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Think dual camera phones are overkill? How about this bump-less quad camera by the institute that invented .MP3s?

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Smartphone manufacturers have found ways to deal with unsightly camera bumps, but the means to do so don't really allow for large, technologically ambitious camera sensors. The ever-diligent Fraunhofer Institute, to whom we owe the .MP3 format among other things, has worked to sidestep this trade-off.

It proposed and demonstrated a slide-out camera module that's thin enough to be included in a reasonably slim smartphone, but allows for serious camera mojo while staying invisible until it's time for work.

The current prototype uses a whopping four image sensors, rotated 90 degrees so they point out of the side of the phone. Meanwhile, a set of tiny mirrors in front of the sensors reflects the image from the front or rear of the phone. It may seem a bit crammed in there, but there's good reasoning behind the design (duh, it's Fraunhofer!).

The engineers tried a single mirror system, which failed at close range. So they added a second mirror and mashed together images from both, resulting in stitching errors. Surprisingly, adding a full second set of sensors and mirrors didn't complicate the mess further, but actually enabled the system to function error-free.

The prototype captures pictures at a 20MP resolution, which is satisfying considering the number of sensors at work. It benefits from auto-focus and optical image stabilization, too. Alas, selling this module to smartphone makers as-is could prove problematic. It's very different to what's currently in use, it requires unorthodox engineering, and it's probably as power-hungry as four cameras firing at once can be.

But we have a hunch that the time for such designs will eventually come. Imagine Samsung licensing the technology, pouring its unlimited money into refining it, and turning it into a smartphone camera you speak of in a hushed, pious tone. It's an interesting possibility!

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source: PC World

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