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Engineers Design a Sheet Camera that Changes Field of View as it Bends



In the latest installment of “crazy photography innovation to cross our desks,” let us introduce you to the “sheet camera” by the engineers at Columbia University. This flexible camera array lets you change field of view by simply bending it.

Curved sensors aren’t a new idea, but this isn’t a curved sensor or even a flexible sensor, it’s a fully self-contained flexible camera. Developed by a team at Columbia Engineering led by professor Shree K. Nayar, the camera is a departure from the standard way we capture images.

“Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space,” Nayar tells TechXplore. “While the camera industry has made remarkable progress in shrinking the camera to a tiny device with ever increasing imaging quality, we are exploring a radically different approach to imaging. We believe there are numerous applications for cameras that are large in format but very thin and highly flexible.”

As explained in the video above, the magic behind the technology is the elastic lens array that compresses as the camera bends. If a standard lens array is used, you get holes between what each lens in the array is capturing when the sheet bends:


But the elastic lens array compresses as the sheet bends, changing the array’s focal length. In this way, it captures all the information—no gaps:


The uses for a camera like this are many. It could be wrapped around an object of any shape (like a car or a light pole) to capture the scene around it with no blind spots. But most exciting for photographers is the potential for credit card-sized cameras like the one in the concept video.

You think smartphones are thin? Just wait until you can carry a camera in your wallet… right next to your VISA.