Feb 16, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the University of Stuttgart in Germany have developed 3D printed lenses that can be used for miniature camera surveillance systems. The lenses, which employ “foveated imaging,” come close to mimicking natural vision by offering a super-sharp central focus and wider peripheral vision than other cameras.

In humans, the fovea is the part of the back of the eye that has the highest concentration of light-sensitive cells. It is the reason why our central field of focus is sharper and more defined than objects or things that fall into our peripheral vision. Now, thanks to research coming out of the University of Stuttgart, this type of vision can be recreated using specialized cameras with 3D printed lenses.

The research project, recently published in Science Advances under the title “3D-printed eagle eye: Compound microlens system for foveated imaging,” demonstrates how, using four 3D printed lenses, cameras can achieve more naturally focused vision. The miniature camera system could be used in small surveillance systems, such as insect-sized drones, as well as for endoscopies and in optical sensors.

According to the researchers, the camera is made up of four plastic lenses, each with a different focal length, that have been 3D printed onto a single image sensor. The project marks the first time that a complex imaging system has been successfully 3D printed onto a chip, resulting in a multi-aperture camera.

When in use, the camera’s separate lenses each register images with different foci, with the longer focal lengths capturing high resolution in a narrow field of view, and the shorter focal lengths capturing lower resolution over a wider field of view. When the images are overlaid using a stitching software, the result is a “foveated image,” in which the highest degree of focus is in the center of the image.

The whole system measures less than 300 micrometers square (the width of about three human hairs), a size that would likely have been impossible without 3D printing technology. As Harald Giessen, one of the researchers, stated: “There is no chance you can manufacture imaging systems of this quality by any other means.”

Not only does the 3D printed lens system result in images that are closer to an organic field of vision, it could also reduce the amount of power and processing time needed when compared to conventional images. This is because only the center of the captured image would require intensive processing.

At present, there are certain limitations to technology. For instance, it is currently only possible to additively manufacture the lenses using one type of plastic material. Multi-material lenses could offer a better chromatic aberrations balance, which would lessen the chance of visual distortions. Other improvements to the camera system could include an anti-reflective coating, as well as shorter manufacturing time. The ultimate goal of the research project is to develop eagle-eye 3D printed camera lenses.

The full study can be found here.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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