Throughout our technology inundated lives we are bombarded by two dimensional images and videos. Almost all of our monitors display 2D pictures exclusively, and even more of our cameras are similarly limited, but researchers are working on technologies to bring the third dimension to our electronics. One of these technologies is the light-field camera and researchers at MIT have recently found a way to potentially bring this technology to everyone.
The typical, modern camera operates by recording the intensity of light at a specific point, either on film or on a semiconductor. A light-field camera however records the intensity of the light and the viewing angle of the field. Modern light-field cameras accomplish this with special sensors, that sacrifice resolution for the extra data, but the MIT researchers have designed a simple plastic film that does not suffer that particular trade-off and can be combined with standard 2D cameras. The film is made of multiple patches, which are made of blocks and pixels, which have been carefully designed to allow only certain light fields through. By combining the information from the patches, it is possible to reconstruct the original light-field of the image.
While the simple plastic film could bring light-field cameras to everyone, there is still a lot of work to do. The computations required to produce a single image are exceedingly complex and the film's current design and optimization may need additional development to image everything in the real world.