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These are the invisible cameras of the future

Mar 31, 2016   |   by Samuel Horti   |   techradar

Hidden cameras are getting harder to spot: old, hefty spy gadgets you had to hide under a thick coat have been replaced tiny devices in the tips of pens that live stream HD video. Soon, thanks to new tech, spycams could even be entirely invisible. ...

...Using tiny pixels to improve image quality

If we want tiny cameras, the assumption is we're going to have to put up with lower image quality, right?

Maybe not. With the help of a new type of pixel, researchers at Dartmouth are making tiny small cameras that shoot sharp pictures.

Headed by Eric Fossum — the inventor of the CMOS sensor, used in practically all smartphones and cameras — the team at the Thayer School of Engineering are building a new type of image sensor that can perform especially well in low-light conditions, called Quanta Image Sensor (QIS).

They're using a new type of ultra-small pixel, called a jot. Jots are so small that they can each sense a single photon of light – and you can have 1 billion of them on the QIS.

So how does this improve image quality? Well, when a photon hits an image sensor, it undergoes a chemical reaction, and releases an electron. The jots on the QIS are so sensitive that they're able to sense these single electrons — and that has huge implications for imaging where there's not much light around.

While this research won't make cameras smaller, it will make small cameras better. It's still a "proof of concept" but, according to the researchers, the aim is to get this tech out to consumers, so we won't have to imagine tiny spy cameras that can get quality images in the dark — they'll be real life devices if the research continues.

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