A 50 gigapixel camera five times better than 20/20 human vision

June 21, 2012

Traffic circle captured using AWARE-2 (credit: Duke University Imaging and Spectroscopy Program)

By synchronizing 98 tiny cameras in a single device, engineers from Duke University and the University of Arizona have created a prototype camera that could capture up to 50 gigapixels of data (50,000 megapixels) and images with unprecedented detail.

The AWARE-2 camera’s resolution is five times better than 20/20 human vision over a 120 degree horizontal field.

By comparison, most consumer cameras are capable of taking photographs with sizes ranging from 5  to 40 megapixels.

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 camera was developed by a team led by David Brady, Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Electric Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, along with scientists from the University of Arizona, the University of California – San Diego, and Distant Focus Corp.


The AWARE-2 prototype camera (credit: Duke University Imaging and Spectroscopy Program)

The camera can capture images of things that photographers cannot see themselves, but can only detect when the image is viewed later.Brady said.

“Each one of the microcameras captures information from a specific area of the field of view, A computer processor essentially stitches all this information into a single highly detailed image.

“The primary barrier to ubiquitous high-pixel imaging turns out to be lower power and more compact integrated circuits, not the optics.”

The software that combines the input from the microcameras was developed by an Arizona team led by Michael Gehm, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona.

Traditionally, one way of making better optics has been to add more glass elements, which increases complexity and cost, Gehm said.

“Our current approach, instead of making increasingly complex optics, is to come up with a massively parallel array of electronic elements,” Gehm said. “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. 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 is two-and-half feet square and 20 inches deep. But nly about three percent of the camera is made of the optical elements; the rest is made of the electronics and processors needed to assemble all the information gathered. This is the area where additional work to miniaturize the electronics and increase their processing ability will make the camera more practical for everyday photographers, the researchers said.

“As more efficient and compact electronics are developed, the age of hand-held gigapixel photography should follow,” Brady said.

The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).