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Digital camera chips developed

Sarnoff, the renowned research firm once affiliated with RCA, has developed chip technology for building low-cost digital cameras.

Sarnoff Corporation, the renowned research firm once affiliated with RCA, has developed chip technology for building low-cost digital cameras, following on the heels of chip giant Intel.

The Sarnoff "camera on a chip" is an image sensor based on a widely used, low-cost semiconductor technology known as CMOS, or complementary metal oxide semiconductor. CMOS is a basic chip structure used for many processors, including Intel's Pentium and Pentium II chips and memory chips made by Japanese and Korean vendors.

Sarnoff says the CMOS technique could make the digital camera as inexpensive as a computer mouse, and possibly just as common. (A computer mouse typically sells for under $100.) The technology is targeted at digital still cameras and PC-based video cameras.

The CMOS-based sensor is more sensitive than conventional digital camera technology offering better images, according to Sarnoff. To date, charge coupled devices (CCD) have been the standard way to capture images.

The chips themselves will sell for as little as $6 to $10.

Sarnoff will license the technology to camera makers. The company has already approved two foundries to make the chip.

In a related development, Intel said in November that it will offer chips and software for digital cameras to manufacturers, which could lead to relatively inexpensive PC-compatible digital cameras by next summer.

Intel's camera kit will allow manufacturers to create digital cameras that can be used as ordinary photographic equipment, or as a device for capturing video when attached to a PC. These cameras are expected to be in the $300 price range.