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Communications of the ACM


Seeing the Big Picture

lensless camera

At top, a diagram of how Bell Labs' lensless camera works: its single-pixel sensor is arrayed behind an aperture assembly that can create a matrix of apertures of varying opacity, so multiple measurements of light data can be conducted at once. Bottom, t

Credit: Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc.

Over the last decade, digital photography has revolutionized the way people snap, store, and share photos. It has unleashed remarkable features and capabilities that have transformed the way we think about images...and the world around us. Yet, for all the advances in megapixels and signal processing, one fact remains: "Today's digital cameras were designed to replace analog information-gathering devices such as film," observes Richard Baraniuk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University.

However, times and technology are changing. Researchers are exploring how to use computational optics and digital imagery in new and innovative ways. Lensless cameras, single-pixel imagery, devices that can see around corners and a number of other technology breakthroughs could transform photography and computational optics in ways that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. These devices—particularly as they capture images outside the visible light spectrum—could address a wide array of challenges, from managing traffic networks and fighting crime to improving medicine.


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