Product Spotlight: Blinc video camera

May 7, 2001  •  Post A Comment

What it is: A smart miniature digital still and video camera. To date its prototype-available for $2,000 each in small quantities (10 to 100 units or so)-measures 1.2 inches square by 1 inch deep and is primarily geared to surveillance, automotive, medical device and machine vision applications.

But its developer is looking for partners to do mass production so the price can drop to less than $20. At this point all the images produced are black and white; when it goes into mass production color will be added. The developer also intends to upgrade its resolution substantially.

The camera debuted at the SPIE Aerosense conference in Orlando, Fla., in mid-April and was given a private showing at last month’s National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Developer: Sarnoff Corp.

Details: Blinc delivers more than 100 times the dynamic range (color and contrast variations) of typical cameras, capturing all details even when the recorded scenes include both strong sunlight and deep shadow. Sarnoff claims Blinc is able to give full details in every frame, even when the lighting in a scene varies over a range of 17 photographic stops. The natural-looking electronic images that result closely approximate photographic film.

As a bonus, Blinc goes from power-down to image capture in under one-tenth of a second, compared with the up to two seconds that other cameras need to set exposure and capture an image. It provides both still images and 30-frames-per-second video with digital and analog outputs of 640 by 480 pixels.

CMOS: Most digital cameras use a special solid-state sensor called a charge-coupled device (CCD) to acquire images. Blinc’s sensor is based on a proprietary version of the technology that creates most electronic circuits-namely complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS).

“The advantage of CCD is that it has lower visible noise in the image,” Sarnoff spokesman Tom Lento said. “But the CCD route is expensive, it requires different voltages, and you need a lot of processing hardware behind the chip to make a complete camera.”

“What we’ve done is overcome most of the noise problem and added 100 times the dynamic range,” he noted. “And with CMOS we can put camera circuitry right on the chip.”