Email Print Share

"Flat Lensing" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.


How thin can a camera be? Very, say Rice University researchers who have developed patented prototypes of their technological breakthrough. FlatCam, invented by the Rice labs of electrical and computer engineers, is little more than a thin sensor chip with a mask that replaces lenses in a traditional camera.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Flat is where it's at.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files from the National Science Foundation.

No lenses.  Thinner than a dime.  Flexible and cheap to make.  Computer engineers at Rice University have produced a patented prototype of a camera that is basically no more than a sensor chip with a mask that replaces traditional lenses.  As cameras have gotten smaller, their light sensors have shrunk as well.  Less surface area equals less light collected.  But the ultra-thin "flatcam" sensor collects light on par with its larger, thicker cousins.

Flatcams could be foldable, wearable, disposable.  Imagine a camera on your credit card, or wallpaper that's a camera. Small as they are, they are still lenses in our smartphone cameras. That raises the price.  Flatcam technology can be fabricated with the precision and speed of microchips and their low cost. 

Flatcam shares its heritage with lens-less pinhole cameras, but instead of a single hole, it features a mask of many apertures.  Each aperture allows a different set of light data to reach the sensor--data sophisticated computer algorithms then convert to images and videos. 

We could see flatcams used for everything from security to disaster relief.

In the world of flat, soda, tires, and singing--bad.

Flat cameras--good.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation.  Learn more at nsf.gov.

 
General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.