Osaka University Develops Ultra Thin 3D Camera
Osaka University scientists and electronics manufacturer Funai Electric Co. Ltd. have developed a prototype of an ultra-thin 3-D camera called Thin Observation Module by Bound Optics (TOMBO). The compound eye camera was presented at international photonic
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August 2, 2007 – Just when consumers thought cameras couldn’t get any smaller, they can, according to researchers at Osaka University in Japan. Osaka University scientists and electronics manufacturer Funai Electric Co. Ltd. have developed a prototype of an ultra-thin 3-D camera called Thin Observation Module by Bound Optics (TOMBO). The compound eye camera was presented at international photonics conference CLEO/QELS 2007 in May. TOMBO can produce a multiple-image photo similar to the way insects see three-dimensionally.
"Thin and compact hardware is an appealing feature," said professor Jun Tanida at Osaka University Graduate School of Information Science and Technology in a statement to DigitalCameraInfo.com. "Possible applications are surveillance, face and finger-print sensor[s], narrow space observation, and plastic cameras."
The head module of the TOMBO measures 0.37 x 0.35 x 0.13 inches (9.6 x 9.0 x 3.40mm). The camera uses a CMOS sensor and nine small lenses that take images in rows of 3 x 3 for a total of nine images. Each image is called a unit image, similar to the ommatidia image of a facet on an insect’s compound eye. Each unit image contains slightly different information with measurable distances from the photographed subject.
A user can then connect the camera’s head module to a PC via a USB connection. With the help of post-capture software, the distance values are used to back-project pixel signals onto an assumed plane, according to Tanida.
"Finding the object distance, providing the minimum accumulated difference for each pixel, we can obtain the object [subject] distance pixel by pixel," Tanida added.
This multiple-image compound photo, in turn, provides a 3-D view of the subject.
Tanida said they elected to use a CMOS sensor versus a traditional CCD sensor because of availability.
The current prototype can produce a 1.1-megapixel image, but plans indicate a future version of the compound camera will improve on image resolution.
The advantage of such a TOMBO device is its compact size and ability to work with plastic materials.
"Although some thin cameras are commercially available, TOMBO can realize an ultra-thin camera on a plastic," he said. Tanida envisions TOMBO could some day even be used for a disposable flat digital camera.
*Images courtesy of Funai Electric, Co. Ltd. *