The camera you own has one main lens and produces a flat, two-dimensional photograph, whether you hold it in your hand or view it on your computer screen. On the other hand, a camera with two lenses (or two cameras placed apart from each other) can take more interesting 3-D photos.
But what if your digital camera saw the world through thousands of tiny lenses, each a miniature camera unto itself" Youd get a 2-D photo, but youd also get something potentially more valuable: an electronic depth map containing the distance from the camera to every object in the picture, a kind of super 3-D.
Stanford electronics researchers, lead by electrical engineering Professor Abbas El Gamal, are developing such a camera, built around their multi-aperture image sensor. Theyve shrunk the pixels on the sensor to 0.7 microns, several times smaller than pixels in standard digital cameras. Theyve grouped the pixels in arrays of 256 pixels each, and theyre preparing to place a tiny lens atop each array.
Its like having a lot of cameras on a single chip, said Keith Fife, a graduate student working with El Gamal and another electrical engineering professor, H.-S. Philip Wong. In fact, if their prototype 3-megapixel chip had all its micro lenses in place, they would add up to 12,616 cameras.
Point such a camera at someones face, and it would, in addition to taking a photo, precisely record the distances to the subjects eyes, nose, ears, chin, etc. One obvious potential use of the technology: facial recognition for security purposes.
But there are a number of other possibilities for a depth-information camera: biological imaging, 3-D printing, creation of 3-D objects or people to inhabit virtual worlds, or 3-D modeling of buildings.
The technology is expected to produce a photo in which almost everything, near or far, is in focus. But it would be possible to selectively defocus parts of the photo after the fact, using editing so
|Contact: Abbas El Gamal|