Terry Relph-Knight of ZDNet recently noted that the successful design of very low-cost imaging sensors might perhaps be achieved by “doing away” with the conventional lens altogether.
“The principle of a camera without a lens has been known for over 2,000 years in the form of the camera obscura (from the Latin for ‘dark room’) and later portable pinhole cameras, where a small round hole acts like a lens,” Relph-Knight explained. “Researchers at California-based Rambus Labs think that practical, small, lens-less digital cameras may be made possible by placing a thin layer of glass, etched with spiral diffraction patterns, directly over an imaging sensor.”
Citing Rambus Fellow Dr. David Stork and Rambus Press, Relph-Knight offers a detailed description of Rambus lensless smart sensor (LSS) technology.
“Light from the scene diffracts through the grating and yields an apparently chaotic and unintelligible blob on the sensor array — appearing nothing like a familiar image in a traditional camera,” he continued.
This blob, says Relph-Knight, contains information from the original scene, which, through computation, can be resolved into a recognizable image.
“[In addition], diffraction gratings are simpler and easier to make than precision lenses and computing power is relatively cheap, making it possible to produce small, low-cost, LSS devices that lend themselves to a wide array of applications,” he added.
It should be noted that Rambus’ lensless smart sensor (LSS) shield for developers recently took center stage at a “Partners in Open Development” (POD) summit in San Francisco co-hosted by frog San Francisco and IXDS from Berlin.
A number of functional prototype product design concepts based on LSS hardware and software were showcased at the event, including an eye-tracking device, a vehicle-sensing platform, an intelligent roadway model, an assembly & maintenance platform, a self-driving model vehicle and a smartwatch.
In addition to presenting LSS-powered prototype platforms, frog outlined a number of potential use cases for Rambus’ lensless smart sensor technology including real-time, thermal performance monitoring of commercial solar modules; industrial automation (part presence); embedded battery monitoring and intelligent agriculture. Similarly, IXDS identified six primary categories Rambus LSS technology could potentially help evolve, such as smart infrastructure (cities and homes), tool manufacturing, medical, toys, consumer electronics and professional equipment.