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One-shot gigapixel camera offers a future beyond flat sensors

By Richard Butler on Jun 22, 2012 at 17:24 GMT

A gigapixel camera developed for the US Department of Defense's research agency (DARPA) provides an insight into the challenges that will need to be overcome to offer super-high-resultion cameras. A team from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, has described its 960 megapixel (0.96 gigapixel) 'AWARE-2' camera in a letter to scientific journal Nature. The team says small, efficient electronics are the key to being able to miniaturize the camera, which currently sits in a 0.75 x 0.75 x 0.5m frame.

The team developing the AWARE-2 have considered scalability be one of the key considerations while designing it. Conventional camera designs will remain limited to megapixel resolutions because the small apertures they use are limited by diffraction softening. Scaling the design up and using larger apertures ends up limiting the system because lens aberrations increase, so you remain restricted to the megapixel scale, says team leader Professor David Brady.

This led to a design that arranges a series of cameras in a hemispherical arrangement, pointing at a single, spherical lens that the team have dubbed the 'gigagon.' The use of a single lens avoids the cost and complexity of having specialist optics on each sub-camera, while the curved design scales more easily than a flat array of cameras. The team believes this approach would continue to work for up to 50GP cameras.

A diagram showing the hemispherical arrangement of the sub-cameras, and their relationship to the 'Gigagon' main lens (top right).

The current design is made up of 98 individual 14MP sub-cameras, with focus and exposure set individually for each sub-camera. All the sub-cameras are exposed at the same time, meaning you don't have the problems of movement that occur in conventional, scanning gigapixel images. HDR techniques are then used to combine all the different 8-bit exposures into a single 32-bit file, which is then tone-mapped back to an 8-bit image that can be displayed.

 An image highlighting the contribution made by each sub-camera.

The AWARE-2 weighs 93kg and captures a 120x42 degree field of view but  the current design allows for a maximum of 220 sub-cameras to be installed, (giving a 120deg circular field of view). With all the cameras installed the overlap between sub-camera's images and elimination of poorly illuminated data would cut its theoretical 3 gigapixel capability back to around 2 gigapixels - around the number that its 16mm aperture would diffraction-limit it to, the group says.

The team says the image quality of the current camera is reduced by the use of injection-molded plastic relay optics in front of each sub-camera but that they believe this restriction can be overcome with the use of high-refractive-index plastics to improve this performance.

However, it's the electronics that the group says currently prevents the camera being made smaller - the optical system accounts for just 3% of the camera's volume - with the rest of the space taken up by the associated electronics and cooling required to dissipate the 430W expended every time the camera takes an image. With smaller, more efficient electronics, hand-held gigapixel cameras may become an everyday reality, they say.

An example image, shot in Seattle, showing various crops taken from a 0.96GP image

Comments

Total comments: 132
12
Klay
By Klay (Jun 22, 2012)

Seems like there's a bit of gap between current medium format backs (and Nokia phones) and the 1 GP this has.

PS. Check your science dictionary on the definition of watts. I think you mean 430 watt-hours (or .430 kWh)

0 upvotes
MichaelKJ
By MichaelKJ (Jun 22, 2012)

"The researchers believe that within five years, as the electronic components of the cameras become miniaturized and more efficient, the next generation of gigapixel cameras should be available to the general public."

http://phys.org/news/2012-06-gigapixel-camera.html

0 upvotes
Lan
By Lan (Jun 22, 2012)

It's basically a digital compound eye.

5 upvotes
Joe Melillo
By Joe Melillo (Jun 22, 2012)

Better pre-order now.

1 upvote
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Jun 22, 2012)

Step two towards spherical optics! Start patenting your spherical lens designs today!

0 upvotes
M Jesper
By M Jesper (Jun 22, 2012)

Well this certainly needs a lot of work. At the time it seems that a few vertically shot 36MP images would yield a much better panorama. Not to mention color. And in case they absolutely need to be shot at the same instant i'm guessing it's still within budget (and weight) to simply get a few D800E bodies to synchronize.

