This Panasonic camera sensor can read your mind!

This Panasonic camera sensor can read your mind!
(Image credit: Nature Research)

As recent reports and financial statements from the likes of Olympus and Fujifilm have reminded us, camera manufacturers don't just produce tools for photography; their imaging specialism makes them pioneers in the field of medical technology (indeed, this is the core of Olympus' business, with the camera division serving to some extent as an R&D team for optical endeavors). 

And so it is that Panasonic technology is the brain behind a new brain-reading camera that's set to revolutionize neuroscience. The SLICE camera (separated-light contactless extraction) can directly acquire brain functional images using ordinary nanosecond laser diodes and a Panasonic compact camera sensor without an image intensifier or physical probes being attached.

In layman's terms, that means it can record functional brain imaging using a non-contact, cost-effective and compact setup, as opposed to the expensive, bulky and inefficient imaging traditional brain imaging tools. 

According to the paper, Non-contact acquisition of brain function using a time-extracted compact camera, published on Nature Research (hat tip to 43 Rumors), traditional optical imaging techniques (such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) equipment or high-density diffuse optical tomography (HD-DOT)) are costly and can only acquire a limited number of images over a small surface area.

We're too dumb to understand them, but here are some diagrams for the brain-reading SLICE camera

We're too dumb to understand them, but here are some diagrams for the brain-reading SLICE camera (Image credit: Nature Research)

"In this study, we demonstrate functional brain imaging using a compact and affordable setup that employs nanosecond-order pulsed ordinary laser diodes and a time-extracted image sensor with superimposition capture of scattered components. Our technique can simply and easily attain a high density of measurement points without requiring probes to be attached, and can directly capture two-dimensional functional brain images." 

The SLICE camera employs image sensor-based capture to record two-dimensional distribution of brain blood flow, without requiring contact with the subject. It comprises a pair of 750-nm laser diode made by Sharp, along with a pair of 855-nm laser diodes manufactured by JDSU. 

These emit nanosecond square-pulsed light, which is read by what seems to be a time of flight image sensor from Panasonic with an 11-ns shutter time-window for detecting near-infrared light.

We'd be lying if we said that we understood the science behind the whole thing, though if you have a freshly brewed cup of coffee and 20 minutes to sit down and digest it, the paper makes for fascinating reading. 

The tragedy, of course, is that Panasonic has just announced the sale of its semiconductor unit. The company will sell its sensor business to Taiwan’s Nuvoton Technology Corp for $250 million (£191 million / AU$364 million), so future development of this and other medical technology will be done without its involvement. 

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.