Flexible sheet cameras may one day allow any surface to capture images

Researchers at Columbia University are working on a very different approach to imaging that could one day usher in a new era for capturing visual information. The researchers are working on flexible sheet cameras with elastic optics that can be bent and twisted. Ideally this sort of camera system would be made like a roll of plastic sheeting and could be used to image in ways that conventional cameras are unable to do.

The researchers say that to make this sort of flexible camera a reality, flexible image sensors would be required, but for now they are focusing on the optics needed to form images using flexible sensors. The team says that simply using a flexible detector array would allow the field of view to be varied by bending the array. The problem is that when curved the FOV is undersampeld and that leads to an image that isn't bandlimited. That ultimately leads to aliasing artifacts that can't be removed in post-processing because scene information is lost.

The team is working to fix this issue over an entire range of sheet curvatures by designing a deformable elastic lens array. With careful design this flexible elastic array will change shape and focal length when bent in a way that doesn't cause aliasing. The team has designed this type of optics and says that the optics it has designed can be combined with a flexible sensor array to make a complete sheet camera.

One of the major features of the design is that the lens array is able to achieve aliasing compensation passively without the need for per-pixel actuation or control. This project is supported by the Office of Naval Research. It rather makes you wonder what sort of plans the Navy might have for flexible cameras.