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Sharper gigapixel cameras to go on sale

21 Nov 2012

Tiny piezoelectric modules move hundreds of lenses to allow unprecedented image detail.

The next-generation of Aware cameras, the giant-image making gigapixel cameras developed at Duke University, a private research university located in Durham NC, USA, are being commercialized by a spin-off company called Aqueti, which says the cameras could find applications in security, event coverage or in online publishing.

The operation and performance of the latest Aware cameras has been improved by the incorporation of M3 focus modules – tiny piezoelectric motion controllers – developed by New Scale Technologies, based in Victor, NY.

In an Aware camera, hundreds of 14-megapixel micro cameras are grouped around a spherical lens with a 30mm semi-diameter. The image from this objective lens is refracted outward to the micro cameras, each of which captures a specific area of the field of view. New Scale Technologies says the motion modules improve the image quality by providing automated micrometer-scale lens adjustments within each of the hundreds of sub-cameras that make up an Aware camera system.

Images from the individual micro cameras are rapidly stitched together using image processing to create a single image with wide field of view and unprecedented detail across the entire image. Sample images from an Aware camera may be seen on a Duke webpage here.

Independent focus adjustment of a smaller lens on each micro camera allows every area in the field of view to be brought into sharp focus simultaneously. This requires extremely small lens motion systems that fit into the densely packed spherical array of micro cameras. New Scale delivered a customized version of its M3 micro-mechatronics module to meet the requirement.

Compact module

The custom module has a cross section measuring less than 6 x 10mm, a stroke of 2.5mm and resolution of 0.5μm. It moves a lens weighing several grams.

This complete motion system integrates New Scale’s patented Squiggle piezoelectric motor, ASIC motor driver, magnetic position sensor and microprocessor with closed-loop motion firmware.

Justin Vacca, program manager at New Scale, commented, “The spherical arrangement and close spacing of the image sensors, optics, electronics and focus module in the Aware camera is quite an engineering feat. Our challenge was to make a longer and thinner version of our M3 motion module to fit in the gigapixel camera system. With our M3 micro-mechatronics module platform and our motion systems expertise, we delivered a custom solution to meet these difficult requirements.”

Details of the Aware camera were published online in the journal Nature in June 2012. In September the researchers formed Aqueti to commercialize the technology.

The team’s research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is a collaboration of Duke University, the University of Arizona, the University of California San Diego, Aptina, Raytheon, RPC Photonics, and Distant Focus Corporation.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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