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Machine Design

Holder lets smartphones take pictures of microscopic images

Edited by Leslie Gordon
[email protected]

Proto Labs

The SkyLight from Tess Bakke and Andy Miller of Oakland, Calif., is a mechanical stage that turns a smartphone into a digital microscope camera. The simple device only has four injection-molded parts. Instead of using leadscrews for movement, the design relies on dovetail elements and friction-fits tuned using material properties of the plastics and tolerances between parts.

The SkyLight solves the problem of capturing and sharing magnified images. Digital microscopes and microscope cameras often cost thousands of dollars but do not have basic cell-phone functions — namely the ability to e-mail, Skype, or otherwise share photographs and videos. It is also a simple way for several people to view the same sample at the same time, which is important for Q&A and teaching purposes.

Because of the expense of current equipment, many low-resource settings (including labs and schools in the U. S.) may not have the capability to photograph microscope images. Also, many people currently attempt to just hold a phone’s camera over the microscope eyepiece, generally with disappointing results.

The patented SkyLight has a tray for holding and positioning a smartphone, and a clamp for securing it to the microscope’s eyepiece. It holds the phone in position over the microscope’s or spotting scope’s eyepiece so the image is then focused on the phone camera and displayed on the screen. There are no optics involved. The image from the scope is merely focused onto the smartphone camera lens instead of onto an eye.

The inventors got the idea while working on global health-related issues. They watched health personnel hold cell phones up to microscope lenses to send pictures. The inventors realized that there is currently a lack of trained personnel to read diagnostic slides in low-resource settings. SkyLights alleviate this by facilitating remote diagnosis.

For the prototype, Skylight used CNC machined prototypes provided by FirstCut, the machining operation of Proto Labs, Maple Plain, Minn., and FDM rapid prototyping. SkyLight subsequently won the Cool Idea! Award from Proto Labs and received free injection-mold tooling for the final parts. Check out the device at

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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