Everything in focus, all the time

University of Toronto professor invents new camera technology
Thursday, May 6, 2010

TORONTO—Professor Keigo Iizuka, of the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering here at the University of Toronto, has developed a new camera technology that can transmit live, full-color video whereby everything in the frame is in focus, in high-definition, all the time. Objects in both the foreground and background can be transmitted in crisp focus, with no need to shift the focus back and forth.

“Sometimes the television carries videos from the security cameras, but they are out of focus,” Iizuka laughed, “and I think, ‘I can solve that problem using my camera.’”

Iizuka is on version two of his invention now, having reduced the size of his prototype from roughly 10” x 36” x 36” to its current form of 10” x 28” x 8”, and he expects to get the technology small enough eventually to be used in medical imaging for surgical procedures.

The trick Iizuka employs relies on, according to materials he provided, the fact that “the intensity of a point source decays with the inverse square of the distance of propagation. This variation with distance has proven to be large enough to provide depth mapping with high resolution. What’s more, by using two point sources at different locations, the distance of the object can be determined without the influence of its surface texture.” Thus, Iizuka invented a new distance-mapping camera, the Divergence-ratio Axi-vision Camera, abbreviated “Divcam,” which is vital to the finished product, what he’s calling the Omni-focus Video Camera. Essentially, a number of different cameras are taking in video, and the Divcam coordinates the information into the resultant completely focused video.

See examples of what it looks like below:

Iizuka is apparently not the first to develop a camera with these kinds of capabilities, however. Representatives from Golden State Instruments said their Smart Focus line of cameras, which includes an IR bullet camera and a vandal dome, can perform in similar fashion. “It uses a similar distance-mapping feature to keep objects always in focus,” said Leland Tai, at Golden State, which sells through distribution channels only. “In addition to this auto-focusing lens it also has an on-screen display menu the installer can control and use to customize the camera during installation.”

While possible applications are still being developed for standard video surveillance, Iizuka also sees uses for biometrics, for example, as the camera can be used to capture fingerprints without having to have any sort of close proximity or special field of view, or it could be used as a counterfeit currency detector, as it can quickly examine the texture of a surface. It could also be very useful in license plate capture or other instances where information needs to be captured quickly and time to focus is minimal.

Also, because of the way the camera calculates distance, it’s possible to, for example, create a profile of a face even if you only have a frontal view. The possibilities are only beginning to be explored.

How close is the Omni-focus to production? Iizuka said that depends on funding and investment, but technologically, he could have something ready for mass production within a year depending on the capabilities of the company licensing the technology and the creativity of the application.

Here's another example of what the technology can do: