Camera that is better than the human eye

A curvilinear camera, much like the human eye, with the significant feature of a zoom capability, unlike the human eye has been developed by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The tuneable camera — once optimized — should be useful in many applications, including night-vision surveillance, robotic vision, endoscopic imaging and consumer electronics.

The “eyeball camera” has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images, is inexpensive to make and is only the size of a nickel. (A higher zoom is possible with the technology.)

“We were inspired by the human eye, but we wanted to go beyond the human eye,” said Yonggang Huang of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and co-author of the paper. “Our goal was to develop something simple that can zoom and capture good images, and we've achieved that.”

The tiny camera combines the human eye and an expensive single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with a zoom lens. It has the simple lens of the human eye, allowing the device to be small, and the zoom capability of the SLR camera without the bulk and weight of a complex lens.

The key is that both the simple lens and photodetectors are on flexible substrates, and a hydraulic system can change the shape of the substrates appropriately, enabling a variable zoom. Eyeball cameras developed earlier had rigid detectors.

The research was published recently in the reputed journal — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


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