Compact Laser Projectors: Creating New Touchscreens

Ultra-compact laser projectors have given us the ability to see, and even use, a touchscreen projected onto a surface.  Also known as a pico projector, pocket projector, mobile projector, handheld projector, or mini beamer, these devices have now advanced from a simple image projection into the realm of the interactive.  Applications for this technology include mobile, gaming, hand gesture recognition, and more.  A few companies driving these technological moves into the future are Lenovo and Cicret.

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo just announced a new smartphone, called Smart Cast, whose pico projector can turn any surface into a touchscreen. Although not the first to do this, the Smart Cast recognizes gestures to control the phone, and can project onto either walls or surfaces.  Using this phone, you could watch videos on a wall or play music on a projected keyboard (pictured). While there are few details available since it was only recently unveiled, it could be a promising device.

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret, based in France, has also created a promising product – a wristband with a tiny laser projector that will display your smartphone’s touchscreen on your arm. Using eight proximity sensors, it lets your finger, touching the projected image, control your smartphone from a distance.  Although it is still in development, Cicret aims to complete the final product soon, since its wristband has gained a great deal of momentum from the media and potential investors.

Key to these technologies are optics that provide clear images and accurate sensors.  Using active alignment in the assembly process is just one of the many steps these companies can take to bolster the quality of their products.  We look forward to a future in which these technologies can not only prosper, but also help to improve people’s daily lives through convenience and efficiency.

Smartphone Cameras Win: Point-and-Shoot Cameras See Precipitous Fall

While many have expected a continued downfall in point-and-shoot camera sales, it has become very clear that 2013 was a true turning point for these cameras.  Having experienced plunging sales – global shipments were down 42% in the first five months of 2013 – the leading camera makers are scrambling to streamline product lines and compete with the convenience of smartphone cameras.  Industry giants Canon and Nikon have both revised their sales forecasts significantly for this year – Canon by a full 10 percent.  However, while Canon and Nikon are fortunate to have some sales, since both offer top digital SLR models that don’t compete directly with smartphone cameras, others are not so lucky. One analyst predicted that the Olympus brand might disappear altogether this year, citing its measly 7% market share, failure to generate a profit in any of the past three years, and a grim outlook for the coming year, particularly because the company’s main camera segment is compact cameras, which are in direct competition with smartphones.

Smartphone Cameras Continue to Skyrocket

While traditional camera manufacturers are not thrilled with the growth in smartphone popularity, consumers with increasingly busy lifestyles are grateful for one gadget that is multi-functional.  Sales growth has been steady (see image below).

Graph of IDC Smartphone and Digital Camera salesGiven the clear dominance of the smartphone camera for everyday photos, companies are now pushing the envelope within that market.  Amazon is rumored to have in development a
3D phone
which uses four cameras that track eye and head movements to make the screen appear three dimensional.  Samsung has been developing its ISOCELL technology to improve color and image quality, and recently introduced a 13MP camera.

Better Smartphone Cameras on the Rise

What will we find in our cameras next?  The possibilities are phenomenal.  While at Kasalis our technology drives active alignment to become an essential component in competitive camera modules, others will be developing gesture recognition, 3D imaging, and amazing mobile photography apps.  What do you see happening in your personal camera use?  Is your smartphone taking over?  Either way, the next generation of smartphone camera will undoubtedly be thrilling for photographers on the move, and will probably, in the end, deliver the knock-out blow to the point-and-shoot era.

Bigger Front-Facing Camera Modules Coming Soon

We recently read on Image Sensors World about the trends in China toward higher resolution front cameras in smartphones, and were inspired to do a bit more investigating into what we can expect to see in the U.S.  Although the typical front-facing camera available here is less than 2MP (for reference, the iPhone 5 has a 1.2MP front camera), several Chinese manufacturers (MeituKiss, Oppo, and Zopo) are currently releasing phones with 5MP or 8MP front camera modules.  Of course, we all know that megapixels are not the only factor in image quality, but giving the front-facing camera greater capabilities and higher precedence will change the way app developers think and how people use their smartphones.

Of the many uses of the front-facing camera, most of them have to do with popular communication tools and apps, such as FaceTime for Apple iOS systems, Skype,  and Vine, the mobile video sharing app that recently added front-facing capabilities.  There are also popular security apps (such as EyeVerify), mirror apps, and self-portrait photography (very popular with young, social media-savvy Millenials) that rely upon front-facing cameras.

Omnivision OV2724 Sensor

The compact Omnivision OV2724 Sensor

The challenge with front cameras is the limited space for them within the smartphone casing.  To overcome this challenge, Omnivision will be producing a new front-facing sensor this summer: the OV2724 sensor, which, while tiny (5mm x 5mm x 3.5mm), will allow for a front-facing 1080p HD camera that can record video at 60 frames per second.  Given this advance in technology, consumers can probably expect to see significant changes in smartphone front cameras by next year – one of many exciting prospects on the horizon in the smartphone technology evolution taking place.

