The monocentric lens (fore), Lytro Illum (center), and a conventional lens with similar FOV and resolution (back). Photo courtesy of Stanford Computational Imaging Lab

Stanford University has unveiled a new 4D camera created by postdoctoral fellow Donald Dansereau and assistant professor of electrical engineering Gordon Wetzstein alongside a team from the University of California, San Diego. The camera features a near-140 degrees extra-wide field of view as well as the ability to capture 4D images, the combination of which helps robots navigate an environment autonomously.

The 4D ability is made possible via light field technology, the same tech used by Lytro for its post-capture refocusing cameras. According to Stanford, this new robotics camera uses light field technology to capture the distance and direction of light that hits the lens, the end result being a 4D image that allows robots to adjust their 'vision' as necessary to see in a variety of situations. The camera could also help systems understand how far away an object is located.

Joining the light field technology is a spherical lens offering an extra-wide field of view that covers about 30% of the space around the camera. The researchers had to develop a 'digital solution' to enable this spherical lens to work well with the camera's flat sensor, the end result being enhanced ultra-wide photos, Stanford explains.

Though the camera is still in the proof-of-concept stage, the researchers plan to refine it into a more compact offering, one that could be used in applications beyond robotics. Other potential uses for the technology include VR/AR systems, self-driving vehicles, and wearables. A technical paper on the technology, as well as images of the camera and content it created, can be found here.