You may have seen some very small cameras in your day, but nothing like this. University of Stuttgart scientist have developed a 3D-printed, three-lens camera that’s just 100 micrometers (0.004 inches) across. That’s small enough that you could inject into your body with a syringe — perfect for endoscopy and other times you’d want to observe a patient’s body from the inside. It currently needs to be tethered to an optical fiber, but it can focus on objects as close as 0.12 inches. You can even print unconventional lens shapes (such as rings or triangles) to fit specific shapes and goals.
It’ll take a long while before the camera is practical, but its size extends its potential uses well beyond medicine. Researchers envision extremely tiny robots that can still visualize the world around them, or self-driving cars whose cameras are virtually invisible. You could also have 360-degree smartphone cameras that take up very little space. And importantly, it takes very little effort to make these lenses — the Stuttgart team designed and tested its camera in a few hours. Microscopic cameras certainly raise privacy concerns (there’s a real risk that people would misuse these cameras for snooping), but they also hint at a world where size isn’t an obstacle to smarter devices.