With nearly 2 billion cameras sold worldwide last year, it’s clear the images we snap are of high importance, and the cameras that make them possible are in high demand. Yet despite the evolution of cameras over the past century, the traditional pinhole design has remained the model for all cameras. But researchers at Columbia University’s Computer Vision Lab are looking at things a bit differently: they see a future of self-powered cameras with flexible lenses.
Elastic lenses would enable photographers to bend and shape their cameras, allowing them to capture a wider array of images, and opening up a host of possibilities for manufacturers to create cameras of different sizes and shapes. The current prototype is a flexible sheet made of 1,089 elastic lenslets. When bent, each lenslet shifts its shape, changing the field of view. This design would allow cameras to be wrapped around poles for capturing 360˚ imagery, or perhaps placed around a self-driving car for full situational awareness. The camera of the future may look much like a credit card—easily stored in a wallet, then taken out and bent into whatever shape the situation calls for.
The second aim of their research is to create a camera that powers itself. The central idea is that cameras measure light, and light can be converted into electrical energy, so why not use a camera to do both? By redesigning the pixel in a camera to toggle between measuring light for photos and harvesting the light that falls onto it, a camera could theoretically be infinitely self-sustained. We might well be seeing the future through a different lens.
Learn more at Forbes.