Mobile World Congress 2013: Highlights, Camera-Focused App EyeVerify

The MWC just wrapped up in Barcelona, and as the biggest mobile-only event in the world, its audience arrived with high expectations.  News outlets published highly varied impressions of what, exactly, was newsworthy and notable:

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, there was a great deal of disappointment over the dearth of new mobile device breakthroughs.  However, they identified important trends there, including infrastructure innovations for machine-to-machine (or M2M) telematics; tablet apps created by automakers; and low-end mobile phone models to reach new customers.

Wired noted the emerging devices that appear to be a combination of tablets and phones (in some places known as “Phablets”), sized between a typical tablet and mobile phone, and able to make calls.

Finally, in a flurry of coverage, CNET staffers spotted new mobile operating systems from Firefox and Ubuntu, a smartphone screen made of sapphire, and streamlined cyborg-like products.

Of those cyborg-like, human-machine innovations, one caught our eye due to its reliance upon a camera module: EyeVerify, a new security app (in development) that scans your eyeball veins for access to your phone. While previous face recognition apps were fooled with a photo in tests, each person’s “eyeprint” is unique and difficult to imitate.  This next, promising step in mobile authentication will ideally use the front-facing camera so that the screen interface is visible during the scan; however, a 2MP minimum is required (see chart image for smartphone camera pixel trends, below, from this Samsung Report). Since there are many phones in use without a 2MP front-facing camera, the app allows for use of the rear-facing camera as well.  As apps such as EyeVerify continue to grow and prosper, mobile phone manufacturers will recognize the need and customer demand for high quality camera modules in their products.

Camera modules for mobile devices and pixel count trends

Medical Imaging Cameras, Otoscopes, and Dermatoscopes: A Digital Future

In an election year, there is always a great deal of healthcare talk, usually about how to improve the system.  In those debates, technology typically plays a background role.  To add to the banter, we’d like to ask few questions about the latest medical camera technology, and how it will affect the healthcare system, like: how can medical imaging cameras help to streamline diagnoses?  And how could new digital camera module technologies help save us money?

Miniature digital camera modules embedded in medical devices such as otoscopes (for ears) and dermatoscopes (for skin) can be used to take a photo at each medical appointment.  The embedded cameras are exciting because the images can immediately be magnified for improved diagnosis, examined by your doctor, and then saved.  Each patient’s images will be archived in a digital record that can later be referenced to help clarify his or her medical history.  One company producing such digital cameras is Firefly Global, which we read about in the New York Times earlier this year.

In addition to having expandable images available for immediate analysis and for future reference, some digital medical imaging cameras can be hooked up to mobile devices for remote doctor consultations.  For instance, parents of toddlers with a predisposition toward ear infections (the most common diagnosis among preschoolers) can use their smartphone cameras and medical imaging attachments to send a photo of their child’s ear drum to the doctor and receive a diagnosis remotely.

It was recently announced that researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed a new pediatric medical device that they have dubbed the Remotoscope.  It turns an iPhone into a digital otoscope (to examine ears) and consists of a clip-on lens attachment and a custom software app, but also uses the iPhone’s camera and flash.  The software controls the camera’s magnification and records data to the phone.  The iPhone easily processes the videos or images so that they can be sent straight to a patient’s medical record or to a doctor’s inbox.

Remotoscope medical device

Remotoscope in use. Photo credit: Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium

According to these researchers, the need for the Remotoscope is vast due to the overwhelming numbers of pediatric ear infections seen annually – 30 million in the United States alone.  Clearly this technology has fantastic potential to help save millions of parents a trip to the hospital, pediatrician, or emergency room, as well as save health care organizations on expensive and time-consuming diagnosis and follow-up care.

A Blurring Line Between Cameras and Smartphones

More and more, people use their smartphones as their default cameras; thus, precision smartphone camera modules are touted as highly desirable features.  However, on the flip side, the point-and-shoot cameras of late are becoming more like smartphones.  Camera makers are integrating connectivity, and now app capabilities, so that images can be shared instantly.

The Olympus E-PM2 is a new mirrorless camera that has integrated Wi-Fi connectivity so users can send images instantly to their smartphones.  The newly announced Samsung Galaxy camera takes a different approach, with Android built right into it so that its screen functions like a smartphone would, using a 4G data network, and photo apps such as Instagram can be integrated easily.

The benefit of one of these cameras is the ability to immediately share top quality images – much better in focus, zoom, and pixel size than a typical smartphone camera.  However, you must still carry a smartphone and a camera BOTH if you were to purchase one of these new cameras.

The Photojojo Phone Lens Series is available to customize smartphone cameras.

In terms of smartphones, it won’t be long before their camera modules improve.  In fact, several new smartphones that were unveiled at the IFA Technology Convention in Berlin a few weeks ago offer higher resolution camera modules.  A 13-megapixel camera will come with the new LG Optimus G, Sony’s Xperia T, and the Samsung Galaxy S4.  In addition, there are add-on lens options for improving your existing smartphone camera; Photojojo offers fisheye, telephoto, wide angle and macro lenses that can be mounted onto a mobile phone or tablet.  Whether you prefer a smartphone with an excellent camera module or a camera with smartphone connectivity, keep your eyes on the horizon for the next exciting innovations.