This Columbia University professor is on a quest to change the way we look at cameras

Among Indian-origin Shree K Nayar’s inventions – a wrap-around camera that can take photos of the hidden side; a kid-friendly digital camera that can be assembled by the user; the world’s first fully self-powered video camera; etc

India At Large staff

Indian-origin researcher Shree K Nayar is on a mission to change the way we look at cameras. Recently, scientists – led by the Columbia University professor – developed a novel flexible sheet camera that can be wrapped around everyday objects to capture images that cannot be taken with conventional cameras.

The researchers designed and fabricated a flexible lens array that adapts its optical properties when the sheet camera is bent. This optical adaptation enables the sheet camera to produce high quality images over a wide range of sheet deformations.

“Cameras today capture the world from essentially a single point in space,” Nayar was quoted as saying by media reports. “While the camera industry has made remarkable progress in shrinking the camera to a tiny device with ever increasing imaging quality, we are exploring a radically different approach to imaging,” he said, adding: “We believe there are numerous applications for cameras that are large in format but very thin and highly flexible.”

If such an imaging system could be manufactured cheaply, like a roll of plastic or fabric, it could be wrapped around all kinds of things, from street poles to furniture, cars, and even people’s clothing, to capture wide, seamless images with unusual fields of view.

The design could also lead to cameras the size of a credit card that a photographer could simply flex to control its field of view.

However, this is not the first time the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra and North Carolina State University alumnus has made the quintessential camera look more exciting. In 2009, he designed a camera that can be assembled by the user. The idea was to redesign the camera so as to inspire young kids to learn the underlying technology.

As per Gizmag, the Bigshot camera was inspired by a 2004 documentary project that put cameras into the hands of the children of prostitutes from Sonagchi, Calcutta, providing a unique snapshot of life in the city’s red light district while the kids learned new skills.

In 2011, Nayar founded a startup called Kimera, LLC to get Bigshot into the hands of students and teachers worldwide. The market-ready camera kit is now being manufactured under licence by Hong Kong’s EduScience, and sold in the US by Elenco Electronics for just $89 each.

In April last year, Nayar invented the “world’s first fully self-powered video camera” that can produce an image each second, indefinitely, of a well-lit indoor scene. The camera, which is encased in a 3D-printed body, is completely self-sustaining meaning it can power itself indefinitely.

The computer scientist known for his work in the fields of computer vision, computer graphics and computational cameras. Nayar is the TC Chang Professor of the Computer Science Department at Columbia University. He co-directs the Columbia Vision and Graphics Center and is the head of the Computer Vision Laboratory (CAVE), which develops advanced computer vision systems. In February 2008, he was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering.

Nayar received a BE in electrical engineering from Birla Institute of Technology in Mesra, Ranchi in 1984, and an MS in electrical and computer engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh in 1986. He received a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from The Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1991.

Nayar worked as a research engineer for Taylor Instruments in 1984. From 1986 to 1990 he was a graduate research assistant at The Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. In the summer of 1989, he was a visiting researcher at Hitachi Ltd. in Yokohama, Japan. He joined the faculty of the Computer Science Department at Columbia University in 1991, and in 2009 he became chair of the department.


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