Lensless camera by Bell Labs: Future of always-in-focus cameras

A camera that never goes out of focus has been impossible to make because the existing imaging methods rely on lens for the last one and a half centuries. This may change as a team from Bell Laboratories invented a lensless camera.

The proposed lensless camera was presented through the paper titled "Lensless Imaging by Compressive Sensing" by a team of experts led by Gang Huang, an electrical engineer from the University of Iowa and British Columbia and now working at Bell Labs.

"The architecture consists of two components, an aperture assembly and a sensor. No lens is used. The aperture assembly consists of a two dimensional array of aperture elements. The transmittance of each aperture element is independently controllable. The sensor is a single detection element," the abstract of the study explained.

The device makes use of compressive sensing that utilizes common measurements to capture data and reassemble them to make a whole image using construction algorithms. This is in contrast with the current techniques that have a lot of redundancy of measurements.

The team from Bell Labs claimed that they used commercially available parts such as a computer, a transparent LCD panel, and an affordable image sensor to build the prototype of the lensless camera. The LCD panel is placed in front of the imaging sensor and the sensor re-assembles the image using the data it receives passes through the apertures of the pane.

Compressive sensing involves a good amount of math to process the data and reassemble the snapshots into one whole image as the original. This revolutionary technique frames a snapshot of what the future of photography will be.

"The architecture can be used for capturing images of visible and other spectra such as infrared, or millimeter waves, in surveillance applications for detecting anomalies or extracting features such as speed of moving objects," the study stated.

According to MIT Technology Review, the lensless camera has several advantages over the traditional cameras in the market today. One, the scenes are always in focus since the camera uses no lens and only a very small amount of data is needed for the images. Two, it can use multiple sensors behind the aperture to create multiple images.

The only disadvantage while in development is that the lensless camera can only take static images because of the processing needed to compare the data it gets from the aperture.

The work of Bell Labs, given some time to be developed, may lead to smaller and cheaper cameras in the future.

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