3 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jun 22, 2012)

My understanding is that this is the demonstration of an approach to the problem - and one that can be scaled-up.

The point being that, even if you could tape a few D800s together to match 960MP, you'd struggle to do the same to achieve the 50GP that should be possible with a design similar to this.

6 upvotes
idbar
By idbar (Jun 22, 2012)

I guess it depends on the effective aperture and how can you manage to control it for focusing purposes. At this moment I know of arrays of cameras for post-processing re-focus. I'm not sure how this type of array solves the aperture issue. I'm guessing that trying to increase the aperture (for low light shots) may lead to oddities in focusing. Very neat problem and the solutions proposed are always very interesting.

1 upvote
highwave
By highwave (Jun 22, 2012)

Nokia has this small Phone with a 41 MP camera

So just some calculation for fun:

To achieve 50 Gigapixels using pureview Nokia phones you would need about 1220 of them.

that would be about 73 meters (240 feet) wide and 146 meters (480 feet) high of Nokia Phones duct taped together.

That's about as wide as the empire state building and about one third as high.

I don't think I would want to take up the job of wiring them up for remote shutter release and then go grab the shots from each phone.

Oh for those still waiting for me to type down the relevance of the OP to the thread, I couldn't figure anything out.

0 upvotes
falconeyes
By falconeyes (Jun 22, 2012)

You need to redo your math: 2.1 x 4.3 m^2

Only just a little bigger than the lab camera, and it is 50GP rather than 1GP, and the camera modules are much smaller than the phone and could be stacked together really tight.

Moreover, the approach isn't scalable, despite what the research team claims. It depends on a single central lens which needs to have a huge aperture to support high GP counts to overcome diffraction.

3 upvotes
zsedcft
By zsedcft (Jun 22, 2012)

How did you arrive at those numbers?! Surely somewhere along the line you would think that that size was massive! By my quick calculation, you could get something like 1.4 million Nokia 808s in that space.

1 upvote
ManuelVilardeMacedo
By ManuelVilardeMacedo (Jun 22, 2012)

Can you imagine how big a tripod would need to be to hold that? And are the people at Gura Gear ready to make a backpack for this 808 array?

0 upvotes
highwave
By highwave (Jun 22, 2012)

Damn it

did an awful mistake in my calculations

Falconeyes calculations are the correct ones

please ignore my original post

2 upvotes
ScooterNC
By ScooterNC (Jun 26, 2012)

You'd also need a telephoto lens on each of your Nokia's, making it enormous, and if you wanted to route all the imagery into one image, you'd need a lot of electronics (which is one of the drivers of the volume of the described system)

0 upvotes
nicoboston
By nicoboston (Jun 22, 2012)

The only question we should ask here is:
Does it make orbs ???
And if it does, will the DoD replace the 98 sensors to make sure that we get orb-free 1GP cat pictures ?

3 upvotes
Mandude
By Mandude (Jun 22, 2012)

I thought it was a 50 GB Pixel Camera?

http://www.stuff.tv/news/cameras/news-nugget/aware2-%E2%80%93-the-50-gigapixel-digital-camera

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Jun 22, 2012)

Not according to the letter published in Nature.

It does say that this approach should scale so that it works for cameras up to 50GP, but the one they've demonstrated it 0.96GP.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
1 upvote
ScarletVarlet
By ScarletVarlet (Jun 22, 2012)

I remember when I laughed at plastic lenses... I feel so inadequate now.

0 upvotes
Michal59
By Michal59 (Jun 22, 2012)

Samsung Galaxy S XXXIII will have this onboard

6 upvotes
ybizzle
By ybizzle (Jun 22, 2012)

Wow they crammed all those pixels on a 1/2.3" sensor? ;)

1 upvote
JordanAT
By JordanAT (Jun 22, 2012)

Sony is jealous.

1 upvote
JHilt
By JHilt (Jun 22, 2012)

It'll take me three years just to zoom in enough to pixel peep.

