Developed at Columbia University, this modular imaging system can transform into many different cameras.
From littleBits and Microduino to BLOCKS and Nascent Objects, the concept of building your own devices has become incredibly popular over the last couple of years. Hoping to jump on the DIY bandwagon is a group of Columbia University professors with their new modular system Cambits.
Cambits is a reconfigurable platform comprised of colorful, 3D-printed blocks that enable its users to create a range of cameras with a variety of impressive computational capabilities. There are five types of plastic pieces, each with their own functionalities: sensors, light sources, actuators, lenses and optical attachments.
No different than many of the modular kits found throughout the Maker community, these blocks can easily be assembled to form different devices with all sorts of functionalities, such as high dynamic range imaging, capturing panoramic shots, refocusing, kaleidoscopic effects and microscopy, to name just a few. They are joined through magnets, and when brought together, are electrically connected by spring-loaded pins. Power is supplied through a host computer or mobile device, and travels between the via the pins. Data and control signals are transmitted the same way.
“We wanted to redefine what we mean by a camera,” explains computer science professor Shree Nayar. “Traditional cameras are really like black boxes that take one type of image. We wanted to rethink the instrument, to come up with a hardware and software system that is modular, reconfigurable, and able to capture all kinds of images. We see Cambits as a wonderful way to unleash the creativity in all of us.”
What’s more, Cambits is completely scalable so new blocks can be added to an existing set at anytime. Each block has its own ID and when combined, the host computer recognizes the current configuration and provides a menu of options for what the user might want to do. Housed inside every Cambit lies a circuit board made up of an MCU, an upstream interface and a downstream interface.
“There are so many exciting advances in computational photography these days,” Nayar adds. “We hope this reconfigurable system will open the door to new avenues of creativity, bringing new dimensions to an art form we all enjoy.”