Cameras Could Go Flashless Thanks To Graphene

It’s time for the digital camera to evolve.

The digital camera has improved in many ways over the past decade with faster shutter speeds, higher megapixels and smarter processing technology. But a small problem remains: we still need a flash to shoot anything in low light. Smartphone cameras, which are the most popular way to take pictures in 2013, rely on flashes that make images look washed out and cause glitches like “red eye.”

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore want to take the flash out of the equation. They’re developing a new sensor that uses both natural and infrared light to capture an image without the use of a flash, reports The sensor is built from graphene, a durable material that’s microscopic in thickness.

How Does It Work?

Created by Wang Qijie, NTU professor, graphene allows a camera sensor to capture an image using “light-trapping nanostructures.” Traditional sensors hold onto light for a limited amount of time until the image is captured. When ample light is scarce, the sensor can’t put together a quality imagine during the time it’s able to hold light particles. This is where the flash comes in to give the sensor an extra source of light. The new graphene sensors hold onto the light particles longer, giving the camera a chance to compile a better image. The result gives photographers sharper pictures, even when taken in low light.

This is great news for smaller consumer cameras, like an iPhone or point-and-shoot, not just for image quality but also for battery life. The less a camera needs a flash, the more pictures it can take without draining the battery.

Model of graphene structure

Model of graphene structure by CORE-Materials via Flickr

What’s Next?

The potential battery life added to cameras by graphene sensors creates opportunity for wearable technology. Google Glass, the highly anticipated digital glasses, will include a built-in camera that shoots pictures and records video on the go, but BGR reports that it will likely launch with terrible battery life. The potential for graphene in a next-generation model could improve battery life and place Glass alongside smartphones as a popular camera option.

A few other applications using graphene could indirectly improve cameras too. The thin carbon structure can be used for transparent displays, which could even replace the glass commonly used for touch screens on smartphones and cameras. That means less screen cracks when your device is dropped.

So Why Isn’t Graphene Everywhere?

A few barriers restrict graphene from widespread popularity. Compared to materials like silicone, it’s still in early development stages and difficult to produce on a mass level. According to Gigaom, graphene development might be too late for some targeted uses too. Materials like carbon fiber could be built with graphene, but they already use carbon and graphite, two cheap materials that are easy to mass produce.

Still, it’s too soon to see graphene’s complete future. If it can offer a camera that really takes quality photos without the use of the flash, it certainly has a good place to start.