Flexible sheet camera captures images with unusual fields of view

April 13, 2016 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
A team of researchers at the Computer Science Columbia University (New York, NY) has developed a novel sheet camera that can be wrapped around everyday objects to capture images that cannot be taken with one or more conventional cameras.

The Columbia team led by professor Shree K. Nayar, T.C. Chang, which includes research engineer Daniel Sims and postdoctoral researcher Yonghao Yue, 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. Sims will present the work at the International Conference on Computational Photography (ICCP) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, in May.

"Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space," says Nayar. "While the camera industry has made remarkable progress in shrinking the camera to a tiny device with ever increasing imaging quality, we are exploring a radically different approach to imaging. We believe there are numerous applications for cameras that are large in format but very thin and highly flexible."

If such an imaging system could be manufactured cheaply, like a roll of plastic or fabric, it could be wrapped around all kinds of things, from street poles to furniture, cars, and even people's clothing, to capture wide, seamless images with unusual fields of view. This design could also lead to cameras the size of a credit card that a photographer could simply flex to control its field of view.

The new "flex-cam" requires two technologies--a flexible detector array and a thin optical system that can project a high quality image on the array. One approach would be to attach a rigid lens with fixed focal length to each detector on the flexible array. In this case, however, bending the camera would result in "gaps" between the fields of views of adjacent lenses. This would cause the captured image to have missing information, or appear "aliased."


Columbia Engineering researchers have developed a novel sheet camera that can be wrapped around everyday objects to capture images that cannot be taken with one or more conventional cameras. They 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. Image courtesy of Columbia Computer Vision Laboratory, 2016, Columbia Engineering.