Cameras could become smaller and less expensive using newly developed ?flexible? electronic circuitry that enables the use of smaller lenses, one of its US inventors has told Amateur Photographer magazine.

Traditionally, a series of lens elements is needed to minimise the distortion produced when focusing light from a curved lens onto a ?flat? surface, explain scientists at the University of Illinois.

They claim to have invented a flexible electronic circuit that avoids the need for these extra elements by allowing an image to focus on a ?curved? surface from a single-element lens.

The ?silicon camera? has been inspired by the shape of the human eye.

In the past it has not been possible to develop a curved surface (similar to the back of the eyeball) due to the rigidity of silicon, which is used to make electronic materials.

However, in the new system a series of photodetectors is connected by thin metal wires surrounded by a thin film of polymide plastic, allowing the material to bend when compressed.

The lens is mounted on a transparent hemispherical cap and the image focused on the ?stretchable? interconnected mesh of ?single-crystalline silicon detectors?.

Scientists believe this will enable cameras to be designed to deliver a wider angle of view, reduce lens distortion and give ?improved illumination?.

And the ability to use smaller lenses may cut down camera production costs. Materials scientist John Rogers, one the inventors, told AP: ?Existing cameras all use planar detector systems with sometimes complex, multi-component imaging optics. The latter can be heavy, bulky and very costly.

?Biological systems have, through evolution, designed imaging systems that are different ? the optics are relatively simple and the detector arrays are curved. This strategy accomplishes devices that are, by comparison, lightweight and compact.?

Rogers added: ?A similar strategy, enabled by hemispherical detector arrays, might be useful for man-made cameras.?

Currently the resolution of the camera is restricted to 256 pixels but Rogers believes this can easily be increased. He says it may also be possible to implant the camera into the human eye for people who suffer from degeneration of the retina.

? For more on this technology, see future issues of AP, in shops every Tuesday

Picture courtesy John Rogers

eye camera