Could lensless cameras be the future?

Converts light signals into images by delaying the way that light is captured on the chip. Pics/Caltech
Converts light signals into images by delaying the way that light is captured on the chip. Pics/Caltech

Scientists have developed a new camera design that substitutes an array of light receivers for a lens, making cameras thin, light, cheap and flexible. Traditional cameras cannot be truly flat due to their optics: lenses that require a certain shape and size to function.

The ultra-thin optical phased array (OPA) does computationally what lenses do using large pieces of glass: it manipulates incoming light to capture an image. Lenses have a curve that bends the path of incoming light and focuses it onto a film or an image sensor.

The tiny device
The tiny device

The OPA has a large array of light receivers, each of which can individually add a tightly controlled time delay to the light it receives, enabling the camera to selectively look in different directions and focus on different things.

"We have created a single thin layer of integrated silicon photonics that emulates the lens and sensor of a digital camera, reducing the thickness and cost of cameras. It can mimic a regular lens, but can switch from a fish-eye to a telephoto lens instantly," Ali Hajimiri, Professor at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said.

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