Electrical engineers from Duke University and the University of Arizona have created the first gigapixel camer, and say it could be available to consumers within five years.
By synchronizing 98 tiny cameras in a single device, they'vedeveloped a prototype with a resolution five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120 degree horizontal field.
The new camera can capture up to 50 gigapixels - 50,000 megapixels - of data, making today's 40-megapixel cameras look like a Box Brownie.
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.
"The development of high-performance and low-cost microcamera optics and components has been the main challenge in our efforts to develop gigapixel cameras," says David Brady of Duke.
"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."
rather than making increasingly complex optics, the team opted for a massively parallel array of electronic elements.
"A shared objective lens gathers light and routes it to the microcameras that surround it, just like a network computer hands out pieces to the individual work stations," says Michael Gehm of the University of Arizona.
"Each gets a different view and works on their little piece of the problem. We arrange for some overlap, so we don't miss anything."
The prototype camera itself is two-and-half feet square and 20 inches deep. However, only about three percent of the camera is made of the optical elements, while the rest is made of the electronics and processors needed to assemble all the information gathered - and it's these components that will need further miniaturization.
"The camera is so large now because of the electronic control boards and the need to add components to keep it from overheating," says Brady.
"As more efficient and compact electronics are developed, the age of hand-held gigapixel photography should follow."