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Omnidirectional lens captures 360 degree panoramic view


VTT has developed a novel omnidirectional lens design that allows a full 360 degree panoramic view of the surroundings. The number of potential use cases for such optics has been steadily increasing since the introduction of the first device prototype in 2006. The lens can be used for panoramic imaging in many applications such as photography, surveillance and teleconferencing. The same design can also be used as sensor optics in machine vision applications such as laser radar or 3D mapping.  

There are currently several different kinds of optical designs available that can be used for panoramic imaging. The most common design is a fisheye lens, which images a hemisphere and is typically used in devices such as a car rear view sensor or a surveillance camera. The main problem with the fisheye is the fact that image resolution drops dramatically at higher viewing angles due to heavy optical distortion. Catadioptric systems aim to improve this by introducing a conical mirror in front of the camera objective. This increases resolution at higher angles, but the mirror also makes the optics bulkier, and the device will need to be mounted on the ceiling due to the downward facing field of view. It is also possible to use several separate cameras facing in different directions or a single rotating camera, but these systems require stitching of the full image and more expensive hardware than with the single image solutions.

VTT’s proprietary omnidirectional objective lens is designed to fold the field of view in a way that is optimal for side view 360 degree imaging. It allows a much better control of the distortion profile, which leads to a 20–30 % increase of resolution within the designed field of view when compared to other single camera solutions. Due to the special design, the lens can be used for high resolution panoramic imaging when the camera system is located close to the ground level as in the case of a moving vehicle or whenever the imaged object is located directly in a sideways direction as in the case of a teleconferencing device placed on a meeting room table. The camera objective can also be designed to be very small and light, which makes it ideal for portable devices. Clever design of the main lens component makes it possible to manufacture the optics in high volumes at relatively low cost.

VTT can tailor the omnidirectional lens to different customer needs. Field of view, resolution and size can be optimized to fit the exact use case. Material selections and camera module design can also be customized for specific environmental requirements or given cost targets for high volume applications. One example of a tailored solution was made in the EU-funded project MiniFaros where the lens was used in a low-cost miniature laser scanner device aimed at Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) market for small and medium-size cars. This was a big change from the original first prototype that was developed as an add-on lens to a mobile phone camera for teleconferencing purposes. The laser radar example shows that the same technology can be utilized in many different applications. 

In recent years, the great demand for better mobile phone cameras has pushed image sensor development towards higher pixel numbers and better low light sensitivity. This development trend is particularly beneficial for the VTT’s omnidirectional lens, as the 360 degree image needs to be packed into a small image sensor area. With higher pixel count sensors, the panoramic image can have a higher resolution, which allows better accuracy in detection and more detailed images or video. And as the image quality improves, more applications become possible.


Omnidirectional lens, optical devices utilizing the lens and method for optical measurement; WO 2011089320 A1

Optical system; WO 2012038601 A1

Additional patent pending


Omnidirectional camera; Aikio, Mika; Mäkinen, Jukka-Tapani; Yang, B; IEEE 9th International Conference on Intelligent Computer Communication and Processing, ICCP 2013; Cluj-Napoca; Romania; 5 - 7 September 2013, Proceedings. IEEE (2013), 217 - 221

Biaxial tripod MEMS mirror and omnidirectional lens for a low cost wide angle laser range sensor, Hofmann, U.; Aikio, Mika; 16th International Forum on Advanced Microsystems for Automotive Applications, AMAA 2012, 30 - 31 May 2012, Berlin, Germany