Using a new class of artificial materials, scientists at Duke University have designed a sensor that compresses images far more efficiently than existing technologies like JPEG.
The materials, called metamaterials, have exotic qualities that bend light, X-rays and radio waves in unusual ways.
While they are barely a decade old, they are fast falling in cost and are expected to become commercially available beginning within two years for a wide array of applications, including radio communications, security and automotive safety.
In 2006, the Duke researchers made headlines by demonstrating that an “invisibility cloak” could be created by bending the light that strikes a metamaterial.
The researchers, at the Center for Metamaterials and Integrated Plasmonics, reported Thursday in the journal Science that their scanning sensor captures both still and video images while simplifying compression by integrating it directly into the sensor array.
A cost advantage of the new technology is that it permits image compression to be performed directly by the sensor hardware, rather than by the specialized hardware and software in use today.
Although the cost of optical sensors has fallen rapidly, automobile manufacturers have been searching for alternatives to expensive laser radar, or Lidar, to provide sensors that work in a range of natural light conditions, including night, dust clouds and snowstorms.
The current generation of airport millimeter-wave security scanners has gained popularity because they do not rely on X-ray radiation and its attendant health risks.
But they require an elaborate mechanical arm that sweeps around a passenger standing in a scanning booth.
“The drawbacks are that it takes time and adds a lot of expense because of complicated mechanical rotors,” said the lead author of the Science paper, John Hunt, a graduate researcher at the Duke center. “We have been trying to replace the whole system with one that has no moving parts.”
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