Ultra-thin dental camera inspired by insect eye structure

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Conventional dental photography technology has had a limitation in the use of impractical tools such as mirrors and cheek retractors. Dentists need basic images of teeth from different angles such as right/left oral and maxillary/mandibular bite for dental health inspection. To acquire these images, the patients feel uncomfortable because the dentists have to put a mirror in the mouth to capture the reflected image of the teeth through a handheld camera. Information such as the arrangement of teeth and the location of tooth decay can be obtained through this process. A compact intraoral dental camera can overcome the discomfort and scan the condition of the teeth. However, due to the restricted depth of field and field of view, the conventional device has limitations in close-up imaging to observe tooth decay in detail and in wide-angle imaging to capture the entire tooth arrangement.

Various species of compound insect eyes have superior visual characteristics, such as a wide viewing angle and great depth of field with compact visual organs consisting of tiny lenses. Insect eyes inspire miniaturized cameras, and insect-inspired cameras can solve the problems of conventional compact cameras, such as limited observation range. However, previously developed insect cameras have drawbacks in terms of low resolution or limited functions.

As reported in the Journal of Optical Microsystems, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the Korea Photonics Technology Institute recently developed a novel wide-angle insect eye camera, the Biologically Inspired Intraoral Camera ( BIOC), for a variety of functional imaging. Using the device, a variety of functional imaging has been demonstrated to meet clinical needs.

The BIOC involves a novel configuration of convex-concave lenses and inverted microlens arrays (iMLA) and a single CMOS image sensor on a flexible printed circuit board in a handpiece holder. The convex-concave lens dramatically increases field of view up to 143 degrees, and iMLAs reduce optical aberration by scaling. Additionally, the new camera overcomes many of the chronic problems of conventional intraoral cameras, such as limited depth of field, thick overall track length, and limited functional imaging. In detail, the ultra-thin dental camera can solve discomfort states thanks to its thinness and observe teeth even in anatomically narrow regions. In addition, clear dental imaging is achieved without image blurring by emulating the insect vision feature of infinite depth of field, even at close object distance. The BIOC offers multi-functional dental imaging, such as high dynamic range, 3D depth and autofluorescence imaging, through the multi-channel vision system.

The authors hope that the new wide-angle insect eye camera will not only contribute to technical advancements in biomedical engineering companies, but also have significant impacts on vision applications as diverse as surveillance, smartphones and drones. They anticipate continued expansion of applications in the future.

Read the Gold Open Access article by K. Kim et al., “Biologically Inspired Intraoral Camera for Multifunctional Dental Imaging”, J. Opt. Microsystems 2(3) 031202 (2022), doi 10.1117/1.JOM.2.3.031202.

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