Gigapixel camera catches the smallest details

A camera made from off-the-shelf electronics can take snapshots of one billion pixels each — about one thousand times larger than images taken by conventional cameras.
David Brady, an engineer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues are developing the AWARE-2 camera with funding from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The camera’s earliest use will probably be in automated military surveillance systems, but its creators hope eventually to make the technology available to researchers, media companies and consumers.
The camera is described today in Nature1, in a paper that includes some of its images. One snapshot shows a wide view of Pungo Lake, part of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. In a compressed version of the entire image, no animals are visible. But zooming in reveals a group of swans; going in closer still makes it possible to count every bird on and above the lake.
Researchers including wildlife biologists and archaeologists already use image-stitching software to create similar images from lots of lower-resolution files. But the ability to take the entire picture in one instant rather than taking individual shots over a period of minutes to an hour — during which time those swans might all have flown away — will be useful for capturing dynamic processes.
With such technology, “when you’re in the field, you don’t have to decide what you’re going to study — you can capture as much information as possible and look at it for five years”, says Illah Nourbakhsh, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who developed image-stitching software called Gigapan. “That really changes your mindset.”