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Scientists Develop a Lensless Camera That Uses a Glass Window Instead


Scientists have created a new lensless camera that can capture photos using a standard pane of window glass.

University of Utah electrical and computer engineers detailed their breakthrough in a new research paper titled “Computational Imaging Enables a ‘See-Through’ Lensless Camera,” which has been published in the latest issue of Optics Express.

The scientists say their goal was to develop a camera that creates photos optimized for machines to look at, rather than humans.

When an ordinary digital camera sensor is pointed at an object without a lens focusing light, the resulting photo looks like an undecipherable mess of colors. But that blob of pixel data actually still has enough information for computers to understand — you just need to train an AI system in “decoding” that blob to recover what the scene looked like.

Professor Rajesh Menon and his team displayed patterns on an LED light board and placed a plexiglass window in front of it. An off-the-shelf camera sensor was then placed at the side of the plexiglass (which has reflective tape wrapped around it), “staring” straight into the edge of the pane at a 90-degree angle.

While most of light from the LED panel passes right through the glass, roughly 1% of it scatters through the window and into the sensor. That’s enough data for the computer to decode.

The sensor was able to blurry CMOS images that could then be turned into low-resolution photos of the LED pattern. In addition to color photos, the camera can also capture full-motion video.

In the future, using more powerful sensors may be able to produce higher-resolution photos.

“Applications for a lensless camera can be almost unlimited,” the University of Utah writes. “Security cameras could be built into a home during construction by using the windows as lenses.”

Menon and his team are currently working on improving the system to shoot higher-resolution photos of objects using standard household lighting.