New AI system could upgrade smartphone cameras

Your smartphone camera could soon get a major upgrade thanks to the power of artificial intelligence.

A startup is using new technology to put the power of a DSLR into phones. Glass Imaging wants to improve the quality of smartphone cameras using deep neural networks and a new type of sensor.

“By redesigning the optical system from the ground up to be smartphone-friendly, we were able to install huge CMOS sensors that collect about 9 times more light than traditional designs,” said Ziv Attar, CEO of the company, in a press release. “Our state-of-the-art AI algorithms transparently correct all distortions and aberrations, and as a result, the image quality of the smartphone is radically increased, up to 10 times.”

Smarter lenses

A hand holds the DISH Celero 5G smartphone, with a close-up of the camera module.
Celero 5G

Attar explained in an interview with TechCrunch that until recently, smartphone makers were trying to improve image quality by using larger sensors and wider lenses. However, even with noise reduction algorithms, the resulting images using this method end up looking “strange and fake”.

To solve the image quality problem, Glass plans to put a larger lens inside a smartphone, but today’s ultra-thin phones don’t have enough room to fit the larger optics. So, Glass instead intends to change the aspect ratio of the smartphone’s sensor. The method offered by the company is to take advantage of the concepts behind anamorphic lenses. Anamorphic is a cinematographic shooting technique for wide screen on 35 mm film or sensors. The lenses adjust to the wider field of view to accommodate a sensor, then the footage is decompressed in post to create a wider aspect ratio.

Mario Pérez, a professional photographer, said in an interview that anamorphic lenses have been used for years mainly for film productions. But today. photography and videography enthusiasts have access to a wide range of anamorphic lenses.

“The main advantage of these lenses is the ability to fit a wider angle of view than regular lenses, all in a small average camera sensor, without any visible distortion (provided the video is duly further processed )”, he added.

Pérez said it’s become relatively easy to get a phone with a regular lens and then attach a third-party anamorphic lens to it, which will give you many of the typical features offered by a cinematic anamorphic lens: Wider viewing angle , intense “bokeh” effect, and flares on light sources, among other benefits.

“The smartphone industry is changing at an incredibly fast pace,” Pérez said. “Videographers and photographers are shifting to using smartphone cameras as their specs and performance increase. I wouldn’t be surprised to see smartphone brands soon equip smartphone cameras with anamorphic lenses, very much in line with how Apple added cinematic mode (Focus Shift) to the iPhone 13 Pr, for example.

As for smartphone camera innovations, Pérez said variable focal length is another bold feature that will make a huge difference when it becomes a reality. Currently, the only way smartphone cameras can offer different focal lengths is to put together two or more lenses with different focal lengths. The only exceptions to this are the Sony Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III, both of which have movable lenses in the periscope telephoto module that offer different focal lengths. But it is certainly a rarity.

“The day a smartphone brand gives us photographers and videographers the ability to shoot with our smartphone camera at different focal lengths, all from a single lens, that day will mark the beginning of a new era in the visual content creation industry. “said Perez.

New takes on the camera lens

Glass isn’t the only company trying to use new techniques to make better smartphone cameras. Stanford University researchers have created a new approach that allows standard image sensors to see light in three dimensions. These common cameras could soon be used to measure distance to objects.

Measuring the distance between objects with light is now only possible with specialized and expensive lidar systems – short for “light detection and ranging”. But Stanford scientists wrote in a recent paper that they’ve found a solution that relies on a phenomenon known as acoustic resonance. The team built a simple acoustic modulator using a thin wafer of lithium niobate – a transparent crystal highly sought after for its electrical, acoustic and optical properties – covered with two transparent electrodes.

“Existing lidar systems are big and bulky, but one day if you want lidar capabilities in millions of autonomous drones or in light robotic vehicles, you’ll want them to be very small, very energy efficient and offer high performances”, Okan Atalar, the first author of the new journal. said in a press release.

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