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No Lens? No Problem For Flatcam

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FlatCams may find use in security or disaster-relief applications and as flexible, foldable, wearable, and even disposable cameras.

FlatCam, thinner than a dime, shows promise to turn flat, curved, or flexible surfaces into cameras.

Credit: Jeff Fitlow

Rice University researchers Richard Baraniuk and Ashok Veeraraghavan have developed FlatCam, a thin sensor chip with a mask that replaces lenses in a traditional camera.

FlatCam is equipped with algorithms that process what the sensor detects and converts the sensor measurements into images and videos.

Veeraraghavan says FlatCams can be fabricated like microchips, with the precision, speed, and the associated reduction in costs. "Our design decouples the two parameters, providing the ability to utilize the enhanced light-collection abilities of large sensors with a really thin device," Veeraraghavan notes.

The researchers say FlatCams could be applied to security or disaster-relief applications, as well as to flexible, foldable, wearable, and disposable cameras.

The hand-built prototypes use off-the-shelf sensors and produce 512-by-512 images in seconds, but the researchers think the resolution will improve as more advanced manufacturing techniques and reconstruction algorithms are developed. "Smartphones already feature pretty powerful computers, so we can easily imagine computing at least a low-resolution preview in real time," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Aswin Sankaranarayanan.

From Rice University
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