Researchers have developed a highly compact, portable camera that can image polarization in a single shot. The miniature camera -- about the size of a thumb -- could find a place in the vision systems of autonomous vehicles, onboard planes or satellites to study atmospheric chemistry, or in the detection of camouflaged objects. Polarization, the direction in which light vibrates, is invisible to the human eye (though visible to some species of shrimp and insects). But it provides a great deal of information about the objects with which it interacts. Cameras that see polarized light are currently used to detect material stress, enhance contrast for object detection and analyze surface quality for dents and scratches. However, like the early color cameras, current-generation polarization-sensitive cameras are bulky. Moreover, they often rely on moving parts and are costly, severely limiting the scope of their potential application. To unlock that powerful world of polarization, the research team harnessed the potential of metasurfaces, nanoscale structures that interact with light at wavelength-size scales. "This technology could be integrated into existing imaging systems, such as the one in your cell phone or car, enabling the widespread adoption of polarization imaging and new applications previously unforeseen," said one of the researchers.
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