World's smallest micro-camera focuses on revolutionizing smart sensors

May 18, 2015 // By Paul Buckley
Swiss researchers at CSEM in Neuchatel have developed what is claimed to be the smallest-ever complete vision system on a chip which could create new uses for smart sensors in a wide range of applications.

The Vision-In-Package (VIP) system has a variety of potential uses which include brand recognition, robotic surgery guidance, driving assistance, and even home security - the optics.  The system's processor and wireless transmitter are combined into a single easily-integrated package.

The concept and complete packaging, to be unveiled at the Sensor+Test Fair in Nuremberg, Germany on May 19 2015, is a camera three times smaller than the latest in optic sensors and eight times smaller than what is currently used in motor vehicles for assisted driving - less than one cubic centimeter in total volume; not much bigger than a 10-cent euro coin.

“By completely rethinking what an optical sensor does, by approaching the technology development for what we want it to do and not simply thinking about how to combine already-existing components, we have created a new way to approach optical applications,” explained Edo Franzi, CSEM researcher and project leader.

In order to reduce the size of the entire system, the researchers turned to technology developed in the solar energy domain for inspiration. Based on the principle of a solar concentrator that directs and guides light, the researchers turned this technology of non-imaging optics on its head to produce an image that can be interpreted and correctly read in extremely close situations; even in direct contact with the object.

By coupling the optical component to a microcontroller equipped with a Bluetooth transmitter, the entire low-power system is autonomous and versatile. Measuring only 16.5 mm by 16.5 mm and a mere 3 mm in height, the stand-alone system can communicate to other elements via various ports and can be easily integrated into existing technology platforms with its software development kit.

“Not only is it very small, it is also inexpensive to produce and extremely energy-friendly,” Ross Stanley, CSEM researcher, explains. “By putting everything into this single package, the VIP should open doors to new uses for smart sensors in a wide range of sectors. We are able to provide custom solutions for anything from medical technology with a precision of one nanometer to drone applications for agriculture - all of the capacities are already there, the client need only change the firmware.”