NASA and Department of Defense grab Lytro's light-field tech

Lytro has opened up its light-field technology platform for companies to develop custom cameras. NASA and the Department of Defense are among the first to jump on board.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
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Lexy Savvides
2 min read


Lytro could soon be coming to a space mission near you.

The company behind the light-field camera of the same name has opened up its platform to partners like NASA and the Department of Defense in an attempt to broaden its reach beyond consumer-based products.

The Lytro Development Kit (LDK) is the first offering from the Lytro Platform aimed at companies that want to customise the light-field camera "for use cases outside of photography and storytelling. "With an asking price of $20,000 for an annual subscription, the kit comes with a sensor and lens, as well as the software and platform to crunch the light-field data.

"We have a strong flood of inbound interest of people who want to leverage light-field photography for their applications, and our response has been 'that's interesting, but we're inventing the future of photography and that's taking up 100 percent of our time," said Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal in an interview.

Lytro released its first light-field camera shaped like an elongated stick of butter in 2011. It made waves in the photographic and scientific communities, but wasn't that readily understood by the mainstream. Rather than using the common megapixel rating to measure resolution, the Lytro camera has a megaray sensor.

The Lytro Illum. Lytro/Douglas Evans

Light-field cameras such as the Lytro differ from traditional models by capturing not only the light in the scene, but also the direction and intensity of that light. With this data, the photographer can manipulate focus after the shot has been taken, as well as shift perspective and depth of field.

Since Lytro's debut on the imaging scene, other companies have tried to incorporate similar functionality in consumer-facing devices such as smartphones.

While not based on the same light-field technology as the Lytro, some Lumia handsets and the HTC One M8 have the ability to refocus photos after they have been taken. Dell's Venue 8 7000 Series tablet, however, is the one to watch in this space as it incorporates an actual light-field camera, similar to the Lytro.

It opens up the potential for 3D video and gaming using augmented reality, to name a few applications.

The second Lytro camera, named the Illum, took a different approach from the first model. Rather than targeting everyday users, the Illum firmly markets itself as a camera for "creative pioneers" with a price to match - $1,599/£1,299/AU$1,899.

With the LDK, NASA has the potential to incorporate light-field cameras in its planetary rovers, as well as sending them into space. The Department of Defense's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate will use it to enhance existing night vision technology, while a medical startup General Sensing plans to investigate baby monitoring using the Lytro kit.