A team of researchers at the University of Stuttgart has developed a teeny-tiny little camera that could be used in medicine, security monitoring and for miniature robots.
Normal lenses can't be made this small with traditional techniques, so the team used 3D printing methods to built up the camera's three lenses layer by layer.
The team says that its technique represents a 'paradigm shift' in the manufacture of small cameras.
The result is a compound lens just 0.1 millimetres wide, which only took a few hours to design, manufacture and test. It can focus on images from a distance of three millimetres, and relay them down the length of a 1.7-metre optical fibre that it's attached to.
During testing it yielded "high optical performances and tremendous compactness", the researchers say.
The whole system, in fact, fits comfortably into the needle of a standard syringe, allowing it to be injected into the human body, or even the brain. From there it can act as an endoscope, giving doctors the ability to examine the inside of the body directly.
Non-invasive and non-destructive
"Endoscopic applications will allow for non-invasive and non-destructive examination of small objects in the medical as well as the industrial sector," its creators wrote in a paper describing the invention.
They added: "The unprecedented flexibility of our method paves the way towards printed optical miniature instruments such as endoscopes, fibre-imaging systems for cell biology, new illumination systems, miniature optical fibre traps, integrated quantum emitters and detectors, and miniature drones and robots with autonomous vision."