updated 01:40 pm EST, Mon January 29, 2007
While companies like Canon and Nikon are racing to add millions of pixels to their sensors, scientists at Houston's Rice University have taken the opposite approach, developing a camera that needs only a single pixel to record an image. This is accomplished with an array of a million or more "micromirrors," each about the size of a bacterium, which focus light on a part of one sensor rather than omnidirectionally at a whole field of sensors. The mirrors switch on and off in rapid succession so that a processor can accurately interpret the incoming data.
The advantage of this technology is efficiency. While current sensor arrays can record tremendous amounts of detail, much of it is wasted -- pixels often contain duplicate information, and compression techniques can throw away as much as 90 percent of the recorded information. Cameras must nevertheless power all of the pixels for each shot, worsening the battery drain already presented by LCD displays. If the single-pixel technique comes to fruition as the Rice scientists are hoping for, the result could be cameras that take hundreds more shots before needing a recharge. It may futhermore be easier to implement alternate sensor types, such as UV, infrared, or night-vision. [Via BBC News]