A Flexible Camera: A Radically different Aproach to Imaging

A Flexible Camera: A Radically different Aproach to Imaging

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A team from Columbia University led by Shree K. Nayar, developed a flexible camera that can be wrapped around objects and capture pictures that a conventional camera cannot.

The Columbia team, including research engineer Daniel Sims and postdoctoral researcher Yonghao Yue, designed and developed a flexible camera that adapts its optical view when the camera is deformed, keeping the image from becoming distorted. The optical adaptation allows the camera to produce high-quality images in a wide angle of focus.

Concept of the camera [Image Source: Columbia Engineering]

“Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space,”

explains Nayar.

“While the camera industry has made remarkable progress in shrinking the camera to a tiny device with ever increasing imaging quality, we are exploring a radically different approach to imaging. We believe there are numerous applications for cameras that are large in format but very thin and highly flexible.”

The camera could see action with all kinds of uses, from security cameras, car navigation systems, or even people’s clothing, which will capture wide, seamless images with incredible fields of view.

A previous idea on how to make a flexible camera included integrating ridged camera lenses with fixed focal lengths to a silicon or other flexible substrate. However, a system like this would cause gaps in between the fields of views between cameras, resulting in captured image to have missing information, becoming distorted, or appear “aliased.”

The Columbia Engineering team combated this issue by designing a camera that uses an adaptive lens array constructed out of elastic materials allowing each individual focal length to vary its aperture with the local curvature in a way that it almost eliminates the aliasing in the captured images.

The team developed their adaptive lens by designing an adjustable aperture that can change the field of view. The team successfully fabricated their prototype out of silicon and proved its ability to produce a high-resolution image even with deforming the device. The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research and conducted in  Nayar’s Computer Vision Laboratory.

“The adaptive lens array we have developed is an important step towards making the concept of flexible sheet cameras viable,” Nayar says. “The next step will be to develop large-format detector arrays to go with the deformable lens array. The amalgamation of the two technologies will lay the foundation for a new class of cameras that expand the range of applications that benefit from imaging.”