Battle of the bulge: Engineers eliminate camera bump with slide-out module

Hillary Grigonis
fraunhofer pull out camera woman with a smartphone

Kurhan / 123RF

Does the camera bump on your sleek new smartphone have you down? Researchers have developed a concept camera that is 3.5mm thin, eliminating that bump at the back of the phone but with an odd compromise.

As smartphones slim down, cameras haven’t quite caught up — the glass optics required to snap those photos is tricky to thin out, so manufacturers compromised with a small bump at the back of the smartphone. Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, however, have developed a solution: A modular camera unit that actually pulls out from the side of the smartphone, then retracts back into the phone when not in use.

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The camera is actually four sensors and mirrors to enable both front- and back-facing views. The team started with a single sensor, but the camera didn’t perform well with closeups. A second sensor was added and while that cleared up the closeup issue, there were stitching errors between the two views. With a set of four sensors, the team was able to eliminate the closeup issue and allows software to detect and remove the stitching errors.

The result is a camera that is half the height of a traditional smartphone camera, but with similar quality and a 20- megapixel resolution.

The question the group faces now is if manufacturers — and consumers — are willing to forgo the usual for such a radically different smartphone camera than the universal built-in camera. While the concept is a bit odd, as PC World points out, the pop-out camera has the added benefit of security, since if someone does hack into your camera while it’s not in use, it’s tucked away inside the phone and can’t see anything anyways.

The pull-out smartphone camera joins the Fraunhofer Institute’s earlier imaging concepts, including a smartphone camera inspired by bug eyes and an app that uses only a smartphone camera to conduct spectral analysis of everyday objects.