Finally, Blade Runner tech!

22 06 2011

It’s becoming more and more evident just how prescient Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner was. Though set in 2019, many elements of the gritty neo-noir have already come true today: LA is a dystopian wasteland, RCA, Atari, and Pan Am are thriving American megacorporations, and replicants from the offworlds are wreaking havoc on the populace with only Harrison Ford standing in their way.

Also, all fashion is late-80's Versace and everyone listens to Vangelis

As cool as Blade Runner is, I’m glad the future is headed in a different direction (though the film got the part about LA right, and Harrison Ford might a replicant). Still, though, it’s cool when a piece of tech from an old sci-fi book or movie comes to life. If you saw Blade Runner, you might remember the “Esper” device:

If you’re too impatient to watch the freakin’ video clip, it is basically a machine that scans and analyzes a photo in ridiculous ways, including panning and tilting. Ridiculous, that is, until now late 2011, when the Lytro focus-free camera is set to be released. This article explains the tech better than I can, but the concept is elegant: inside every digital camera is a CCD chip roughly analogous to the retina in your eye–both gather light from world around you and convert it into impulses that can be recorded/interpreted by your brain as an image.

And like the retina, the CCD chips in digital cameras need a lens to focus light onto the image-collection surface, or else everything would be blurry. Until now. The Lytro works by collecting so much information about the surrounding world that focusing can be handled after the photo is snapped by means of post processing.

Think about that for a second: not only does that change the way we take photos (“turn camera on, focus/wait for camera to autofocus, snap” turns to “turn camera on, snap, focus later then pan and tilt the image”), it radically changes what we can do with our photos. Since the camera may be 30D image compatible, we may actually be able to pull a Blade Runner and “navigate” a photo as Deckard did with the Esper device. Also, the camera promises better photos in low-light situations without a flash (consider: how often do you use a flash to see when you’re sitting in a dark restaurant? That’s how sensitive your eyes are).

There are a few examples to play around with in the gallery of the Lytro website. It’s not clear whether the company will be able to release the camera at the promised $500 price point or whether it will be on the shelves by the end of the year, but it’s cool tech nonetheless.

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