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Tech Papers

Open Wide and Say Cameraaaaah!

by Gunnar Jonson, Director - JAI

CCD sensor formats are getting smaller and smaller, shrinking from the traditional ½", via 1/3" to ¼" formats (and even smaller formats such as 1/5" or 1/6" are emerging). Capitalising on this development, the heads of colour remote head cameras can now be integrated into more compact designs at really affordable cost levels. As a result of this, opportunities to use CCD cameras in markets outside the beaten track are becoming obvious and feasible.

The focus of many of these new opportunities rests on applications within medical fields such as dentistry, surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology, endoscopy and other related areas.

If you are well versed in these market areas, you may argue that this is no revolutionary development, as CCD cameras have been present in these markets for a number of years. Granted; but these have mostly been highly specialised and sophisticated systems, thus not representing a true mass market for CCD cameras in this field.

Today, within the field of dentistry this picture is definitely changing. Although you do not yet see intra-oral miniature cameras installed alongside every dentist's chair worldwide, they are definitely becoming an important part of the dentist's set of tools, and will soon be taken for granted. The intra-oral camera helps the dentist to better diagnose the patient, and in doing so makes it possible to document the patient's status in form of a digital image stored within the patient's record on the computer. Another positive effect of the intra oral-camera is that the dentist now has a tool to explain to the patient what treatment is required and most important why it is required. In certain parts of the world, health insurance companies are demanding documentation from an intra-oral camera, as a proof that the sometimes very costly treatment was indeed justified!

Imagine having a surgical procedure documented on videotape, observed from the same viewing angle as the surgeon performing the operation. Medical students could be granted a free view of the procedure without crowding around the operating table. For tele-medicine this would open up new possibilities of performing difficult procedures supervised by expert surgeons from a remote location, cutting down on long travel for already traumatised patients. A head-mounted, lightweight compact CCD camera would make this possible.

With the ozone layers over the poles rapidly thinning, it is an alarming fact that the number of cases of skin cancer are increasing at an alarming rate. This requires a tighter patient screening for melanomas, which when diagnosed at an early stage can be successfully treated. A compact, affordable video microscope would be the ideal diagnosis tool, helping to save thousands of lives.

So how does all of this practically link up to the recent advances in CCD camera technology? Well, JAI, a Danish a long standing manufacturer of high-quality CCD cameras is proposing a line-up of new products that will find their way into the markets described above.

Versatile, DSP-based Remote Head
First in the line-up is a remote head colour camera with novel features, that translate into real benefits for its users. This DSP (digital signal processor)-based camera, known as the CV-M2000 series, features a built in memory, allowing up to four images to be "frozen" and displayed at random. Targeted for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), the specific model known as the CV-M2400 lends itself extremely well to the market of intra-oral cameras. The control unit (also called CCU) is in the form of a single board, with a piggybacked memory module. The head itself is a compact unit comprising the 1/4" CCD sensor and the IR-cut and optical low pass filters (O-LPF). Depending on the light source used, the IR-cut and O-LPF may be omitted, allowing for an even more compact design. Using the latest DSP technologies tailored for colour cameras, the CV-M2000 includes on screen menus for configuring its wide range of user-related image enhancing functions. These include various modes of white balance settings, back-light compensation, automatic gain control, shutter speeds, inverted video (negative/positive conversion). Furthermore, the functions of the camera can be fine tuned via an RS 232C interface, controlled by a user-friendly Windows-based software.

Feature-packed Compact Board Level Camera
Working closely with an OEM company producing intra-oral cameras, JAI was given the challenge to develop a colour CCD camera so small and lightweight, such that the complete electronics would fit inside the handle of the intra-oral camera. This project resulted in a product called the BCV-4000. This product includes the latest of DSP technologies, with the same broad line-up of functions normally only found on much larger, traditional remote head cameras. Using the on board RS 232C serial link interface it becomes child's play to configure the BCV-4000. This allows it to be tailored to the various needs of the different markets it appeals to. The CCD sensor is connected to the electronics via a flex circuit, allowing a multitude of mechanical mounting possibilities.

With its light weight, this camera will be favoured for applications in remote surgery, where the camera, mounted on a headset, is donned by the surgeon performing the procedure. A compact, lightweight video microscope for dermatologist has been proposed based on the BCV-4000. This is expected to become a versatile and easy to use diagnosis tool for the early detection of skin cancer.

What's next?
As in all high-tech electronics fields, the race for smaller, faster and more cost effective is certainly also valid for CCD cameras. These parameters are certainly parameters the development of camera products targeted for the medical and dental markets. In the coming years, JAI for one will certainly be launching solutions that will help improve the vision technologies used in dentistry, surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology, endoscopy and other related areas.

 

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