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Camera pill offers view from the inside

Eat MagnaChip Semiconductor's camera and get 50,000 pictures of your intestinal tract.

Kodak pioneered point-and-shoot. Now, MagnaChip Semiconductor wants to help popularize swallow-and-shoot.

The South Korean semiconductor manufacturer has announced an image sensor for pill-size cameras that doctors can use to obtain accurate information about a patient's digestive tract. The image sensor can take up to 50,000 photographs in an eight-hour tour of the patient's insides by taking two pictures a second, according to the company.

Mass production will begin in the second half of 2005.

The camera pill originated with Israel's Given Imaging. The idea is that a tiny, swallowed camera can capture much more accurate images than external MRI machines, and therefore can detect diseases such as cancer at an earlier stage.

"Yes, it is disposable," National Semiconductor CEO Brian Halla said, showing off Given's PillCam in 2002. The photos get relayed wirelessly to a hard drive on the patient's belt. National makes the chip used in Given's device.

The MagnaChip sensor is particularly tuned to work in low-light conditions "as required, for example, in small-bowel analysis," the company said. The chip is made using standard silicon processes, which is becoming more common in the image sensor market because it cuts costs. MagnaChip is mostly known for producing sensors for camera phones.