Wraparound camera revealed

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - 21:30
Image: sheet camera changes field of view as it bends [Columbia Computer Vision Laboratory, 2016//Columbia Engineering].
 
US-based researchers have developed a novel camera that can be wrapped around everyday objects to capture images that cannot be taken with one or more conventional cameras.
 
Professor Shree Nayar, from Computer Science, Columbia Engineering, and colleagues designed and fabricated a flexible lens array that adapts its optical properties when the sheet camera is bent.
 
This optical adaptation enables the sheet camera to produce high quality images over a wide range of sheet deformations.
 
"Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space," says 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," he adds.
 
Flexible sheet camera from the Computer Vision Lab at Columbia Engineering
 
The new 'flex-cam' is based on a flexible lens array, made of elastic material, that adapts its optical properties when the sheet camera is bent.
 
Bending an array of rigid lenses would lead to gaps in the images captured.
 
But by using an elastic material for the array, the focal length of each lens is varied with the local curvature of the sheet to avoid this problem.
 
According to the researchers, this inherent optical adaptation of the lens is passive, avoiding the use of complex mechanical or electrical mechanisms to independently control each lens of the array.
 
The researchers have fabricated a prototype lens array using silicone and demonstrated its ability to produce high image quality over a wide range of deformations of the sheet camera.
 
"The adaptive lens array we have developed is an important step towards making the concept of flexible sheet cameras viable," says Nayar. "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," he concludes.
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