Camera Uses Algorithms Instead of Lenses

A normal camera uses a lens to bend light so that it hits a sensor. A pinhole camera doesn’t have a lens, but the tiny hole serves the same function. Now two researchers from the University of Utah. have used software to recreate images from scattered unfocused light. The quality isn’t great, but there’s no lens — not even a pinhole — involved. You can see a video, below.

The camera has a sensor on the edge of a piece of a transparent window. The images could resolve .1 line-pairs/mm at a distance of 150 mm and had a depth of field of about 10 mm. This may seem like a solution that needs a problem, but think about the applications where a camera could see through a windshield or a pair of glasses without having a conventional camera in the way.

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Hardware Store White Balance Reference

We live in a time in which taking pictures is preposterously easy: take out your phone (assuming it wasn’t already in your hands), point it at something, and tap the screen. The camera hardware and software in even basic smartphones today is good enough that you don’t need to give it much more thought than that to get decent pictures. But what if you want to do better than just decent?

Ideally you’d take photos lit by high temperature lights, but failing that, you might need to compensate by adjusting the white balance during post-processing. But to accurately adjust white balance you need a pure white reference point in the image. Thanks to some diligent research by the folks at the FastRawViewer blog, we now have a cheap and widely available source for a pure white reference material: PTFE pipe tape.

Alright, we know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to find a white object? Well, if you’re talking about really white, it can actually be quite difficult. Take a walk down the paint aisle of your local hardware store and see just how many “whites” there actually are. Think the shirt your subject is wearing is really white? Think you can use the glossy white smartphone in their hand as a reference? Think again.

By taking a rubber eraser and wrapping it with a few layers of the PTFE tape, you can create a white reference that’s so cheap it’s effectively disposable. Which is good, because protecting your white reference object and keeping it clean can be a challenge in itself. But with a PTFE tape reference, you can just chuck the thing when the photo shoot is done.

Combine this cheap white reference with some of the DIY photography lighting setups we’ve covered in the past, and you’ll be well on the way to getting better images to document all your projects. Just remember to submit them to us when you’re done.

[Thanks to Keith Olson for the tip.]

An Achievable Underwater Camera

We are surrounded by sensors for all forms of environmental measurement, and a casual browse through an electronics catalogue can see an experimenter tooled up with the whole array for a relatively small outlay. When the environment in question is not the still air of your bench but the turbulence, sand, grit, and mud of a sea floor, that pile of sensors becomes rather useless. [Ellie T] has been addressing this problem as part of the study of hypoxia in marine life, and part of her solution is to create an underwater camera by encasing a Raspberry Pi Zero W and camera in a sturdy enclosure made from PVC pipe. She’s called the project LoBSTAS, which stands for Low-cost Benthic Sensing Trap-Attached System.

The housing is simple enough, the PVC has a transparent acrylic disk mounted in a pipe coupler at one end, with the seal being provided at the other by an expansion plug. A neopixel ring is mounted in the clear end, with the Pi camera mounted in its centre. Meanwhile the Pi itself occupies the body of the unit, with power coming from a USB battery bank. The camera isn’t the only sensor on this build though, and Atlas Scientific oxygen sensor  completes the package and is mounted in a hole drilled in the expansion plug and sealed with silicone sealant.

Underwater cameras seem to have featured more in the earlier years of Hackaday’s existence, but that’s not to say matters underwater haven’t been on the agenda. The 2017 Hackaday Prize was carried off by the Open Source Underwater Glider.

Dawn of the First Digital Camera

Technology vanishes. It either succeeds and becomes ubiquitous or fails. For example, there was a time when networking and multimedia were computer buzzwords. Now they are just how computers work. On the other hand, when was the last time you thought about using a CueCat barcode reader to scan an advertisement? Then there are the things that have their time and vanish, like pagers. It is hard to decide which category digital cameras fall into. They are being absorbed into our phones and disappearing as a separate category for most consumers. But have you ever wondered about the first digital camera? The story isn’t what you would probably guess.

