Columbia University engineers have developed flexible lens array that could be used to create a thin and flexible sheet camera. Their prototype adapts its optical properties when the sheet is bent, so it produces high quality images even when it is deformed. Shree K. Nayar, who led the research, says:
Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space. 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.
A sheet camera could be applied to objects to provide new methods for recording images. The military could use it on helmets or uniforms to record a soldier’s view of the battlefield, or the researchers suggest it could be wrapped around street lamps to take 360 degree images of public places. It could also be integrated into a car to provide better situational awareness for collision avoidance systems. Certainly, it could make some interesting consumer electronics.
The new flexible camera works because it has a flexible detector array and a thin optical system that projects a high quality image on the array. Navar explains:
The adaptive lens array we have developed is an important step towards making the concept of flexible sheet cameras viable. 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.
The researchers will present their work at the International Conference on Computational Photography (ICCP) at Northwestern University in May.