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ImmerVision targets smart phones with 'panomorph' lenses

04 Mar 2015

Optical technology provides full 360-degree views of a mobile handset user's surroundings.

The Canadian company ImmerVision, which has been developing panoramic optical imaging technology for 15 years, is targeting new applications in mobile handsets and tablets.

At the giant Mobile World Congress exhibition taking place this week in Barcelona, Spain, the firm is launching its 360-degree “panomorph” front-facing cameras. It reckons they will “radically change” how mobile users capture, experience, and share images of their immediate surroundings.

ImmerVision’s chief commercial officer Alessandro Gasparini, who is spearheading the company’s attempt to penetrate consumer electronics, says that the technology is similar to virtual reality, adding an extra level of interaction that users can share, or view on another tablet, TV, or head-mounted display device like Oculus Rift.

“Today’s mobile technologies are focused on higher megapixels, thinner handsets, and larger displays,” he says. “ImmerVision is changing everything by making it possible for any manufacturer to integrate an ultra-compact 360-degree panomorph lens that lets consumers do things they’ve never thought possible, like capturing entire panoramic moments of life identical to the original experience — all with a single click.”

ImmerVision's principal optical designer Simon Thibault on the miniature panomorph lens developed by the company:

Revolutionary perspective
ImmerVision has been working on the lens technology – said to outperform more conventional fish-eye or catadioptric alternatives - for more than a decade, originally aiming larger versions at security markets for applications like closed-circuit TV imaging. But last July the company said it had developed a 3.8 mm panomorph, small enough to be designed into phones and even wearable devices.

It says that the first mobile handsets featuring that technology will appear this year. The lenses are actually manufactured by the Korean company Kolen, while OmniVision is providing high-sensitivity 5 megapixel sensors for the application. Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon processors convert the distorted 360-degree image that is captured into something users can recognize and share.

OmniVision’s sales chief Ray Cisneros said in ImmerVision’s latest statement: “With the launch of this new camera, ImmerVision demonstrates the high-performance 5 megapixel CameraChip sensor, and the result is a revolutionary new perspective on digital imaging.”

And when ImmerVision first announced the new lens last year, Kolen’s president Jong Jing Lee said: “ImmerVision technology is the most exciting, innovative optical technology we have seen in recent years. Kolen believes this is a game changer, capable of revolutionizing our communication habits and furthering the communications experience across multiple platforms.”

New video standard
Aside from smart phones, ImmerVision’s panomorph cameras have found applications in drones, video surveillance, baby monitoring, and the automotive sector.

Its supporting video standard can now be licensed worldwide in a new version called “ImmerVision Enables 2.0.” The update is said to add image stabilization, and allow data to be embedded along with captured content, for example heart rate, altitude, speed, and temperature.

ImmerVision was originally based in France, where it started out back in 2000. It relocated to Montreal in 2003, developing so-called “de-warping” imaging algorithms that deliver the wrap-around 360-degree view.

Its patented concept is called anamorphosis, and effectively stretches the image to optimize its capture on a rectangular sensor. Both central and peripheral elements of the image can be magnified, as required by the specific application.

The company previously exhibited at the 2012 Photonics West event, while principal optical designer Simon Thibault presented details of the miniaturized 360-degree panomorph lens at SPIE's Optics + Photonics conference in San Diego last year.

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