Cool Tech: Lens-less metamaterial cameras will change the way you see the world

Cameras can be pretty much considered as regular household equipment nowadays. Cheap but decent digital cameras and prosumer shooters are everywhere; even the professional-grade DSLRs are now affordable to many. But there’s one type of camera, still in the works, which promises to change the way we see things around us. No, it’s not about the latest in HD imaging it’s more on practical usage, like airport body scanners or vehicle collision avoidance technology. These cameras will be made from metamaterials, the materials whose properties don’t appear in nature, and will considerably be cheaper and smaller than the ones in existence today.

A good example of the equipment that can be replaced by a metamaterial camera is the airport scanner. In order to function as intended, these body scanners have to be large enough to accommodate all its moving parts. Such scanners use microwaves for imaging, which makes the process slow and the machine overly expensive. Why? These scanners are built like a large optical camera, which has millions of microwave detectors that has to be reoriented properly to capture the right image. So not only is it expensive to construct, it is also a money drain when it comes to maintenance and operation.

Downsizing with metamaterial cameras

One of the advantages of using metamaterial cameras is the smaller size (compared to the actual sizes of machines with a similar purpose). This is possible because instead of having a lens, it uses a metamaterial aperture that focuses different wavelengths of light from different parts of a scene or an object onto a detector. From that, the image is processed using software, creating an image that is now discernible to the human viewer. This setup would allow integration to existing technology, like attaching a metamaterial imager to the body of a car to help avoid collisions.

Limitations

At present, the first metamaterial cameras produced can only work with microwave wavelengths to produce images. It is not yet able to detect visible wavelengths of light, the way human eyes does, so it’s functionality is limited to detecting microwaves only. But the developers remain optimistic that with further research, they’ll be able to do more with metamaterial cameras, allowing them to produce cheap and portable sensors or scanners that would be used in any way conceivable.

Bright future for the lens-less camera

The discovery and creation of these metamaterial cameras has been positively received, as it opens up infinite possibilities for different fields of operation. Aside from using these cameras for safety (collision avoidance) and threat detection (security scanners,) it also paves the way for cheaper and possibly safer body scanners to be used in the field of medicine. It could replace the potentially harmful X-ray scanners, and produce hand-held imaging systems that medical practitioners can use anywhere they go. Just like the emergence of VoIP service several years ago, or the rise of Near-field communication (NFC) devices at present, these metamaterial cameras could be the next big thing in technology that has the potential to totally change the way we see our world.

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