This video isn't just a little bit terrifying, it's the product of a prototype camera that can continually power itself — without using a battery.
When a camera sensor is exposed to light, the pixels use photodiodes to generate an electric current. That helps the sensor measure the intensity of the light, and those measurements are used to produce images. Solar cells, on the other hand, take the light and convert it into electric power. The processes are similar enough that a team at Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Science created an image sensor with diodes that can alternate between performing both of these tasks. According to them, it's the first of its kind.
The camera's sensor toggles between making images and harvesting power
"A few different designs for image sensors that can harvest energy have been proposed in the past," Shree K. Nayar, the professor who led the team, said in a release about the project. "However, our prototype is the first demonstration of a fully self-powered video camera."
When exposed to light, the camera's sensor toggles between capturing an image and charging the power supply. It works well enough to capture one image per second, but it has a tiny resolution of just 30 pixels by 40 pixels (that's .0012 megapixels, for those of you keeping count). Nayar and his team built the camera with off-the-shelf components, and used a 3D printer to create the body.
While a prototype camera with such meager capabilities might not sound very practical, what the team at Columbia has accomplished could have vast implications. In the short term, the technology could be used in things like always-on security cameras, wearables, and other connected devices.
But battery technology is a huge hurdle even for industry-leading camera makers, so it's easy to imagine their interest in research like this. GoPro's CEO Nick Woodman discussed his company's struggles during the company's quarterly earnings call earlier this year.
"Battery life is an ongoing challenge for any consumer electronics device; as devices become more powerful, processing becomes more intensive," he said. "We're all, a bit, slaves to the development of new battery technologies that would provide for longer run times."
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