A University of Wisconsin professor has developed a method for creating curved image sensors, which can cover an entire hemispherical surface area and capture a comprehensive, desirable image over traditional cameras.

The new development was discovered by a research team led by UW electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang Ma. The team developed a method for making curved image sensors, which can be used in both convecular and concavular shapes, similar to animals’ eyes.

In their research, which was funded by the Office of Scientific Research within the U.S. Air Force, Ma and his team strived to make an image sensor like a mammal’s eye, which only has one lens and can provide nearly perfect images.

Previous methods to create curved photo-detectors had their faults, mainly in how they failed to take a comprehensive, holistic photo of a curved surface. Ma said phone cameras — and even higher quality cameras — need multiple lenses to create a desirable image.

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“The existing methods to create curved photodetectors have deficiencies,” Ma said. “They cannot cover an entire hemispherical surface area in a manufacturable way.”

To find out a way to to cover the entire hemispherical surface, Ma and his team studied a number of things, including the eyes of insects, the eyes of shrimp, paper origami and the surface of a soccer ball.

After countless studies, they found origami — the Japanese art form of paper folding — can be applied to solve the deficiencies of the existing photo-detectors, Ma said.

Adding lenses to each pixel of the photo-detector was just like folding a piece of paper into more layers in the art of origami, Ma said. Through this technique, they were able to mimic structure of an insect’s eye.

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The process of creating the curved photo-detector built upon the work of others many years before, Ma said. These former discoveries led Ma’s team to discover their own unique way of making flexible photosensitive materials to then put on a hemispherical surface.

Renee Meiller, a spokesperson for the UW College of Engineering, called Ma a world leader in optoelectronics.

“His innovations continue to demonstrate the university’s excellence in research,” Meiller said.

Ma’s discovery comes weeks after UW, known for its strong credentials as a research university, ranked as the sixth best research institution in the United States for the second year in a row.

The invention could make its way into products used around the world, since he and his collaborators have patented the photo detector through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Meiller said.

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Additionally, the curved photo-detector will someday be affordable to the public, Ma said.

“It should not be more expensive than today’s imager,” Ma said. “I think it could be even much cheaper if a system — including lenses — is made for practical use.”