Researchers at Harvard have created a tiny polarisation camera for a Shrimp’s eye view of the world
Weird cameras are just the best, aren’t they? And they don’t get much weirder than this. Researchers at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have published a paper detailing a tiny camera that sees the world the way a shrimp and some insects see it. That is, in polarised light.
Polarisation is essentially the directions in which light waves travel. And this polarisation camera shows us those directions in a rainbow of colours, with the visible light removed. The technology’s been around for a while, although not at this sort of small scale. It opens up a lot of new applications for using such cameras.
Polarisation cameras have some interesting properties. They can detect stresses and otherwise invisible defects in glass, clear plastics and other materials. There are a few cameras out there on the market that can see polarised light, but they’re very expensive and quite large. The team at SEAS has developed this one to help eliminate the size problem.
The camera above is pretty hefty, with a sizeable laser cut acrylic enclosure, but this is only for ease of use while developing and testing. The actual sensor and polarising unit is a very small assembly. It’s “about the size of a thumb”, they say.
This development allows polarisation cameras to be used in places they could never have gone before. In the future, we might start to see them being used in drones and self-driving cars to help detect the world around them, and distinguish the materials of which surrounding objects are made.
We may even start to see them in our smartphones one day. Perhaps it may allow their autofocus systems to stop focusing on glass and instead realise we want to focus on whatever’s on the other side of that glass.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.