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Pinhead-sized camera developed by US university

Scientists at Cornell University have developed a camera small enough that several of them could sit on the head of a pin.

The device, which is 100th of a millimetre thick and less than half a millimetre on each side, won't exactly replace your DSLR - resolving, as it does, just 20x20 pixels - but the development has wide reaching implications in many industries.

Costing just a few pennies to manufacture, the tiny device, which resembles a miniaturised CD, could soon be seen in consumer gadgets, robot monkey butlers and surgical theatres.

“It’s not going to be a camera with which people take family portraits, but there are a lot of applications out there that require just a little bit of dim vision,” one of the lead boffins Patrick Gill said.

Gill, whose main field of research is in making sense of how neurons fire in the brain, started work on the invention as a side project. He was trying to come up with an implantable device which could monitor neurons that had been modified to glow when they became active.

The snappily-named Planar Fourier Capture Array (PFCA) is a flat piece of 'doped' silicon with no other off-chip parts or bulky optics.

Further developments in miniaturisation and increased resolution are on the cards.

Give it a few years and we reckon Gill will be implanting these thing in blind people's eyeballs and wiring them up straight to their brains.