The camera you own has one main lens and produces a flat, two-dimensional photograph, whether you hold it in your hand or view it on your computer screen. On the other hand, a camera with two lenses (or two cameras placed apart from each other) can take more interesting 3-D photos.
But what if your digital camera saw the world through thousands of tiny lenses, each a miniature camera unto itself” You’d get a 2-D photo, but you’d also get something potentially more valuable: an electronic “depth map” containing the distance from the camera to every object in the picture, a kind of super 3-D.
Stanford electronics researchers, lead by electrical engineering Professor Abbas El Gamal, are developing such a camera, built around their “multi-aperture image sensor.” They’ve shrunk the pixels on the sensor to 0.7 microns, several times smaller than pixels in standard digital cameras. They’ve grouped the pixels in arrays of 256 pixels each, and they’re preparing to place a tiny lens atop each array.