This is a gigapixel camera. (Photo By Duke University Imaging and Spectroscopy Program)

At glance the above photo look like a computer CPU. But it is actually a supercamera that capable of capturing the smallest details of thing you point it at. Currently it has little use to many of us and cost US$100,000 to produce.

David Brady, an engineer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues are developing the AWARE-2 camera (as the supercamera called) with funding from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

They said the supercamera could have military, commercial and even civilian applications – predicting that handheld gigapixel cameras may one day be possible.

The researchers are also talking to media companies about the technology, which could for example be used to film sports: fans watching gigapixel video of a football game could follow their own interests rather than the camera operator’s.

The challenge, says Michael Cohen, head of the Interactive Visual Media group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, is dealing with the huge amount of data that these cameras will produce.The gigapixel camera that takes ten frames per second will generate ten gigabytes of data every second — too much to store in conventional file formats, post on YouTube or e-mail to a friend.

Not everything in these huge images is worth displaying or even recording, and researchers will have to write software to determine which data are worth storing and displaying, and create better interfaces for viewing and sharing gigapixel images. “The technology for capturing the world is outpacing our ability to deal with the data,” says Nourbakhsh.