By integrating sensors into a plastic fiber, researchers make a large, flexible camera.
Textiles and the fibers that compose them are experiencing a sort of high-tech renaissance lately. Researchers are finding ways to turn silk into sensors by adding biological molecules to it, and turn cotton sheets into electronic fabric by bathing them in a solution of nanotubes. The idea is to use the electronic textiles, which are flexible and can be worn comfortably, to sense such things as the blood of a soldier or pathogens circulating in the air.
Now researchers at MIT have integrated a collection of light sensors into polymer fibers, creating a new type of camera. Yoel Fink, a professor of materials sciences and engineering and the lead researcher on the project, notes that a standard camera requires lenses that are usually rigid and heavy. A camera made from fibers, however, could be lightweight, robust, and even foldable. Although Fink admits that the applications aren't yet well defined, he suggests that such a fiber-based camera could be used in a large foldable telescope or integrated into soldiers' uniforms. [...]
In the researchers' most recent work, they integrate eight sensors into a polymer fiber--more than ever before. In order to make the camera, the researchers integrated the eight semiconducting light sensors into a polymer cylinder with a diameter of 25 millimeters, controlling the sensor's spacing and angle within the fiber. Once the sensors, made of a type of semiconducting glass, were in position, the polymer cylinder was heated and then stretched so that the diameter shrank the diameter of hundreds of micrometers--a process that is identical to the way in which commercial fiber is made for telecommunication applications--retaining the orientation of the sensors." [More]