Skip to main content

Lensless cameras could turn windows into sensors, even pointed the ‘wrong’ way

Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

Researchers believe lensless cameras may pave the way for tiny future cameras, but the latest academic experiment with an lens-free camera uses something that already exists as a “lens” instead: a window. Researchers at the University of Utah recently shared a lensless camera that works by using a window — and is actually pointed the “wrong” way.

The lensless camera is a computational camera designed to decipher data and reconstruct the image, rather than a traditional camera that captures the scene as is. Instead of focusing the light with physical glass, a computer is trained to decipher the unfocused light. Associate professor and research head Rajesh Menon calls it designing cameras for machines, instead of for humans.

And while the University of Utah team didn’t use a lens, they did use glass. The camera is affixed at the edge of a plexiglass window, 90 degrees from where humans would look through the window. (The research team says the concept would work with a glass window as well). Reflective tape is wrapped around the edges to help bounce light into the camera.

To a normal camera, the image shot from the side of a piece of glass doesn’t look like anything, but using algorithms, the computer reconstructs the image based on the information that’s there. Using those algorithms, the camera was able to reconstruct an LED image that the research team played through the window.

Lensless Camera

The result isn’t something that anyone would call a good photo, but it’s enough to recognize objects, suggesting use not in artistic photography but in applications that use cameras as sensors for cars, drones, or security systems.

Most research on lensless cameras focuses on the idea that, without a lens, the camera becomes much smaller. The cameras from the University of Utah could one day turn a car’s windshield into a sensor for self-driving cars, or turn the windows in a house into security cameras, the team suggests. The lensless camera could even help slim down augmented reality googles by placing the eye-tracking cameras at the side.

Additional research is required before the concept becomes reality. For example, the team says that only one percent of the light going through the window actually hits the camera sensor. While that works fine for photographing an LED panel, it’s unclear how the camera would perform in scenarios involving the detection of pedestrians at dusk or a burglar at night. The team plans to conduct additional research, including photographing objects under normal lighting conditions along with 3-D and higher resolution variations.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it opens up an interesting way to think about imaging systems,” Menon said.

The team’s research is available in a paper in Optics Express.

Editors' Recommendations

Hillary K. Grigonis
Hillary never planned on becoming a photographer—and then she was handed a camera at her first writing job and she's been…
DJI’s 2022 drone contest offers record prize pool
A photo taken from a drone.

Leading drone maker DJI has teamed up with the SkyPixel online community for its eighth annual photo and video contest.

Whether you’re an experienced drone pilot or an absolute beginner still finding your way, the contest is the perfect opportunity to send your machine skyward in a test of your creative skills.

Read more
How $80 of photo processing software magically saved me thousands
photo editing topaz labs denoise ai phil camera

It's a good time to be a photographer, whether you're just starting out and really don't have any idea what you're doing, or if you're a seasoned pro looking to try something new.

The gear is better than ever, making even entry-level bodies better than what the previous generation started out with. Software options make cataloging and processing your photos faster and less destructive, so you can revisit things for years and give old pics new life.

Read more
Sony A7 III mirorless camera is $300 off for Black Friday
Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless front view.

There are a lot of great Best Buy Black Friday deals going on right now, and whether you're looking for TVs, laptops, or even headphones, there's a little something for everybody. Of course, many folks may not realize that Best Buy has some fantastic deals on high-end photography gear, such as this Sony Alpha a7 III mirrorless camera. While it usually goes for a whopping $2,200, Best Buy had brought it down to $1,900, and while that relatively doesn't seem like much, you could always spend the $300 savings on a new lens.

Why you should buy the Sony Alpha a7 III
The Sony Alpha a7 III is a camera with so much tech that it might as well be three different cameras. It has excellent dynamic range, low-light performance, and high-speed performance, and the full-frame sensors make the images look absolutely stunning. Interestingly, the a7 III manages to do an excellent job at both low and high ISOs, the latter of which can go as high as 51,200 non-boosted, which, granted, adds a lot of noise, but noise reduction helps with that. As for the video, well, sadly, it's not as impressive, at least in terms of advancements in image quality, and while it can do 8-bit 4K at 30 frames per second, it's no longer ahead of the pack in that regard, like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 is with its 400Mbps 10-bit codec and 60-fps 4K.

Read more