Digital camera clicks on open source

CIOL Bureau
Updated On
New Update

STANFORD, USA: Stanford photo scientists are out to reinvent digital photography with the introduction of an "open-source" digital camera, which will give programmers around the world the chance to create software that will teach cameras new tricks.


If the technology catches on, camera performance will be no longer be limited by the software that comes pre-installed by the manufacturer. Virtually all of the features of the Stanford camera - focus, exposure, shutter speed, flash, etc - are at the command of software that can be created by inspired programmers anywhere.

"The premise of the project is to build a camera that is open source," said computer science professor Marc Levoy.

Computer science graduate student Andrew Adams, who helped design the prototype of the Stanford camera (dubbed Frankencamera,) imagines a future where consumers download applications to their open-platform cameras the way Apple apps are downloaded to iPhones today.


When the camera's operating software is made available publicly, perhaps a year from now, users will be able to continuously improve it, along the open-source model of the Linux operating system for computers or the Mozilla Firefox web browser, said a press release.

Programmers would have the freedom to experiment with new ways of tuning the camera's response to light and motion, adding their own algorithms to process the raw images in innovative ways.

Levoy's plan is to develop and manufacture the "Frankencamera" as a platform that will first be available at minimal cost to fellow computational photography researchers.


Yet another idea is to have the camera communicate with computers on a network, such as a photo-hosting service on the Web.

Imagine, Levoy said, if the camera could analyze highly-rated pictures of a subject in an online gallery before snapping the shutter for another portrait of the same subject. The camera could then offer advice (or just automatically decide) on the settings that will best replicate the same skin tone or shading. By communicating with the network, the camera could avoid taking a ghastly picture.

"Some cameras have software development kits that let you hook up a camera with a USB cable and tell it to set the exposure to this, the shutter speed to that, and take a picture, but that's not what we're talking about," added Levoy.


"What we're talking about is, tell it what to do on the next microsecond in a metering algorithm or an autofocusing algorithm, or fire the flash, focus a little differently and then fire the flash again -- things you can't program a commercial camera to do."

To create an open source camera, Levoy and the group cobbled together a number of different parts: the motherboard, per se, is a Texas Instruments "system on a chip" running Linux with image and general processors and a small LCD screen.

The imaging chip is taken from a Nokia N95 cell phone, and the lenses are off-the-shelf Canon lenses, but they are combined with actuators to give the camera its fine-tuned software control. The body is custom made at Stanford. The project has benefited from the support of Nokia, Adobe Systems, Kodak, and Hewlett-Packard. HP recently gave graduate student David Jacobs a three-year fellowship to support his work on the project. Kodak, meanwhile, supports student Eddy Talvala.

Within about a year, after the camera is developed to his satisfaction, Levoy hopes to have to have the funding and the arrangements in place for an outside manufacturer to produce them in quantity, ideally for less than $1,000. Levoy would then provide them at cost to colleagues and their students at other universities, added the release.