Skin cancer is an extremely common and potentially dangerous condition which can affect almost anyone. However, certain risk factors can make developing the disease more likely: a person with more than 50 moles, for example, has a significantly higher chance of developing melanoma, the most aggressive form of the cancer. Fortunately, skin cancer is highly treatable if detected early, which is why dermatologists typically recommend that patients perform regular self-examinations and also receive professional skin maps to detect any threatening changes. Now, an innovative technology is being adapted to make this process more effective: a high-speed camera used for monitoring vegetation from space is being adjusted to examine changes in human skin cells.
The Proba-V camera was originally designed to operate from space: developed for the European Space Agency (ESA) by the Belgian company Xenics, the small satellite has a unique, wide field of view that allows the camera to develop a fresh image of the entire planet’s flora every two days. The camera also uses the shortwave infrared range to see light humans cannot, allowing it to detect otherwise invisible changes in vegetation and more.
Prova-B’s fresh maps can be used to monitor rain forests in South America or predict crop yields in Africa. However, the Xenics team is now investigating further commercial applications for their device. One such use, called “Machine Vision,” would install Prova-B’s infrared cameras on assembly lines, where they would be used to detect hidden defects invisible to the naked eye in spite of the speed of production. This is made possible by Xenics’ 3072-pixel line sensor, which rapidly builds a complete picture one line at a time. This technology has also been shown to improve solar cells production by identifying any inefficient areas that appear when the panels absorb light.
But the most exciting application of the Prova-B camera is its potential use as a medical device: mounted on a standard medical scanner, the camera can look deeper into human tissues, detecting skin diseases earlier. While medical scanners have been used to create detailed images of living tissue for 20 years, this new device’s infrared sensors and speed mean that it can see deeper and therefore better diagnose conditions affecting the skin, which could greatly increase successful diagnosis and treatment rates.
The Xenics team has stated that it could take a few years to adapt the sensor to diagnose skin diseases, especially at earlier stages. However, they say the many uses of the specially designed camera could put the company and the device at the forefront of the world’s linear shortwave infrared sensor technology.