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Lens-Free Camera Sees Things Differently

By Technology Review

March 31, 2014

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Researchers are developing a system in which a curved camera lens is replaced with a tiny sensor that uses a spiral shape to map light and relies on a computer to determine what the resulting image should look like.

Gordon Wetzstein, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab's Camera Culture Group, is optimistic about the technology, but is unsure about how well it will work. "Other than pixels getting smaller, we haven't really seen much progress in camera sensors for a while," Wetzstein notes.

A prototype of the system has been used to capture several images, including the Mona Lisa and depictions of John Lennon and Georges Seurat's "Bathers at Asnieres."

The system uses a grating etched with a spiral pattern through which light can enter from every angle. The sensor captures a group of spirals that a human would not see as recognizable things, and software translates them into a recognizable image. In addition, algorithms let users ask the computer to produce images at various resolutions, notes Rambus researcher Patrick Gill.

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