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Revolutionary ‘flat’ camera could make your next phone as thin as a credit card

Lens-less camera is built similarly to a microchip and thinner than a dime
Computer algorithms convert measurements into images and videos
Prototype produces 512-by-512 images, and resolution will soon increase

Researchers in Texas have developed a camera small enough to fit inside of a credit card which doesn’t require a lens.
In doing away with the lens, the FlatCam prototype paves the way for a future of cameras that are more flexible than traditional ones, giving it the potential for use in security and disaster-relief.
The camera was invented by electrical and computer engineers Richard Baraniuk and Ashok Veeraraghavan, and is thinner than a dime.

2EBD056100000578-3330784-image-a-19_1448303809653

Researchers in Texas have developed a camera small enough to fit inside of a credit card, and doesn’t require a lens. In doing away with the lens, the FlatCam prototype paves the way for a future of cameras that are more flexible than traditional ones, giving it the potential for use in security and disaster-relief

Developed out of the Rice University labs, the tiny camera consists of a sensor chip with a grid-like coded mask, which allows different channels of light to reach the sensor, according to Rice News.
FlatCam is similar to a microchip, and uses computer algorithms to process what is detected by the sensor, which then convert measurements into images and videos.
‘As traditional cameras get smaller, their sensors also get smaller, and this means they collect very little light,’ says Veeraraghavan, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice.
‘The low-light performance of a camera is tied to the surface area of the sensor. Unfortunately, since all camera designs are basically cubes, surface area is tied to thickness.’
‘Our design decouples the two parameters, providing the ability to utilize the enhanced light-collision abilities of large sensors with a really thin device.’

The FlatCam could eventually be made into foldable, wearable and even disposable cameras, but the team says photographers are more likely to stay with lens-based systems.
Still, the developers say their camera will be a necessary step in other applications.

2EBD056700000578-3330784-image-a-20_1448303817144The tiny camera consists of a sensor chip with a grid-like coded mask, which allows different channels of light to reach the sensor. FlatCam is similar to a microchip, and uses computer algorithms to process what is detected by the sensor, which then convert measurements into images and videos

‘Moving from a cube design to just a surface without sacrificing performance opens up so many possibilities,’ says Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer engineering.
‘We can make curved cameras, or wallpaper that’s actually a camera. You can have a camera on your credit card or a camera in an ultrathin tablet computer.’

The sensor sends the raw data to a desktop computer, and the picture can be focused to different depths.
The prototype produces 512-by-512 images, a resolution which the researchers are hoping to increase as development continues.
The prototypes do not have viewfinders, but if necessary, researchers say a cellphone screen could one day do the job.
‘Smart phones already feature pretty powerful computers, so we can easily imagine computing at least a low-resolution preview in real time,’ says co-author Aswin Sankaranarayanan, Rice alumnus and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
The paper is led by Rice postdoctoral researcher Salman Asif, and co-authored by Sankaranarayanan and Rice graduate student Ali Ayremlou.



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