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Researchers have demonstrated that deep learning, a powerful form of artificial intelligence, can discern and enhance microscopic details in photos taken by smartphones. The technique improves the resolution and color details of smartphone images so much that they approach the quality of images from laboratory-grade microscopes. Cameras on today’s smartphones are designed to photograph people and scenery, not to produce high-resolution microscopic images. So the researchers developed an attachment that can be placed over the smartphone lens to increase the resolution and the visibility of tiny details of the images they take, down to a scale of approximately one millionth of a meter. But that only solved part of the challenge, because no attachment would be enough to compensate for the difference in quality between smartphone cameras’ image sensors and lenses and those of high-end lab equipment. The new technique compensates for the difference by using artificial intelligence to reproduce the level of resolution and color details needed for a laboratory analysis. The attachments can be inexpensively produced with a 3-D printer at less than $ 100 a piece versus the thousands of dollars it would cost to buy laboratory-grade equipment that produces images of similar quality. The advance could help bring high-quality medical diagnostics into resource-poor regions, where people otherwise do not have access to high-end diagnostic technologies.

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