Revolutionising the way to capture photos

The photonics chip working as a light sensor. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Film based photography was about creating a replica of the outside world on a chemical substrata.  

The first digital photography had the same goal. Silver molecules were replaced by pixels, light containers that could provide data on the number of photons hitting that particular area on the sensors. Filters layered on the sensor (Bayer filter) provide information on the wavelength of those photons, i.e. on the colour.

As the number of pixels increased, along with the increase in computation capability, the software in the digital camera, as well as the post processing software (like Photoshop) started to use the data generated by the sensor as the starting point to create information about the image and finally render the image in a way we can appreciate it.

Now software is taking the upper end, becoming able to correct lens imperfections, out of focus subjects, exposure beyond the sensor range and more.

Lockheed Martin has unveiled a technology based on photonics chip that could revolutionise the world of photography. Although their goal is to provide a way to build more powerful telescope at a much lower cost, their technology could be used one day for everyday digital camera, including the ones in our cell phones.

The technology exploits interferometry, using a composite sensor (like an insect eye, although here the principle is different) made by many tiny lenses in a tiny array architecture. The technology is called SPIDER - Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance.

These tiny lenses provide data to a photonics integrated circuit. Here the data coming from the lenses create interference fringes that the software processes to recreate the image.

The saving in terms of size and weigh is staggering: 99% less than a comparable telescope. In a telescope the more sensitivity you want to have the bigger the lenses (their diameter) and the thicker and heavier they become. Here you can expand the surface of the sensors with a linear increase of size and weight.

Lockheed Martin researchers are also seeing immediate application in sensors for industrial application and even in vehicle to detect their surrounding.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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