country, this is very exciting. In some countries, hospitals still do not have laparoscopic surgery instruments and sometimes, the surgeon has to buy his own. With a camera fabricated using the same techniques that make cellphone cameras and webcams dirt cheap but in this case, small enough to place on a rod and shoved through an incision into a body cavity, it means cheaper costs

  10. So, focus-free single-chip optical mice should just be around the… wait, don’t we already have those?

    Meh, this development will probably still end up changing the mousing industry.

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