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Rambus Pursues Disposable PicoCam

Rambus is developing a so-called pico-camera, a lens-free device significantly cheaper and smaller than today's tiniest imagers. The technique still requires significant computation to deliver even a blurry image, however the company sees an initial opportunity to enter the market as a thermal camera.

The company created an 80 micron diffractive grating from which it has constructed a poor but visible image of the Mona Lisa (below). The work required computation on the order of 350 million multiple-accumulates

“We might cut that by an order of magnitude, but you are still talking serious number crunching — but who cares, there's plenty of compute around,” said Patrick Gill, a senior research scientist in Rambus Labs, speaking at the Trillion Sensor Summit here.

Today Medigus Ltd. makes some of the world's smallest imagers, 1 mm2 devices that cost about $1,000 and are used in endoscopy cameras. Rambus foresees much smaller imagers that could be disposable, in part by doing away with a focusing lens.

“This is where the vision of snails and insects lives — there's useful information here that's not accessible with the focusing cameras we have built,” Gill said.

The technique is based on a capturing light on diffractive grating. The image is transferred to a diode array digitized and manipulated essentially using a set of linear equations and techniques based on Fourier transforms.

The grating requires just 100 microns of silicon area, making it suitable to put on a typical microcontroller. Such imagers could be used as disposable devices in a variety of apps for hazardous or medical environments. They could read bar codes, recognize faces, track objects, or estimate motion, Gill said.

Rambus is considering a reference design using the technology for thermal cameras. Thermal cameras are increasing in volume in automotive and other apps, but can only scale down so far in costs due to their need for lenses.

The image (top center) is the best Rambus delivered to date from an 80 micron device, but the company expects to double resolution with advanced math.

The image (top center) is the best Rambus delivered to date from an 80 micron device, but the company expects to double resolution with advanced math.

The company got its first experimental results back in August. It aims to publish results soon.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

6 comments on “Rambus Pursues Disposable PicoCam

  1. Ariella
    November 8, 2013

    It sounds like a useful development, particulalry if the resolution can be improved as much as they anticipate. 

  2. t.alex
    November 9, 2013

    The whole solution might become costly due to the requirement of intensive computation. But this can be a promising direction for the future.

  3. Daniel
    November 11, 2013

    “Rambus is developing a so-called pico-camera, a lens-free device significantly cheaper and smaller than today's tiniest imagers. The technique still requires significant computation to deliver even a blurry image, however the company sees an initial opportunity to enter the market as a thermal camera.”

    Rick, very interesting idea; capturing images without lenses. Am very eager to know about the further developments and please do update through EBN.

  4. SP
    November 11, 2013

    Ya disposal cameras are very interesting and with that size there are numerous applications. 

  5. Daniel
    November 11, 2013

    “Ya disposal cameras are very interesting and with that size there are numerous applications. “

    SP, we are discussing not only about disposable cameras; it's about another interesting technology camera without lenses.

  6. Anand
    November 21, 2013

    First the company needs to get serious about the type of lens free capturing device it really wants to build. A huge number of thermal cameras are out there and if they are in search of tough competition, then they would find a familiar sector in that area. The second thing is interest generation. If the company has promised that it'll solve the imaging techniques and develop a higher resolution image next time, then it has to be definite. And thirdly, if these capturing devices can be used for security reasons as well, because in today's world, municipal corporations or town governments would happily welcome a cheaper and more flexible alternative to CCTV cams.

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