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This flexible sheet turns any surface into a camera

We’ve seen flexible screens, capable of being rolled up like a newspaper, but we’re yet to see a flexible camera.

That is, until a team from Columbia University’s Computer Vision Lab revealed its latest project: a sheet of lenses that can wrap around any object like a skin, turning that object into a camera.

Researchers Daniel Sims, Yonghao Yue, and Shree K. Nayar created the flexible sheet with an array of embedded lenses which adapt to how the sheet is bent.

You can see the design in action in the video below:

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Aside from the potential to turn everyday objects into makeshift 360-degree cameras, the project could eventually lead to small, credit-card sized handheld cameras that can zoom in and out just by being bent.

In creating the innovative prototype, the Columbia University team had to overcome a major problem.

Using an array of lenses with fixed focal length, where each lens focuses light on a pixel, means that when the sheet is bent, gaps form between the individual lenses, resulting in photos with artifacts.

The team therefore designed a flexible silicon sheet which includes embedded lenses that can adapt their focal length when bent.

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FlexibleLensesFixed focal length lens array vs the new adaptive focal length lens array

By using lenses that adapt in this way, the team was able to create a flexible camera that doesn’t suffer from the  problem of gaps forming when the sheet is bent.

As the video description explains: “The Columbia team designed and fabricated a flexible lens array that adapts its optical properties when the sheet camera is bent.

“This optical adaptation enables the sheet camera to produce high quality images over a wide range of sheet deformations.”

Although the current concept produces low-res images, the design demonstrates the potential for large-format flexible cameras capable of capturing high dynamic range images.

The Columbia team will now be working on a high-res version of their innovative design.

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