MIT Unveils 'Lensless Camera'

Screen display technology extends LCD devices by capturing gesture information and could one day replace Webcams.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

December 21, 2009

2 Min Read

A thin, bidirectional screen technology with the potential for future use in cell phones has been unveiled in prototype form by MIT Media Lab researchers. The solution is called BiDi Screen display.

Described as a "lenseless camera" the BiDi Screen extends LCD devices while enabling the screen to both capture images and display them. The prototype was displayed over the weekend at a unit meeting of the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (Siggraph) in Japan.

"The BiDi Screen shares many attributes with projects that seek to capture gesture information," said the researchers in a release describing the technology. "The difference is that the BiDi Screen can be implanted without cameras or projectors or lenses, allowing it to be as thin as existing LCD screens."

While the BiDi Screen technology is in the same broad generic gesture control field as Nitendo's Wii game console, the MIT researchers believe their technology could one day find uses in cell phones, possibly as an image technology to replace webcams and for seamless video communication use.

The new display was developed by Matthew Hirsch, a PhD candidate at the Media Lab; professor Ramesh Raskar, research scientist Henry Holtzman, and visiting researcher Douglas Lanman.

In a statement, Hirsch said of the project: "The goal with this is to be able to incorporate the gestural display into a thin LCD device -- like a cell phone -- and to be able to do it without wearing gloves or anything like that."

The display uses an array of liquid crystals with an array of optical sensors positioned behind the liquid crystals. The liquid crystals act as a lens that lets light through to the sensors, enabling the creation of patterns so rapid, that the function isn't noticed by the user-viewer.

While the technology isn't likely to find its way into consumer products in the near future, researchers believe a concerted effort could eventually result in products reaching the market.

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