Building Block Photography With Cambits

Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the camera manufacturing world along come this – Cambits, a set of colorful plastic blocks of five different types—sensors, light sources, actuators, lenses, and optical attachments, that can easily be assembled to make a variety of cameras with different functionalities such as high dynamic range imaging, panoramic imaging, refocusing, light field imaging, depth imaging using stereo, kaleidoscopic imaging and even microscopy.

A building block camera….really?

Computer Science Professor Shree Nayar, of Columbia Engineering’s Computer Vision Lab and Makoto Odamaki, a visiting scientist from Ricoh Corporation, have developed the Cambits concept or what is essentially a modular imaging system that enables the user to create a wide range of computational cameras using the aforementioned five different types of blocks.

Redefining The Word Camera

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“We wanted to redefine what we mean by a camera,” says Nayar, who is the T.C. Chang Professor of Computer Science at Columbia Engineering and a pioneer in the field of computational imaging. “Traditional cameras are really like black boxes that take one type of image. We wanted to rethink the instrument, to come up with a hardware and software system that is modular, reconfigurable, and able to capture all kinds of images. We see Cambits as a wonderful way to unleash the creativity in all of us.”

The blocks used to configure the Cambit camera are all 3D printed and attach to each other via magnets. Once attached, the blocks are able to communicate with one another via spring-loaded pins, which transmit power, data, and control throughout the assembled camera.

Each block has an ID and when a set of blocks are put together, the host computer recognizes the current configuration and provides a menu of options for what the user might want to do. Cambits is also scalable as new blocks can be added to the existing set as the user (or perhaps we should say builder) can use anywhere from three to six blocks at a time depending on your needs.

Reconfigurable Shooter

Columbia Engineering Computer Science Professor Shree Nayar (R) and Makoto Odamaki (L), visiting scientist from Ricoh Corporation, examining Cambits, a modular imaging system they developed that can transform into many different cameras.

Columbia Engineering Computer Science Professor Shree Nayar (R) and Makoto Odamaki (L), visiting scientist from Ricoh Corporation, examining Cambits, a modular imaging system they developed that can transform into many different cameras.

“Using our novel architecture, we were able to configure a wide range of cameras,” adds Odamaki. “There are so many exciting advances in computational photography these days,” Nayar adds. “We hope this reconfigurable system will open the door to new avenues of creativity, bringing new dimensions to an art form we all enjoy.”

Nayar and Odamaki spent over two years in The proof of concept stage of the project and are now searching for a manufacturing partner in hopes of bringing Cambits to the market.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about photography today is the fact we appear to be in technological frenzy period as new camera types and tech seem to be popping with incredible regularity. As each new innovation arrives we’re left wondering what could possibly be next.

Check out this YouTube video for a clearer picture of this unique camera manufacturing process

Last updated 2. March 2016

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Author: Michael McEnaney

I am a veteran technology journalist with over 20 years experience covering consumer electronics and imaging tech as well as launching, editing/writing content, selling and marketing a variety of publications and websites. Most recently I helped NAPCO launch the Technologytell.com network of consumer tech websites and also helped launch the popular tech website TechTimes.com as well as launching his own website at www.your-digital-life.com that covers all consumers can do with their digital images and videos after they’ve captured them. My true passion has always been photography – both capturing life’s most precious moments as well as covering the pros that capture the world.

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Comments

  • TerryB

    Now if it only looked like a camera…… :D)