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Biotech Medicine Science

New Medical Camera the Size of a Grain of Salt 132

Posted by Soulskill
from the unlocking-the-mysteries-of-your-salt-shaker dept.
kkleiner writes "The German Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration recently reported the development of a camera with a lens attached that is 1 x 1 x 1.5 millimeters in size, which is roughly as big as a grain of salt. At about a cubic millimeter in size, this camera is right at the size limit that the human eye can see unaided. The camera not only produces decent images but is also very cheap to manufacture — so cheap, in fact, that it is considered disposable."
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New Medical Camera the Size of a Grain of Salt

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  • ....then I might want to pick one up to play around with it and maybe find other uses for it

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:14PM (#35786668) Homepage Journal
      1. The image is 250 x 250 px at 44 fps.
      2. It's so tiny that there's no way it could have a useful FOV for anything macroscopic, much less be able to focus on anything more than a few cm away.
      3. This is medical technology we're talking about, so there's probably a hundred-thousand licensing fee to even look at it, even if the camera itself is only a few pennies.
      • TFA doesn't really say much about the cost, but if they follow the general trend of high-tech gizmos, they'll probably be as cheap as peanuts in a few years, if not sooner. As for the FOV, you could put a dozen of these in an array, like an insect eye, and then construct a high-res image in software. As a bonus, you'd also get some range info and limited 3D possibilities.

        • Very true, but unfortunately the "general trend of high-tech gizmos" isn't the only factor at work here. The same principles that keep the US cellular network wrapped up in ridiculous pricing are at work in technology intended for hospital use in most developed countries, even moreso because of insurance affordances. The developer will probably never let that gem out of its grasp, as they risk cutting into their own monopoly; at least, not without hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees first. Not
    • by GooberToo (74388)

      Cheap is relative. Most of these cameras are used to avoid surgery or other invasive procedures. Remember, a lot of these types cameras are intended to be swallowed. Which means, even if the camera costs a couple thousand dollars, its cheap. I honestly doubt they are anywhere near that expensive, but my point releases, "cheap" is relative.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday April 11, 2011 @03:47PM (#35785750) Homepage

    ...with a grain of salt.

    (But watch out, that grain of salt might be a tiny camera.)

  • i think ill be taking this with a grain of salt. /badumpssht.
  • SI units fail? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2011 @03:49PM (#35785780)

    I don't know what would be more amazing. People confusing a 1mm cube for a "grain of salt", or people being unable to see a 1mm cube object without aid. That's like the size of a ball bearing, or short grain rice! I didn't realize SI units were this hard to grasp...

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

      Yeah. 1mm x 1mm x 1.5mm isn't anywhere near approaching the smallest size the human eye can see unaided (remember the iPhone's retina display?). And they probably meant Kosher salt (the kind they put on pretzels).

      I suspect that what they meant was that, the average person would just barely be able to spot one of these stuck on a nearby wall unless they got up close to it, where they'd be able to see it better.

      • by thynk (653762)

        Oh good, I'm not the only one who noticed that a grain of salt is smaller than a match head. I thought for a moment they were talking about the little dot in the middle of that thing, not the whole device itself. Whew... I may not use mm to measure very often, but I didn't think my perception of it was that off.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      People confusing a 1mm cube for a "grain of salt"

      A 1mm cube seems to be a pretty good match for a grain of salt [seul.org] and while that is certainly not invisible for the human eye, if you watch it from a meter away you could certainly run into trouble finding it.

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      Ya, that left me wondering too. Maybe they're measuring the human perception of an object at say 30' or something. :)

      I still don't get this insane concept of size that people keep trying to apply. as big as a grain of sand, car (VW bug or Lincoln Limo?), or as much information as the Library of Congress. {sigh}

      It's not just on here, nor on poorly written news stories. I find people grasping at the idea of how to express size all the time. I always start with

    • Actually, if you've ever wondered why rulers don't have millimeters markings on them, this is why--they can't be seen by the unaided eye!

  • Insect Eyes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Put enough of them together and we might be able to make a decent approximation of the faceted eyes of insects

  • Privacy died a long time ago. At least when I get to the age where I have to worry about prostate cancer I won't be quite so... butthurt about it.
    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      A tiny camera won't do much good for you if you are thinking only of prostate cancer. For that you can use the PSA blood test, but after an anomaly is identified you will have to be subjected to the touch exam. Unless someone makes a device to measure the prostate's volume, texture, density, etc., which will definitely not be a camera.

      • Unless someone makes a device to measure the prostate's volume, texture, density, etc., which will definitely not be a camera.

        It's called an ultrasound [medscape.com]. Now, roll up your sleeves and bend over.

  • In America.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Monday April 11, 2011 @03:53PM (#35785834) Homepage

    In the United States, where the hospital bills for a procedure of this kind are likely to run into thousands of dollars, "disposable" has a pretty broad definition.