1 upvote
Reilly Diefenbach
By Reilly Diefenbach (Jun 22, 2012)

Your tax dollars at work. More welfare for the military industrial complex. I really don't think it's for shooting Yosemite.

1 upvote
Humboldt Jim
By Humboldt Jim (Jun 22, 2012)

Maybe not this prototype, but given the depth of field and resolution, it seems highly suitable for shooting Yosemite. Just bring a car battery, large capacitor and patience and you have a 21st century view camera, bulk and all!

HJ

0 upvotes
ScarletVarlet
By ScarletVarlet (Jun 22, 2012)

I'm waiting for the 3D model to come out.

(c:

2 upvotes
knutjb
By knutjb (Jun 22, 2012)

I think it's money well spent DARPA has a great track record of low cost R&D and amazing creations. If more of the government worked like DARPA we wouldn't be spending so much. BTW the military is not welfare but that is a thread better left elsewhere.

2 upvotes
Reilly Diefenbach
By Reilly Diefenbach (Jun 22, 2012)

Do you really see this thing as anything but a further invasion of our privacy? Been patted down or xrayed at the airport lately? A make work project for the only sector of the economy with strong growth, the spying on each other industry.

2 upvotes
KoKo the Talking Ape
By KoKo the Talking Ape (Jun 22, 2012)

Agree with knutjb that DARPA has been generally productive. But so have civilian basic research centers, like the famous Bell Labs.

Also agree that defense spending is not like welfare. Welfare is better managed and goes to needy people.

Interesting fact: the US spends on average over $250B *per year* just for military operations defending oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. That would amount to about 1/4 of the current military budget, though the actual proportion changes year to year. When we burn gasoline, we spend federal dollars, just as sure as when we give out foreign aid (currently about $30B).

1 upvote
Button Pusher
By Button Pusher (Jun 23, 2012)

Welfare is better managed... ROTFL... That must be why there is an overwhelming amount of fraud.

0 upvotes
knutjb
By knutjb (Jun 23, 2012)

If you only knew what has been out there for over 40 years. These cameras are typically high demand, low density products so I wouldn't worry about what happens in your back yard.

It's when the military isn't in control that I am concerned. Like the recent EPA use over Nebraska. Civil service has lower standards of ethics and punishment, look at Fast and Furious.

0 upvotes
KoKo the Talking Ape
By KoKo the Talking Ape (Jun 24, 2012)

@Button: how much fraud in social support programs is there, actually? How many dollars actually go to people who do not otherwise deserve it? If you make a guess, I will do some research and come up with as reliable a figure as I can find. Deal?

Re military spending, record-keeping is so poor that the GAO has never been able to conduct an audit. There are reports of billions of dollars in CASH sent to Iraq that simply went missing. No records, no trace.

@knutjb, I don't quite follow your first paragraph. Re civil service having lower standards of ethics, that is quite a sweeping statement. Isn't it possible that certain civil departments have different standards than others? My understanding is the social services programs like Social Security and Medicaid are run carefully because people like you and me watch them constantly for waste. Other departments, like the financial or mining regulators, supposedly get away with murder.

0 upvotes
ryansholl
By ryansholl (Jun 22, 2012)

BUT HOW IS THE HIGH ISO PERFORMANCE??!!

1 upvote
digitalDork
By digitalDork (Jun 22, 2012)

Wow - I want one, that D800 is just so yesterday now.
Wonder if they'll provide a vertical grip that takes a car battery?

10 upvotes
audijam
By audijam (Jun 22, 2012)

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

0 upvotes
Tord S Eriksson
By Tord S Eriksson (Jun 23, 2012)

I think it will have a bolt-on option with a generator - just fill her up, pull the handle, and shoot!

1 upvote
Rutgerbus
By Rutgerbus (Jun 22, 2012)

Does it only takes B&W images?

1 upvote
chraezer
By chraezer (Jun 22, 2012)

If you cool it with liquid nitrogen you can get more fps

4 upvotes
Total comments: 132
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