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Triple-lens camera no larger than a grain of salt can be injected

When you think about the miniaturization of technology, the first things that come to my mind are the components going into smartphones, and processors. Both get smaller with every new generation, but haven’t got anywhere near the point where they are so small you can’t see them. However, we do now have a camera that is so small it is only slightly larger than a human hair or the same size as a grain of salt.

A research team working out of the University of Stuttgart used 3D laser writing in order to create the minuscule triple lens camera. Now here’s the science: A femtosecond laser is focused using a scanner on to a liquid photoresist under a microscope. The laser beam is absorbed by the polymer, which hardens it forming an optical element. The accuracy is sub-micrometer and allows for the creation of spherical lenses as well as parabaloids and aspheres (having one or more optical surfaces).

Yes, it sounds very complex, but the important takeaway is it allows for the creation of objects that measure just 125 micrometers in diameter. That’s so small the object can sit on the end of an optical fiber and be injected using a syringe.

Timo Gissibl, a PhD student at Stuttgart, has been creating such objects including a triple-lens camera small enough to be injected into the body and used as part of a small, if not the smallest, endoscope. The camera can focus at a distance of 3mm and beam back images over the attached optical fiber cable, which is up to 1.7 meters in length.

This manufacturing method will also allow for the construction of an array of minuscule sensors which can sit on a chip, be used in cars or robots, or integrated into the gadgets we carry around every day. It also looks likely LEDs will be able to get even smaller than they already are.

The combination of manufacturing at a size not available before with the quick turnaround made possible by 3D printing, suggests a revolution in optics is imminent and we’ll all benefit from it. Of course, being able to manufacture cameras and sensors you can’t even see means covert tracking is also going to get a lot easier to do.

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