American scientists build a self-powering camera that captures images without using an external power source, allowing it to operate indefinitely in a well-lit environment. Elly Park reports.
This crude video represents a huge step forward in the field of digital imaging. It's taken by the world's first self-powering camera, using nothing but light. Developed by scientists at Columbia University in New York, the camera can take pictures indefinitely in a well lit environment says team leader professor Shree Nayar. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SHREE NAYAR, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "What we have designed here is an image sensor with pixels, with this new design that can not only capture pictures but also generate power from the pixels, in order to capture the images themselves. And that leads us to a fully powered image sensor." An image sensor inside a modern camera converts light information it receives into signals that convey an image. It consists of millions of pixels that contain photo diodes, tiny devices that measure the amount of light. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SHREE NAYAR, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "But it turns out the exactly photo diode is also used in solar cells which are used in solar panels to harvest energy from light, except that they are being used in a slightly different circuit. So our thinking was to create, redesign the pixel in the camera so that it can serve both purposes." Nayar's image sensor is designed to continuously toggle between image capture and power harvesting modes. And while the prototype is built with off the shelf components, the design can be shrunk down to fit on a small chip. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SHREE NAYAR, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "What we have done is a calculation that shows that you can take the same design and make a compact image sensor chip with it. Of course that chip would be able to capture less light and therefore harvest less energy, because it is smaller. But it turns out when you make it a chip it also consumes less power." This will allow for many different implementations, such as in security cameras and consumer electronics. Ultimately, Nayar and his team hopes their simple set-up might become the first big step towards an entirely new generation of cameras.