Looking Through a Straw

Duke University scientists have developed an experimental camera as part of a $25 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense with the potential to change how we capture and view images in the future. Dubbed Aware-2, the camera offers remarkable resolution characteristics and could ultimately be employed by the military for aerial and land-based surveillance.

The Duke device produces both still and video images with a billion pixels and enables the user to zoom in on tiny portions of a scene while retaining extremely high detail.

David Brady, the Duke optical engineer in charge of the team that designed the one-gigapixel camera, explains that using a traditional digital camera “is like looking through a soda straw”—in that it captures a relatively narrow portion of the scene —while the Aware-2 device “is more like a fire hose with the world coming at you full blast.”

When the Duke camera was used to photograph the Seattle skyline, the resulting high-resolution images made it possible read small signs on a parking garage a half-mile in the distance.

While Duke hope to begin manufacture of an industrial version of the camera sometime in 2013, a consumer model isn’t feasible with current technology. Not only is the existing design too cumbersome and heavy for consumer use, but the giant files it creates are beyond the capability of today’s home computers and software.