Science

Souped-up iPhone camera sees what others can't

Souped-up iPhone camera sees w...
For the first time ever, a standard iPhone camera has been converted to a hyperspectral imaging camera
For the first time ever, a standard iPhone camera has been converted to a hyperspectral imaging camera
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For the first time ever, a standard iPhone camera has been converted to a hyperspectral imaging camera
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For the first time ever, a standard iPhone camera has been converted to a hyperspectral imaging camera

Hyperspectral cameras are pretty nifty gadgets. They process information from across the electromagnetic spectrum – as opposed to just visible light – essentially allowing people to "see the invisible." Unfortunately they also tend to be big and expensive, although researchers are working on making them smaller and cheaper. To that end, scientists at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland recently succeeded in converting an iPhone camera into one.

While few technical details are available, the proprietary process did involve fitting a stock phone camera lens with a "cost-effective" filter that incorporates optical MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology. That filter is synchronized with the camera's image capture system.

Working in conjunction with purpose-specific apps, such an upgraded camera could have many possible applications.

"Consumer benefits could appear in health applications, such as mobile phones that are able to check whether moles are malignant or food is edible," says lead scientist Anna Rissanen. "They could also verify product authenticity or identify users based on biometric data. On the other hand, driverless cars could sense and identify environmental features based on the representation of the full optical spectrum at each point of an image."

VTT is now looking at commercializing the technology. Scientists at the University of Washington are likewise working on a smartphone-sized hyperspectral camera, while researchers at Tel Aviv University are developing one that could conceivably determine items' chemical composition just by imaging them.

Source: VTT Technical Research Center of Finland

3 comments
Roger Garrett
A FILTER that somehow makes a standard camera able to see additional light wavelengths?? Sorry, but I don't believe it.
How about waiting (before publishing) until they DO provide the necessary details?
TheSplund
They've probably removed the IR filter that pretty well all digital camera's have and then applied software to post-process it - disable the soft-filter and hey presto you have somethign a bit better.
englishfil
TheSplund is correct. Native silicon imaging sensors are typically sensitive in long-wave ultraviolet through to near infrared bordering short-wave infrared. The response is not uniform, but typically the chips are as sensitive to NIR as they are to visible band light. The lens plays an important part - plastic lenses pretty much stop all ultraviolet light so that narrows the system sensitivity to visible though NIR. A common modification to digital cameras is to remove the IR-cut filter and replace it with either an IR-pass filter or a clear quartz window - the latter making a so called ‘full spectrum’ camera. Since the advent of ‘live view’ viewfinders, that show the light falling on the imaging chip, full spectrum is more popular since you can place a bandpass filter, even a visually opaque filter, on the front and still focus the camera. What it sounds like the VTT team has done has put a tuneable MEMS multi-spectral filter array in front of the iPhone chip. This will cycle through narrow bands in the visible-NIR region and, coupled to appropriate software, build up a spectral profile for each pixel. I expect some limitation on spectral accuracy with moving subjects/camera.