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

      That's what I thought too. TFA doesn't say, but the press release (one of the "sources" listed in TFA) indicates that they'll be bringing disposable endoscopes to the market in 2012 for "only a few euros".

      Also, "decent" image = 250x250 pixels at 44 FPS. No indication of whether it's color or grayscale, but I suspect it's grayscale. The press release says it supplies "razor-sharp pictures", but I suspect that's only by comparison to existing endoscopes...

      • by NEDHead (1651195)

        Maybe 'razor sharp' is like after your wife uses in on her legs but forgets to mention it...

      • It's likely grayscale, but you just put three of them together, one with a red filter, one with a blue filter and one with a green filter and you've got color. 250 x 250 isn't near good enough for medical endoscopy, but you obviously can stack a couple of them together in an array - that's old tech. Extra points for making a radial array and reconstructing a nearly 360 degree image.
      • by hazydave (96747)

        Probably greyscale. They didn't say how large the imager is, but it can't be larger than 1mm x 1mm, probably a bit less, which means even at 250x250 pixels you're dealing with 2um or smaller sensors. From the look of the tiny pinhole of a lens, they're probably already diffraction limited on resolution. To get color using the typical Bayer pattern, you'd need to go to 1um or smaller sensor sites. Ouch!

    • ....healthcare cameras dispose of YOU!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In the United States, where the hospital bills for a procedure of this kind are likely to run into thousands of dollars, "disposable" has a pretty broad definition.

      Yes, because the billable time for the techs, the cost of certification of the equipment and various other overhead costs nothing.

      • In the United States, where the hospital bills for a procedure of this kind are likely to run into thousands of dollars, "disposable" has a pretty broad definition.

        Yes, because the billable time for the techs, the cost of certification of the equipment and various other overhead costs nothing.

        I think the point is that if the various overheads you mention are on the order of $5000, an extra $500 "disposable" camera is reasonable, even if in other contexts the idea of throwing away $500 worth of equipment seems unreasonable...

  • Are you blind? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Monday April 11, 2011 @03:54PM (#35785838)
    A cubic millimeter is hardly "at the size limit that the human eye can see unaided". A fleck of dust is quite a bit smaller than that, and perfectly visible.
    • by mdielmann (514750)

      Nor do grains of salt that the typical diner encounters run that size. This is closer to the size of a grain of rice (short grain, uncooked), for those who aren't aware of what a millimeter is.

    • And an exploding ball of gas a million miles apart can be much harder to see than a spec of dust. I'd say whoever came up with that statement is kind of retarded, even ignoring the lack of a distance to the object. After all... compare a single pixel - . - to 1mm x 1mm. That's at least an order of magnitude smaller, yet I can see it comfortably from 3 feet away.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)
      It depends how far away your eye is from it. The claim stands.
      • Re:Are you blind? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday April 11, 2011 @04:16PM (#35786040)

        It depends how far away your eye is from it. The claim stands.

        Then you could make the same claim for anything.

        "US Navy reveals a a new battleship that is smaller than the human eye can see*

        *if the human is 5 million miles away from said battleship"

        Reasonably, 'at the size limit the human eye can see' to me means exactly that. There is a size below which you can't see unaided, no matter how close you bring your eye to the object because there's a limit to how closely your eye can focus. That size is at least one, and probably 2 orders of magnitude smaller than this camera.

      • I can't see the Eiffel Tower from where I am sitting, either. It must be at the size limit that the human eye can see unaided. My claim stands.
      • by JWSmythe (446288)

            So, you're saying the camera is the size of a moon. ... wait ...

            That's no moon ... It's a space station.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      Just as a comparison, the capacitor in this image [gjcp.net] is about 0.75x0.75x1mm - and I really only use the USB microscope if I need a photograph of the board to show any water damage or anything like that. The transistor below it is about the same size as this camera. I don't even use a magnifier for parts that large.

      There are some SMT parts that actually *are* the size of a grain of salt. I *do* use a magnifier for those.

      • by hazydave (96747)

        There used to be an ad running in EE Times, showing a bunch of gains, with the caption "the larger ones are pepper" -- an add for someone's 0201 passive components, I think. These are 0.6 mm × 0.3 mm, and you can definitely see them, though forget it if you drop one on the floor. Still, much better under a microscope. I once hand soldered an 01005 part (0.4mm x 0.2mm) under a microscope... not easy. And yeah, you can see it without the scope, but not well enough to really recognize it as anything but a

    • Nobody has defined the distance.

