Bendable Cameras One Step Closer To Reality

Scott Falkner

A bendable camera lens might seem absurd or silly when you first think about it, but there are actually quite a few extremely interesting applications when one thinks about it.

Most of the time, most people assume that bendable technology is primarily being developed for smartphones and tablets that would be far less likely to break when dropped. However, there is a wide array of other uses for bendable camera lenses that most people don't think about, and some of them might seem a tad scary.

For instance, the use of "wallpaper" lenses could be applied anywhere. A sheet of lenses wrapped around a telephone pole or some other public place could offer an intense view of optical views without anyone being the wiser.

So, does this technology exist? Not quite yet, but scientists are getting close. Something called the flexible lens array - in effect, a bendable camera lens - has been developed by researchers a Columbia University in New York. The array is a sheet of lenses that can be twisted and bent while still retaining their ability to photograph.

Shree Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, commented on the impetus for exploring the tech that would lead to bendable cameras.

"We are exploring ways to capture visual information in unconventional ways. If you could spread a camera out like paper or cloth, with similar material properties as fabric or paper so you could wrap it around objects, like a car or a pole."

In order to fix the problem and to build what is essentially a bendable camera, researchers developed what they termed an "adaptive lens array." To achieve a bendable camera, each lens on a sheet of bendable material is made to vary its focal length in response to the local curvature of its area of the sheet. As a result, a comprehensive view is achieved, and a bendable camera is made possible.

"The adaptive lens array we have developed is an important step towards making the concept of flexible sheet cameras viable. The next step will be to develop large-format detector arrays to go with the deformable lens array. The amalgamation of the two technologies will lay the foundation for a new class of cameras that expand the range of applications that benefit from imaging."

[Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images]