Security cameras are a fair bit limited by a fixed point of view, or if on a swivel a range of view, but researchers at Columbia University are working on cameras, that like wallpaper, could essentially wrap around a corner and with that be quite hidden. While a security camera in its own right is nice, the ability to hide a camera is certainly increased by a camera that looks nothing like a camera.
Wallpaper cameras and potential uses
To call it a camera might be a bit of misnomer, it’s closer to the human eye. While still a prototype, the researchers believe that they are making real progress with “wallpaper cameras” that could re-imagine how we think of capturing an image or motion.
“We are exploring ways to capture visual information in unconventional ways,” said Shree Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia. “If you could spread a camera out like paper or cloth, with similar material properties as fabric or paper so you could wrap it around objects or car or a pole.”
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Beyond its potential to view an image taken by one side of the camera remotely, Mr. Nayar envisions a day where a display could be put on the other side of this credit card-sized lens that can bend around a corner.
While a sheet-shaped imaging device is not in and of itself new, the component and sensors required to make it image properly were far to rigid and lacked the flexibility to bend them. One of the primary things lost by the bending of the imaging device was the “patch’s” ability to capture the light necessary for a clear image.
Nayar’s team worked around this problem by crafting their sheet camera beginning with an aluminum mold. From there the team poured a silicone rubber, essentially in, the mold and oven-baked it before trying to remove it from the mold. Following that surprisingly fast process, the team then attached a plastic sheet from which they had added a grid of apertures that bend based on the focal length required or desired.
This undersampling or missing information produces bizarre artifacts,” said Nayer. “You see things that were not there in the first place.”
You won’t be needing these sheets for selfies, but sometimes the rear camera on your phone just wont do the job.
“Our optics can be combined with a flexible sensor array to obtain a complete sheet camera,” the researchers said.
Curved sensor and cameras are the future?
If you’re listening to Nayar, the answer is a resounding yes.
“Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space,” Nayar told TechXplore. “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.”
Essentially, the team at the Computer Vision Laboratory, have created something that could one day take a spot in your wallet next to your American Express card so you “don’t leave home without it.”
Granted cameras have gotten so advanced in our phones that it’s rare we wouldn’t have one, it does still happen occasionally.
Surely, I’m not the only one that has driven three miles from my house only to turn around in heavy traffic to make sure we weren’t without our life…er, phone.