Last night’s Sexual Tension episode of Knight Rider seemed to be all about spying: Computer techs Billy and Zoe spyied on Mike Traceur and Sarah Graiman while they were “sparring”, Sarah and Mike spied on the bad guys with tiny cameras, and of course, everyone spied on each other with sidelong, furtive looks. It was just that kind of episode.
But let’s focus (pun intended) on the tiny cameras. Sarah and Mike had a needle-in-a-haystack problem. The bad guys’ target was a factory that produces a key oil refining part. Our heroes had to locate the evil-doers on a production floor swarming with white coated technicians. They solved the problem with some of the snazziest ID badges ever created. Each badge held a tiny camera, which then broadcast video in real time back to KITT. The super car’s more powerful computers separated the faces from the rest of the image and compared them to an NSA face database to locate the villains. The whole device is preposterous, right?
Preposterous unless you’ve been tracking how fast digital cameras have been shrinking over the last 15 years, from big, two-handed devices to smaller than a credit card. And is if to take the whole shrinking camera thing to it’s logical extreme, TDC, a British company, invented a security camera with a chipset measuring 2.135 x 2.265mm. That is to say, the part of the camera that actually captures light and processes it, including white balance and color control, is smaller than the head of a match. Even with the 3.5 mm diameter lens, power supply, and the wireless chip, the camera could easily fit inside an ID card. And just as in the show, the camera records video and then broadcasts it wirelessly up to 30 meters away. For the sake of argument, I’ll just assume KITT relayed the image to this massive face data base Knight Industries seems to have access to.
But why stop at tiny cameras? Earlier in the week I wrote about circuitry built right into a contact lens that could eventually do image capture. But some scientists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne decided that wasn’t enough, and designed what could eventually be an artificial eyeball.
The fundamental problem with cameras is they use a curved lens to project an image onto a flat surface. With a single lens, the image will be distorted, requiring the use of a second lens to create an accurate image. But the human eye projects the image onto the round surface on the back of the eyeball, eliminating the need for a second lens. Dr. John Rogers and his team have recreated the back of the eyeball. They took a polymer and bent it into a half dome. Then they enmeshed photosensors onto the top fo the half dome. The polymer protects the sensors from stress, while the sensors capture the image from a lens, producing a distortion free image. Attaching the dome to a single lens could allow for the smallest cameras yet. Who needs a special ID card? Maybe Mike and Sarah can just have camera eyes instead.