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Compressed picture-taking

Digital cameras take images as arrays of pixels that are compressed by algorithms into a smaller file. But a system designed by John Hunt and his colleagues at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, can generate a compressed picture without the need for a post-processing stage.

The device uses an approach that samples image data at random, but still includes enough information to generate a good-quality image. The authors used an aperture made of a strip of metamaterial — an artificial structure that interacts with light in ways not found in nature — that guides microwaves to a single-pixel sensor. The patterns in the material are 'transparent' to certain wavelengths, so the signal 'leaks' information as it moves down the strip, allowing for the random data sampling.

Using this system, the researchers created a video of a moving object's path in one dimension. The technology could one day be used in airport scanners, radar systems and infrared imaging, the authors say.

Science 339, 310–313 (2013)

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Compressed picture-taking. Nature 493, 455 (2013).

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