Sunday, January 23, 2011

Scientists develop flexible sensor to allow simple zoom

Scientists have built a successful digital camera that can be bent to focus an image, allowing with a simple single element lens. Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois created a matrix of 16 x 16 pixels on an elastomeric support that can be distorted to fire correctly the image from a simple lens. In a book published In proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), combines this with a single element, tunable lens for providing a very simple camera with lens capable of zooming. The technology could eventually provide "studio quality" images from cell phone cameras, one of the lead researchers says.

Currently, the design and construction of the lens is greatly complicated by the need to project an image flat surface the surface usually a sensor-simple, single element lens image project non-flat surfaces (so-called Petzval surface). With this last work, scientists have successfully demonstrated the ability to adjust their sensor surface to match the curvature of the surface projected image from the lens is also adjustable, full of liquid.

In his book, the team, led by Professor Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University, Illinois and Professor John Rogers, University of Illinois, say: ' this kind of technology could be useful in endoscopic imaging night vision surveillance, and other areas that require simple compact cameras with zoom lens and ' fields of view.

Camera team consists of a CMOS sensor from 16 x 16 pixels built on an area of elastomer which could be distorted by controllably suck the fluid out of the tank under it. In his book, the team this combined with a simple, single element lens built by an elastic membrane clear during a water room.

In this Chamber pumping water changes the shape of the lens and then the magnification and the surface of the sensor can then be adapted to match the shape of the surface image it projects. (images courtesy of j. Rogers, Univ. of Illinois)

Rogers expanded on this when approached by ' night vision and endoscopy are probably only the most promising initial applications, thanks to their requirements and cost structures.  A successful development of the technology, however, can be used in any type of camera.  We have in mind, for example, the use of this technology to reach imaging "studio quality" in small, cellphone cameras. '

Although not without challenges, he is confident that the technology could be applied to commercial devices: ' we believe that manufacturing techniques are scalable because they build on the drawings of conventional silicon detector.  A significant amount of engineering effort is necessary, however, to take devices that we have now (a few hundred pixels) and scale them into something more commercially relevant (some million pixels). "

He says any devices are "a few years off, but there is already a company (MC10) trying to license and commercialize the technology.

The paper is dynamically tunable hemispherical electronic eye camera with zoom feature adjustable "will be published in PNAS January 17.

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