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Olympus' experimental image sensor shoots color and near-infrared simultaneously

Olympus has partnered with the Tokyo Institute of Technology to develop a new imaging sensor that is capable of capturing both color information and near-infrared information simultaneously. This is notable because most modern sensors available these days are only capable of one or the other, color or infrared.

The sensor works by modifying the standard Bayer RGB sensor layout and incorporating a NIR, or near-infrared pixel, into the layout. Traditional image sensors, like the one in your smartphone or digital camera, are based on what is called the Bayer filter. This is an arrangement of color filters over the image sensor that allow specific pixels to only capture the color of the filter above it. The traditional layout is RGGB (Red, Green, Green, Blue), as you can see in the example below.

a standard bayer arrangement

A standard Bayer arrangement

How this new Olympus sensor differs is by removing the red or blue pixel on every other sequence of pixels and replacing that with a NIR pixel to capture the near-infrared image information. The result is an image sensor that is both capable of capturing color information as well as near-infrared information. This could be incredible useful for applications like video surveillance cameras, and other similar uses in which the users would have use for both color and near-infrared information.

As you can see by the images (see below), the sensor is still in the prototype phase, so don’t expect your next smartphone to have this capability. But that said, this proves that the concept is possible, and now the team over at Olympus and TIT can focus on improving the technology.

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This could also be of interest to infrared photographers, who in some cases spend hundreds of dollars to convert their standard Bayer-based cameras into infrared cameras. If this sort of technology made its way into the digital camera realm, many of these individuals would likely be incredibly intrigued at the possibility of being able to capture near-infrared images as well as standard color or black-and-white images.

The technology is still a fair way off from that point, but its certainly an exciting development in the imaging sensor world.