Light Field Camera Technology - Potential for Positioning?

Randy Noland

A few weeks back, I began reading about the release of a new type of camera. This new camera creates images on a new type of sensor by capturing light fields. Light fields are a fundamental representation of light. They are a  function that describes the amount of light faring in every direction through every point in space. The coolest feature of the camera was that you could refocus the image after the picture was taken. Being a bit of a photographer hack I could use something like that. I cannot tell you how many pictures I’ve taken only to find that the object I was shooting was out of focus.

I was intrigued and dug a bit deeper and here is what I found:

Defining the Light Field

The light field is a core concept in imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than in regular photographs. The light field fully defines how a scene appears. It is the amount of light traveling in every direction through every point in space. Conventional cameras cannot record the light field.

Capturing the Light Field
Recording light fields requires an innovative, entirely new kind of sensor called a light field sensor. The light field sensor captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. This directional information is completely lost with traditional camera sensors, which simply add up all the light rays and record them as a single amount of light.

Processing the Light Field
How do light field cameras make use of the additional information? By substituting powerful software for many of the internal parts of regular cameras, light field processing introduces new capabilities that were never before possible. Sophisticated algorithms use the full light field to unleash new ways to make and view pictures.

Relying on software rather than components can improve performance, from increased speed of picture taking to the potential for capturing better pictures in low light. It also creates new opportunities to innovate on camera lenses, controls and design.

About Living Pictures
The way we communicate visually is evolving rapidly, and people's expectations are changing in lockstep. Light field cameras offer astonishing capabilities. They allow both the picture taker and the viewer to focus pictures after they're snapped, shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views. With these amazing capabilities, pictures become immersive, interactive visual stories that were never before possible – they become living pictures.

I began to think of potential possibilities for measurements in positioning. Perhaps the the light field data file contained  data that could interpolate between any two points or between different surfaces. Could this be similar to time of flight electronic distance measurement (EDM’s) used in reflector-less total stations and robotic total stations? Could this be similar to the concepts used by LiDar scanners?
I sent the following email to the support email at Lytro, the company that seems first to release the camare.

“Randy Noland, Oct-29 10:21 am (PDT):

I am interested in the raw file type to see if further processing of the data can be made. I work in the 3D positioning and machine control business which includes use of LiDar, GNSS, accelerometers, etc. Perhaps the technology is not yet here but I am very interested in understanding how rich the stored data and if it allows further positional processing.”

I was wondering if my inquiry was to aside from the normal consumer camera questions to warrant a reply. But just two days later I received the following:

We use two file formats, a RAW format and the .LFP format.
RAW - The RAW format is a text file that contains all the lighting and image information captured by the Lytro Camera. This file is stored on your camera and is not accessible by you, as there is no software that can do anything with it.
LFP - The LFP file is a binary format created by your desktop software when it processes your RAW pictures.
The advanced type of editing you're speaking of is not an intended use for this version of the camera. We're looking to expand it's uses in the future. but, this is not one of it's intended uses at this time.

-Lytro Support”

Hmm, that is not a 'no.' Light field technology could evolve into sensors beneficial for our industry and address other applications. If not, it sure is a very cool camera.

I will keep my eye on this as light field technology continues to emerge and report any findings.

Randy Noland

Managing Editor/Cofounder  / Machine Control Magazine

editor [at] machinecontrolonline [dot] com

To read more about light field technology or Lytro, please see the links below.


Light Field Imaging

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