    • by Noren (605012)
      I used to work doing single-crystal X-ray crystallography, one part of the job was mounting a crystal onto the tip of a tiny glass rod. I was looking for a single crystal no larger than 0.5 mm in any direction, and hopefully at least 0.1mm in the smallest dimension, though at times they were smaller than that if they were needles or thin planes. I would sometimes work under a not particularly powerful magnifying glass, though it's quite possible to see a crystal that size with the naked eye, even colorles
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well, I can't see it unaided.. but maybe that's why I got these -6 glasses.

      but if it's so cheap, how about making a 1000x1000 grid of those.

  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Monday April 11, 2011 @04:00PM (#35785876) Homepage

    Sprinkle vision on the wind,
    like grains of sand I see.
    motes of thought they drift and float,
    and bring my data back to me.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The was a young lady from Carolina
      Who got grains of sand in her vagina
      Though some were cameras yet
      And the whole internet
      Shocked her into attack of angina
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Tiny camera
      Engineered in Germany
      Pushes the limit

  • might be cool to see blood coursing through your veins, or the contents of your stomach on your iPhone :)

    • Sure, but finding a good place for the processor and transmitter in your veins might not be so easy. This thing is JUST the camera (but a cool invention none the less).

      The stomach however, isn't a problem. I've heard of people putting much stranger things in their digestive systems...

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      might be cool to see blood coursing through your veins, or the contents of your stomach on your iPhone :)

      A technical embolism?

  • I must have amazing vision because I can see things way smaller tha 1x1x1.5 mm.
  • Bab Shaw's book Light of Other Days makes a very good case for why something like this should NEVER be developed.
  • Well, they better be, if any sort of recovery device is going to be several times the size of the camera itself...

  • My Margarita has a thousand eyes! GAHHH!
  • Okay, the tiny camera is good, but I didn't see any mention of a light source.

    It's kinda, you know, dark in there.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      I would think the light source is easy - a fiber optic cable about the diameter of a human hair, connected to an external light source. Disclaimer: I know nothing about endoscopy.
  • Nine months from now, will these seem large and cumbersome?
    • by nblender (741424)

      I hadn't thought of that application but it's interesting... I imagine that after 9 months, the baby you've been filming will seem a lot larger and more troublesome than the pesky camera..

  • Sperm cam!

  • Make this wireless, and people wont have to have giant tubes stuck down their throat during endoscopy. Or keep the giant tube, shove a whole bunch of these boys in, and create street view of the entire digestive system...
    • by compro01 (777531)

      We already have that. It's called capsule endoscopy [wikipedia.org] and it has been in use since 2001.

      It's just that it's more expensive than traditional endoscopy so it isn't widely used yet, except in cases where traditional methods can't reach.

  • In case you didn't check the link, here how the camera looks like:
    .

    Seriously!
  • by skidisk (994551)

    Camera small, like dust
    Travel by wind, or fiber
    Fantastic Voyage.

  • Pill sized disposable endoscopes already exist, though much larger than this. Most combine some sort of light with them as well because without it they are fairly useless. This won't perform anything novel when it comes to endoscopy but rather has more potential patient compliance as well as novel imaging of smaller pathways rather than just upper and lower GI. (Example: http://www.wolfsonendoscopy.org.uk/capsule-endoscopy-information.html [wolfsonendoscopy.org.uk])
  • development for hotel owners and land lords. You could easily set up multiple angle shots in shower cubicles.

  • An object 1x1x1.5mm is near the resolution limit of the human eye? This is ridiculous. Human hair is finer than that and I remember in grad school being able to see pulled glass fibers a few microns in diameter (without a microscope).
  • Who is going to load the tiny film? /serious note, what is the interface; wireless?

  • From the article: So how good is the camera? For endoscopy, pretty good. The resolution is 62,500 (250 x 250) pixels and can produce a frame rate of 44 per second at this resolution

  • 1 x 1 x 1.5 millimeters in size ... right at the size limit that the human eye can see unaided

    Let's be serious here, 1 millimeter is not the limit of what the eye can see.
    1/10 mm would be more like it.

  • Jet Propulsion Laboratories has come out with a 3D camera, for brain surgery (developed in conjunction with a brain surgeon). It's not as small as this, but it's the size of a coffee bean. The constraint was 4mm; that's the largest passage they can make in a brain without causing serious harm.

  • From TFA:
    "...At about a cubic millimeter in size, this camera is right at the size limit that the human eye can see unaided...."

    AFAIK the smallest thing viewable by the unaided human eye is 0.1-0.2 mm (100-200 microns).

    I would hardly say that an order of magnitude is "right at the limit"?
    How bad would your vision have to be to have trouble seeing this camera?

  • this could be a boon for laparoscopic surgery in the third world. if the camera is small enough and the resolution high enough, you could add cheap LED lights and slip it into an incision. That way you would have a laparoscopic camera without expensive fiber optics since the light source and the camera are within the body. This compounds the lower cost of the camera, making lap surgery cheaper for poor people

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