The first digital camera I ever had was a Sony that took a floppy disk. Surely that was the first, right? Turns out, no. There were some very early attempts that didn’t really have the technology to make them work. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was using analog electronic imaging as early as 1961 (they had been developing film on the moon but certainly need a better way). A TI engineer even patented the basic outline of an electronic camera in 1972, but it wasn’t strictly digital. None of these bore any practical fruit, especially relative to digital technology. It would take Eastman Kodak to create a portable digital camera, even though they were not the first to commercialize the technology.

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Feast Your Eyeballs On This Mechanical Eyeball

Most of us, if we have bought a single board computer with the capability  to support a camera, will have succumbed to temptation and shelled out for that peripheral in the hope that we can coax our new toy into having sight. We’ll have played with the command line tool and taken a few random images of our bench, but then what? There is so much possibility in a camera that our colleague [Steven Dufresne] wanted to explore with his Raspberry Pi, so he built a motorised eyeball mount with which to do so.

Pan & tilt mounts using RC servos are nothing especially new, but in this one he’s put some design effort that maybe some of the others lack. A lot of effort has gone in to ensuring no interference between the two axes, and in a slightly macabre twist until you remember it’s a model he’s talking about, the unit has been designed to fit inside a human head.

The servos are driven from the Pi using a servo driver board he’s discussed in another video, so once he’s described the assembly with a few design tweaks thrown in he has a quick look at the software demo he’s written emulating neurons for eye tracking. He promises that will be put up somewhere for download in due course.

If you’re in the market for a pan & tilt mount for your Pi, this one could make a lot of sense to throw at your 3D printer. It’s certainly more accomplished than this previous one we’ve shown you.

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Light Painting Animations Directly From Blender

Light painting: there’s something that never gets old about waving lights around in a long exposure photo. Whilst most light paintings are single shots, some artists painstakingly create frame-by-frame animations. This is pretty hard to do when moving a light around by hand: it’s mostly guesswork, as it’s difficult to see the results of your efforts until after the photo has been taken. But what if you could make the patterns really precise? What if you could model them in 3D?

[Josh Sheldon] has done just that, by creating a process which allows animations formed in Blender to be traced out in 3D as light paintings. An animation is created in Blender then each frame is automatically exported and traced out by an RGB LED on a 3D gantry. This project is the culmination of a lot of software, electronic and mechanical work, all coming together under tight tolerances, and [Josh]’s skill really shines.

The first step was to export the animations out of Blender. Thanks to its open source nature, Python Blender add-ons were written to create light paths and convert them into an efficient sequence that could be executed by the hardware. To accommodate smooth sliding camera movements during the animation, a motion controller add-on was also written.

The gantry which carried the main LED was hand-made. We’d have been tempted to buy a 3D printer and hack it for this purpose, but [Josh] did a fantastic job on the mechanical build, gaining a solidly constructed gantry with a large range. The driver electronics were also slickly executed, with custom rack-mount units created to integrate with the DragonFrame controller used for the animation.

The video ends on a call to action: due to moving out, [Josh] was unable to continue the project but has done much of the necessary legwork. We’d love to see this project continued, and it has been documented for anyone who wishes to do so. If you want to check out more of [Josh]’s work, we’ve previously written about that time he made an automatic hole puncher for music box spools.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick].

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HOPE XII: Make Your Own Holograms

Prior to this weekend I had assumed making holograms to be beyond the average hacker’s reach, either in skill or treasure. I was proven wrong by a Club-Mate box full of electronics, and an acrylic jig perched atop an automotive inner tube. At the Hope Conference, Tommy Johnson was sharing his hacker holography in a workshop that let a few lucky attendees make their own holograms on site!

The technique used here depends on interference patterns rather than beam splitting. A diffused laser beam is projected through holographic film onto the subject of the hologram — say a bouquet of flowers like in the video below. Photons from that beam reflect from the bouquet and pass back through the film a second time. Since light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that travels as a wave, anywhere that two peaks (one from the beam the other from the reflected light) align on the film, exposure occurs. With just a 1/2 second exposure the film is ready to be developed, and if everything went right you have created a hologram.

Simple, right? In theory, at least. In practice Tommy’s been doing this for nearly 30 years and has picked up numerous tips along the way. Let’s take a look at the hardware he brought for the workshop.

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