Monday, April 22, 2013

A Flat Panel Camera

A smartphone is more than just a phone. The platform has grown by accreting the functions of other platforms: watch, calculator, MP3 Player, PDA, and now even the laptop. This has been done in part by miniaturizing the components but also in large part by consolidating functions within components. Although display technology continues to produce visually better display one of the biggest advancements in display has been the consolidation of the keyboard and mouse function within the display. In looking to future development in display technology, much of the focus is rightly on better displays; visually better and flexible OLEDs. However, much is to be gained by considering further functional accretion into the display. Specifically, as touch technology moves to optical (non-touch) versions touch panels take on the capability of flatbed scanners. Perhaps they could also take on the role of camera.

Current cell phone cameras are limited by the size of their optics. Obviously this limits light input (low light capability) but it also means that they are diffraction limited in terms of resolution. Though phones may boast resolutions of 10 megapixels or more in their CMOS sensor, the optical resolution may be much smaller than this, as small as 2 megapixels. Flat panel cameras currently exist. They work by using folded optics to break up and compress the optical path. This is a workable but inelegant and is not a technique that could be integrated into the display. A solution involving synthetic aperture imaging could conceivably be integrated into the display and would give resolutions much higher than the human eye. Current tablets are much thinner than just the lid of laptops from not so long ago and have every bit of the functionality. Increasingly, the display is the device. Ultimately, this may be literally true.

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