Are you wondering what the heck single pixel camera is? When I stumbled upon the patent, I had the same feelings as you are having now.
Let me give you first a sneak peak of the Single pixel camera by comparing it with a conventional camera and then we will discuss what Google has patented followed by the pros and cons of the technology.
What are Single Pixel Cameras?
The imaging sensor of such a camera has single pixel to sense the light, that records thousands of pixels one after other to generate an image.
On the other hand, the imaging sensors of a typical digital camera have millions of pixels that generate an image by simultaneously recording millions of pixels.
Single Pixel Cameras Rely on What kind of Technology?
It utilizes a technique known as compressed sensing. It first compresses the image data and then records it. On the other hand, conventional cameras first record every pixel and later eliminate the redundant pixels by using compression algorithm.
What are redundant pixels: – For example, if you click an image with clear blue sky background, then the pixel of background are regarded as redundant. They get compressed as they contain less information.
Thus, you can say that a camera that utilizes compressed sensing and has single pixel sensor to record images, is a Single Pixel Camera.
Google’s Single Pixel Camera:
The patent hints to use three single pixel camera modules having three different color filters. The modules will be disposed on the CMOS substrate at different location. These cameras will record imaging scene from different location at different angles.
Each camera module will have a single pixel sensor and a micro-lens placed above the single pixel photo sensor. An actuator will adjust the position of micro-lens to focus external light from different angles on photo sensor.
At present, the technology is used by academicians and university researchers only. The patent is important in the sense that Google may bring the technology to the public. You can access the patent from here.
Applications of Single Pixel Camera
Cheap Cameras: The technology could make camera much cheaper. According to an article on BBC, the single pixel camera could cost “a few pounds” compared to conventional cameras, which cost “thousands”.
Storage: The images generated by these cameras will be of low size and that would save the storage. It would be helpful in case of CCTV camera where considerably huge data is stored.
Miniaturization of Camera: At present, the camera modules use significant space in an electronic gadget. The single pixel camera will miniaturize the camera to make more compact wearable devices like HMD.
Eliminating lens from camera : This sounds counter-intuitive, however using compress sensing and single pixel sensors use of lenses can be eliminated from the cameras completely. Researchers at Bell Labs have done it already.
The downside of this technology is that it is too slow as compared to the conventional cameras. A single pixel camera may use 15 minutes to generate an image that you can click instantly from your digital camera.
This means that it’s unlikely that you will be sporting around with it soon.
Apart from that, at present, the single pixel camera doesn’t give high quality images. You can yourself differentiate that from these two pictures.
One reason behind these shortcomings is that the technology, at present, is in state of infancy.
As per the researchers of Rice University, with advancement in this technology the each pixel of your megapixel camera can be made to do extra duty. Just think of the resolution that you can get. It could make the conventional cameras much better.
Back then, I was at a loss what Google is doing in that domain. Now when Google Pixel is here, I found out where they used that camera.
Apart from camera, Google got Photos app which is very helpful for 1 billion users, and now Google have added sharing feature in it. Soon, they also going to implement another amazing feature which will turn you weird impressing click into amazing smile.