Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (or Mixed Reality) headsets have evolved quite a bit over the last few years. Improvements in resolution, lag, and other factors, have led to new, extremely immersive systems such as the HTC Vive. Hovewer, one missing feature is still holding back the technology:
Generally speaking, most of today’s displays consist of a two-dimensional display that’s placed at a fixed distance from the user’s eyes. This creates a conflict for our eyes and brain, which in the real world are used to a linked adjustment of the angle between the eyes (“vergence”) and the focus plain (“accommodation”). Recent proof-of-concept systems use up to three display planes, allowing us to experience discrete near, mid-range and far layer to focus on, but for a better, more immersive 3D experience we’ll need the ability to experience at almost continuous focal range.
The most promising solution to this problem is light field technology: For instance, Nvidia’s light field display prototype has shown successfully (though at low resolution) that it is possible to construct a light field image that allows placement of multiple objects at different focal planes or virtual distances. The Nvidia prototype uses a microlens array, much like in light field cameras from Lytro or Raytrix. Magic Leap is another company working on light field technology. While the company has teased a head-mounted light field display on several occasions, they have yet to explain how exactly their system works, let alone present a working prototype to the public.
Now, another company has entered the light field space. Head-mounted display maker Avegant has announced a new display that uses “a new method to create light fields” to simultaneously display multiple objects at different focal planes. While all digital light fields have discrete focal planes, according to Avegant CTO Edward Tang, the new technology can interpolate between these to create a “continuous, dynamic focal plane”. “This is a new optic that we’ve developed that results in a new method to create light fields,” says Tang. Continue reading
Lytro started out as a small company trying to bring light field photography to the consumer market. The company soon attracted considerable investments and built two consumer cameras – the Lytro Light Field Camera and the Lytro Illum – which brought breakthrough features such as software refocus and synthetic aperture from lab-sized camera arrays to the hands of the end users. Then, however, the company made a major strategic turn, abandoned the consumer market, and realigned itself to focus (pun intended) on Virtual Reality solutions.
In an very frank article on Backchannel, Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal explains the reasons for this move: Continue reading
Every now and then, somebody comes up with a radically new way to improve technology and do something different. One such example is the Flexible Sheet Camera that researchers at the Laboratory for Unconventional Electronics at Columbia University have developed. Rather than a little handheld box with a single lens and some sort of zoom optics, this super-thin concept camera lets you adjust the field of view by simply bending it:
Light field technology that’s currently available, like the Lytro Illum or Raytrix’ industrial light field cameras, is largely based on microlens arrays which allow the flat imaging sensor to infer the direction of light rays in addition to their colour and intensity. While Raytrix has managed to ramp up spatial resolution to 25% of the actual sensor resolution by way of a customised, heterogeneous microlens array, effective resolution is still a limitation of today’s light field cameras.
Now, researchers at the Nanoelectronics and Nanophotonics Lab, University of Michigan, have announced working on a different approach that would allow capturing complete light fields at full sensor resolution. Rather than microlenses in front of a standard imaging sensor, the team around Zhaohui Zhong are developing a new sensor consisting of several transparent light detectors based on graphene, a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms. Continue reading
Light field imaging has captured the mind of many technology enthusiasts and imaging pioneers, and there have been rumours of light field cameras in future iPhones or Android smartphones.
Now a new patent has surfaced that shows Apple is still interested in light field cameras. The twist is, the proposed “plenoptic” (a.k.a. light field) camera system is intended to aid robots in the manufacturing process. Continue reading