A team of researchers have developed the a gigapixel camera , the AWARE-2, capable of producing images with a resolution five times better than 20/20 human vision (that’s snapshots of one billion pixels each) over a 120-degree by 50-degree field of view.
Helped in part by funding provided by DARPA and based at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, the researchers’ prototype is made up of off-the-shelf electronics and manages to capture such mind-bogglingly high resolution images through synchronising a total of 98 minuscule cameras –- each with a 14-megapixel sensor – “grouped around a shared spherical lens”. As the researchers’ project report describes, the “image formation process generates a seamless image from the microcameras in the array” and with each microcamera operating independently of each other, “[offers] much more flexibility in image capture, exposure and focus parameters.”
Even as the current version of the camera is so far 'limited' to capturing images of around one gigapixel, the team remains in high hopes that their creation will eventually be able to take pictures of up to 50 gigapixels. Coming in at a size of a massive 2.5-feet square and 20 inches deep, just 3 percent of the area is made up of the optical elements –- the remaining 97 percent is needed to house the electronics and cooling systems that not only keep the camera from overheating, but in order to process and stitch together the 98 sub-images into the much larger, gigapixel images at a rate of three frames per minute.
Incredibly, though the earliest use of the prototype gigapixel camera will likely be used within the likes of automated military surveillance systems, the team behind it believe with the miniaturisation and increased efficiency of components, it could be as little as five years before we start seeing hand-held gigapixel cameras available to the public.
Not keen to rest on their laurels, the team is now hard at work on the next in the AWARE series, the AWARE-10, a 5-10 gigapixel camera that it hopes will be completed later this year. As the Duke team’s research paper concludes, “the goal of this DARPA project is to design a long-term production camera that is highly scalable from sub-gigapixel to tens-of-gigapixels. Deployment of the system is envisioned for military, commercial, and civilian applications.”