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No lens? No problem for FlatCam

Dec 08, 2015

FlatCam, invented by the Rice labs of electrical and computer engineers Richard Baraniuk and Ashok Veeraraghavan, is little more than a thin sensor chip with a mask that replaces lenses in a traditional camera.  Making it practical are the sophisticated computer algorithms that process what the sensor detects and converts the sensor measurements into images and videos.  The research team will deliver a talk about its work at the Extreme Imaging Workshop Dec. 17 in Santiago, Chile, and have published a paper available via the online service ArXiv.

Traditional cameras are shrinking, driven by their widespread adoption in smartphones. But they all require lenses – and the post-fabrication assembly required to integrate lenses into cameras raises their cost, according to the researchers.

FlatCam does away with those issues in a camera that is also thin and flexible enough for applications that traditional devices cannot serve. FlatCams can be fabricated like microchips, with the precision, speed and the associated reduction in costs, Veeraraghavan said. Without lenses, he said, the most recent prototype is thinner than a dime.

FlatCam shares its heritage with lens-less pinhole cameras, but instead of a single hole, it features a grid-like coded mask positioned very close to the sensor. Each aperture allows a slightly different set of light data to reach the sensor. Raw data sent to the back-end processor – for now, a desktop computer – is sorted into an image. Like much larger light field cameras, the picture can be focused to different depths after the data is collected.