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Flexible camera could change the way we take photos

Published: 14th April, 2016 at 00:00
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New lens technology means cameras could once day be as thin as a credit card – and flexible.

Cameras are great, but they haven’t really changed that much over the last 100 years – you’re still limited shooting whatever is in front of you. But this wobbling piece of silicone is in fact a new kind of camera lens that can be wrapped around things, radically broadening its point of view.


Ok, so this camera technology doesn’t seem to be as pocketable or pretty as smartphones made by Apple or Samsung, but the A4-sized sheet of silicone, which computer scientists from the Columbia University School of Engineering will present at the International Conference on Computational Photography in May, could turn the world of photography upside down (or around).

Why silicone?

The silicone is just a flexible layer that is covered with optical lenses, which detect light and combine to show an image of the environment. By attaching them to a silicone sheet the lens array becomes flexible and overcomes a major difficulty; if they don’t change their focal lengths when the sheet is bent, gaps appear between the signal from the lens and the picture is blurred.

The silicone sheet allows specially adapted lenses to change their focal lengths automatically when the sheet is bent, meaning the image is able to stay in focus.

Will I have to carry a sheet of silicone in my pocket?

The team want to make the cameras more attractive and produce them like rolls of plastic or in the shape of credit cards. Then they can be used to wrap around things in everyday life, like lampposts or cars, to get a 360° view of the environment.

"Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space," says project leader Shree K. Nayar. "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."

Cameras in bite-sized pieces like cling film, wouldn’t that be a real revolution in photography?


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