The Visualist Blog

The Wonder of the Compound Eye: Multi-Lens Image Capture

Although I took a hiatus from academics to establish Mersive, I still find time to keep up with my three favorite scientific journals, Pattern Recognition and Machine IntelligencePhysical Review D and Nature.

It was an article in today’s Nature that has my attention. The article is about an ancient fossil discovery that implies that a predator, over 500 million years ago, utilized a complex compound eye.  This is a surprising discovery as compound eyes are typically associated with modern insects and arthropods. A compound eye contains multiple lenses that support very wide fields of view, greater visual acuity than a single lens spanning the same field of view and, in many cases, imply a sophisticated image processing system to back it up.

Computer vision researchers in the past several decades have worked to mimic the ability of dense lens arrays by using catadioptric lens systems or via multi-camera systems that automatically “stitch” scenes together via well known multi-view geometry methods. Perhaps the most promising of these is recent work to capture images through a micro-lens array imaged onto a single camera CCD. These “light-field” cameras are capable of capturing a four-dimensional function that describes how light moves through a particular volume of space. Interpreting the light-field allows these cameras to produce a 3D image, artificially defocus or sharpen an image and determine what objects are in-front of others in a scene.

These are all useful for consumer editing of captured images, movie post-production or virtually inserting an object (think product placement advertising) into a scene. Multi-lens image capture was apparently also useful to search for trilobites on the bed of an ancient ocean!

It is interesting to ponder how many ways these technologies will prove useful in the years ahead and what it will mean for the display, interactive multimedia and digital photography industries.

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