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Quantum Dots Could Transform Your Drunken Party Smartphone Photos

Usually the digital camera in your smartphone can snap reasonable pics in good lighting, but the image quality is too sucky for photo enthusiasts. Enter InVisage Technologies to right this wrong–their funky new camera tech uses quantum physics.

invisage cam

Usually the digital camera in your smartphone can snap reasonable pics in good lighting, but the image quality is too sucky for photo enthusiasts. Enter InVisage Technologies to right this wrong–their funky new camera tech uses quantum physics.

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It’s getting harder to find a cell phone without a camera nowadays, and some high-enders are competing with compact digicams in terms of power. But usually the tech comes with serious limitations, rendering the whole megapixel race somewhat self-defeating (even if the average consumer is unaware of this.) This is because the space limitations inside phones mean the imaging chips have to be tiny, and squeezed up close to the camera lens. The result: Optical issues caused by the lens geometry, and problems from the miniscule size of the pixels acting as light sensors. This latter issue is the biggest problem–the tiny size of each sensor unit means that when you’re shooting in low light, thermal “noise” inside the chip itself actually interferes with the image-taking. For cameraphones lacking a flash or LED lighting system, this usually means low-light, night-time photos are messed up with splodgy “noise.”

InVisage

But InVisage have worked out a solution to this problem: Coat your silicon camera sensor with an array of quantum dots. These are exotic little creatures, essentially consisting of little lumps of semiconductor material crafted of such a small size that quantum physical effects, which are usually hidden by other physical events, become significant. Now quantum mechanics is a tricky beast to explain–go look up Schrodinger’s Cat if you’re new to this science–so it’s almost lucky that InVisage is being coy about exactly how its tech works. But the company’s not being shy about what effect its tech could have on cameraphones: The dots act as optical boosters, and seriously improve the way imaging chips detect light, raising sensitivity by as much as four times. This means that the current, pretty limited 3-megapixel unit in an iPhone (which really struggles in low-light situations) could be substituted for a 12-megapixel one which would work about as well, or a 6-megapixel one that would work fabulously at night.

If all goes well, InVisage hopes to get its technology (as a film-coating for chips) in production inside 18 months. Expect the death of the pocket digital camera soon afterwards.

[The New York Times]

To keep up with this news in a more real-time setting, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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