Micro cameras flex their way into the future of imaging

Sep 20, 2013 by Scott Gordon

Imagine sticking a thin sheet of microscopic cameras to the surface of a car to provide a rear-view image, or wrapping that sheet around a pole to provide 360-degree surveillance of an intersection under construction.

A thin sheet of micro-cameras could fit where bulkier cameras cannot—and many small cameras working together could even rival high-end cameras' , according to two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

Hongrui Jiang, the Vilas Distinguished Achievement professor of electrical and , and Li Zhang, an assistant professor of computer science at UW-Madison, have received a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to develop smart micro- arrays mounted on thin, sheets.

Jiang and Zhang will focus not simply on making these cameras small and higher-quality, but also on developing algorithms that allow the cameras to change direction and focus both individually and collectively.

Like so many complex technological problems, this one comes down to making different disciplines work together.

"You can develop cameras and take whatever algorithm is available, or develop algorithms and try to optimize whatever camera is available," Jiang says. "We want to tackle the problem from both ends and optimize not just one component, but the whole system."

The polymer sheets, combined with the micro-cameras, will measure less than a centimeter thick. Whereas a traditional must be bigger and bulkier to capture more light and increase its image quality, Jiang and Zhang propose to improve their image quality through a sort of "collective aperture" of many micro-cameras.

"The cameras can also coordinate to capture the whole scene," Jiang says. "The algorithm will decide what the cameras look at and the cameras' focus plane. We're not just talking about the image processing itself. We're also talking about the control of the camera array."

Zhang's focus is on figuring out how to control the orientation of the cameras. By manipulating them through computation, he hopes to maximize the collective potential of small cameras that would be rather weak on their own.

"These small cameras can't have components like zoom lenses, but if I control them to aim at a specific thing, we can use computation plus the individual camera movements in a way that emulates zooming," Zhang says.

He says the arrays ultimately could do things that conventional cameras can't do at all—for example, focusing simultaneously on different objects at different distances. That's because the image data the camera array captures contains 3D depth information, which can make otherwise fragile image-recognition algorithms more powerful.

The cameras could work well in environments that often are cramped—for instance, thin video cameras attached to a vehicle or installed in a medical treatment setting.

"Space is always going to be an issue," Jiang says. "You can't always afford to mount a huge camera in a given room."

The researchers aim to make the design more cost-effective than existing camera technology, because it is cheap to mass-produce small cameras. And by making high-quality imaging possible in tight spaces, Jiang and Zhang may create a whole host of new uses for cameras.

Explore further: In United States, drones take off as Christmas gifts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Proba-2 eye-to-eye with Typhoon Soulik

Jul 18, 2013

The swirling eye of Typhoon Soulik as it approached Taiwan last Friday is caught by a tiny espresso cup-sized camera on one of ESA's smallest satellites, Proba-2.

Making surveillance cameras more efficient

Mar 05, 2012

A University of California, Riverside professor has recently co-authored a book about his surveillance camera research that has applications in everything from homeland security, environmental monitoring and home monitoring.

Smaller pixels, smaller thermal cameras for warfighters

Apr 17, 2013

The military uses long-wave infrared (LWIR) cameras as thermal imagers to detect humans at night. These cameras are usually mounted on vehicles as they are too large to be carried by a single warfighter and ...

Sales of web-ready digital cameras up in Asia

Apr 04, 2013

Sales of digital cameras that enable users to immediately post pictures on the web have risen sharply in Asia despite stiff competition from smartphones, an industry survey showed Thursday.

Recommended for you

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

16 hours ago

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

Fully automated: Thousands of blood samples every hour

Dec 19, 2014

Siemens is supplying automation technology for the longest and one of the most cutting-edge sample processing lines in any clinical laboratory. The line, or automation track, 200 meters long, in Marlborough, ...

Explainer: What is 4-D printing?

Dec 19, 2014

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is 30 years old this year. Today, it's found not just in industry but in households, as the price of 3D printers has fallen below US$1,000. Knowing you can p ...

First series production vehicle with software control

Dec 19, 2014

Siemens has unveiled the first electric series production vehicle with the central electronics and software architecture RACE. This technology, developed in the research project of the same name, replaces ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.