Cameras have been our trusted companions that help us capture a memorable event and never let it go. So, all we’ve used it for are stills, because frame movement in photographs are only possible in the “Potterverse”.

But then again, if you remember Lytro, you’d want to differ. The light field camera is hardly the object of flippancy and no one actually thought of using it for a selfie; so, the evolution of camera is complete. Or is it?

The electrical engineering departments of Stanford University and University of California (UC), San Diego, collaborated for the invention of a 4D camera that can perform the function of a “bionic eye” for unmanned vehicles and airborne drones.

The Robot Eye

This spectacularly engineered 4D camera is the first ever to have a single lens, light field vision and a wide field of view of 138 degrees. The camera consists of a spherical lens which allows the field of view to encompass one-third of an imaginary circle around it.

UC had previously created a computational camera with spherical lens that could take 360 degree images with 125
pixels in each video frame (talk about high resolution!). However, in the making of these “super cameras” fiber optic bundles were utilized which were effective in image production but hiked the budget exponentially.

The robot eye, however, uses an improved version of spherical lenses that do away with fiber bundles and instead, uses an array of lenslets (literally, small lens) and digital signal processing. System integration and optics design expertise came from UC and Stanford provided skillful signal processing which led to the development of this surreal camera.

Combining the camera’s working principle with light field photography was a masterstroke. For those who aren’t familiar with Lytro, light field imaging technology allows photos to get focused even after their clicked. The fourth dimension arises because of light field photography which stores the information regarding the distance and direction of light hitting the lens and affixes it with the 2D image.

What Does The Future Look Like For This 4D Camera?

The creators compare the difference between this and a conventional camera with a window and a peephole. They describe the imagery of this camera as looking through a window, where you can turn your head to explore the things around whereas through a peephole you can see only the things within your line of sight (which is the case for
ordinary camera imaging).

Such sophisticated imagery can rarely go unexploited because of which researchers think that in the near future, robots, virtual reality, augmented reality and autonomous cars would benefit hugely due to this development.

For instance, robots and cars could refocus images and navigate easily through formidable areas; and as all the information is stored in one image, the 4D camera could capture images for VR and AR, thereby aiding in flawless depiction.

Although it’s still at a very elementary stage, many believe that it’s the next big thing in photography (and rightly so). Researchers are aiming for a smaller version that can be tested on a robot.

… And that’s how robots will invade the planet!

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