Hybrid camera helps to see in more directions

02 November 2008
Posted by Chris Smith.

Digital cameras are brilliant at looking in one direction, which is normally what you want to do, but sometimes you need to see to the sidesas well.

Fruit fly eyeThe conventional solution to this problem is normally either to build a moving camera that can look in different directions or to use a fisheyelens. This is a large, almost hemispherical lump of glass which will bend the light from the sides onto your camera. The problem is that these areboth large and heavy.

Insects solve this problem by essentially having thousands of separate lenses pointing in different directions: each producing one pixel of animage. Previously this has been tried but it is difficult to make and you tend to end up with a very low resolution image.

Engineers at BAE systems have built a hybrid solution which involves about 9 lenses pointing in different directions. These focus light into a seriesof optical fibres which bend the light onto a light-sensing chip. Software is then used to build up an image that makes sense. This means that youcan have a high resolution and see to the sides in an object about the size and weight of a sugarlump.

They are intending on using it first on missiles which can then hit a moving target more easily. But they say it could also be useful forlooking at confined spaces such as on the end of an endoscope used to look into body cavities.

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